Observations and photos from visits to the Bible Society in the Arab Gulf
“So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ (These are the things the pagens are always concerned about.) Your father in heaven knows that you need all these things.” Matthew 6:31,32 (GNT)
Prayers at the Dunes
It is dark, but I can still clearly make out the shadows and footprints in the sand dunes. Two lanterns precariously perched on homemade tables cast light on a group of about 50 men gathered here to worship God, clutching their Bibles, lifting their hands to their Savior, distracted only for a brief moment as my group nears, carrying video and camera equipment at our sides.
The landscape behind them is teeming with cranes and trucks, lights and construction scaffolding. These men have traveled to Dubai and have found work helping to build what will eventually be the world's largest airport. This place where they are gathered is right outside of the labor camp where they live. Their prayers are focused, the meeting purposeful. It is obvious to see that this is the most precious time of their week. And as they finish, every hand lifted to the heavens, I cannot help but feel privileged to have witnessed a group of Christians who are not only strong in their faith, but who also do not take for granted and truly understand this beautiful thing we call grace.
Beyond the Skyscraper
Between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the desert stretches far. I am quickly reminded that these places are not just glitz and glamour. While here, I have learned that the majority of the population in Dubai is expatriate. They are laborers and migrant workers from around the world. They work as drivers, cleaners, painters. You name it, they do it.
I was taken aback today by the extreme disparity between wealth and extreme poverty. We went to a house just hundreds of yards from the skyscrapers and five star hotels. It was a very small home housing at least 15 people from Sri Lanka. Each room was packed tightly, with up to four or five people often sharing a very small space. The kitchen was a small corner of the hallway, and as we passed through, 4 women were cooking. Immediately they poured some coke and piled chips on a plate and served them to us with a warm welcome. We spent some time talking and listening to their stories.
We learned of a girl who dreams to have a family, a woman with a bachelor's degree struggling to make money in a new country and a pastor dedicated to ministering not only to the people that he lives with, but other migrant communities. They all had different stories but their lives centered around their faith in Jesus Christ.
While we were talking, I asked one woman if she had a Bible, and if she wouldn't mind bringing it out to the sitting room where we had gathered. Before I knew what was happening, a group of about 8 women had laid out several floor mats, had covered their heads with colorful prayer shawls, their Bibles in hand. They began reading Scripture aloud and singing. The faith in that home is strong. The people living there have learned what is truly important in life and are unwavering in their beliefs, no matter what the cost.
The Peaceful Kingdom
The ancient walls of Jerusalem provide a reflective vantage point for looking toward the cities of this country, places where Jesus, God's love incarnate, dwelled and ministered. Looking to the North is Nazareth, where Dalia∗, director of the newest Bible Society in Israel, (the Arab-Israeli Bible Society), works. Her vision is for the women of Nazareth, and other towns populated with Arab Israelis. “We have plans to produce a book that focuses on peace and reconciliation, with beautifully illustrated Scripture quotes and testimonials. It will draw the attention of young and old. Through distribution in schools and women's co-operatives, we seek to create a desire and a mindset for peace, bringing change to the area.”
Old and new
I've enjoyed visiting Qatar. The country is divided into two sections, Old Qatar and New Qatar. There have been lots of changes over the past few years, and more and more expatriates settle here in hopes of making money to send home. It is these very people who are building up the church in Qatar. We visited several church leaders from different countries who are committed to their community here as well as to their communities and families back home. I was overwhelmed as I listened to the many faith experiences that they shared with me.
The Catholic Church just recently completed the building of its church compound in the land that the government has granted. The community affectionately calls the compound “church city,” as four other congregations will have buildings there too. I have become increasingly aware how different communities of faith experience worship across the globe.
Philip∗ is a man with quiet confidence. He has a seriousness that tells of his focus and determination. He is our host in Qatar and the sole representative of the Bible Society here. I am amazed at the amount of patience that it must have taken him to accomplish all that he has in his short time here. Every book that Philip brings into Qatar must have special approval from customs. So, the Scriptures are all imported legally into the country. Philip dreams of setting up a resource center in the church compound so that Christians will have easy access to the Bible. In a place like Qatar, where the church is the only avenue for purchasing a Bible or other Christian resource, it is a big dream. I hope that one day I can return to Qatar and see the fruit of the Bible Society's labor.
Centered in the compound
In Kuwait City, there is a church compound that includes the oldest church in Kuwait. Dozens of congregations of Christians from all over the world meet in the compound weekly and during the day it houses a Christian school. In the compound center is the Bible Society of Kuwait's resource center. The congregations here rely on this resource center to provide them with biblical materials. David*, the program coordinator of the Bible Society, together with his staff, work hard to do just that.
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