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In these communities, an ancient way of life is rapidly vanishing as a young generation moves on, leaving behind parents and grandparents facing an uncertain future. Yet the Christian faith that has served as their stronghold for centuries continues to offer these villagers support and hope — in ways their ancestors could never have imagined.

Softly rolling hills parched by the summer sun hug an enchanting roadside linking Ader and Smakieh, where one will find the occasional shepherd, looking as though he has stepped straight out of a story from the New Testament.

Sheep running down a hilltop through a dry field — becoming enveloped in a haze of dust — are all that disturbs the quiet stillness of the pastoral scene.

In Smakieh, elders at the St. George Melkite Greek Catholic church meet with the Rev. Ayham Ziyadeh, 34, to discuss local concerns. Outside, boisterous children and teens chat and play before the liturgy.

“In 15 or 20 years, you won’t find anyone left in these villages, says 58-year-old Kamal Akasheh. “Most of our sons and daughters must leave to the big cities to find jobs there.”

Mr. Akasheh has lived his entire life in the village, which also contains a Roman Catholic church, a tiny grocery and a handful of other shops.

“If you take a tour of Smakieh now, you’ll find about 20 houses without any inhabitants,” the white-haired man says.

“You’ll find another 15 to 20 houses whose residents stay perhaps two or three days of the week, with the rest of their time spent in Amman.”

These changes correspond to shifts in the economy. At one time, residents could count on having a full career without uprooting.

“I am now retired, but I was an English teacher,” Mr. Akasheh says.

In his retirement, he still keeps busy. “Now I am a farmer, but my children won’t work as farmers. That’s why I say the near future looks grim.”

The fear Mr. Akasheh expresses is common among the elders, who want their children to remain nearby.

“In some years, their parents will pass away. And then what will happen here? The young will remain in the city.”

Mjalle Bawalsah, a 55-year-old who still works as an English teacher, says the villagers’ Christian faith helps support them in these troubled times, but they also need practical help.

“If we were not believers, we wouldn’t stay here. We are proud to have a village with all Christians, one of the last in the south. Although we are frustrated, we are proud to be Christians in this desert land, far from civilization and everything,” Mr. Bawalsah adds.

“We suffer like saints,” he says, perhaps a reference to the Desert Saints of the early church. “But we want to keep our village,” he adds.

“We want to see more people live here, to build homes and lives. That would be so much better for us.”

Retired bank employee Jamal Massadeh, 58, says no businesses are setting up shop in the region: “There’s no chance to be employed.”

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