Tag Archives: Muslim Worlds

THE UAE’s X-FACTOR

18 May

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Overflowing churches are not what you expect to find within thisĀ Islamic nation. With guest workers comprising about 85% of the population of the United Arab Emirates, however, the government graciously granted land upon which churches could be built. Hundreds of thriving congregations now exist in this part of the Arabian Peninsula.

Christian hospitals, pioneered in this area before any others existed, were largely responsible for the government’s accommodating attitude. IMG_1135When the Oasis Hospital was opened by Christian workers in Al Ain in 1960, a church was established on part of the original land grant. Later this church was officially separated from the hospital, but the same compound is today used by no fewer than 32 groups of worshipers every week. Roman Catholics have their own property, as do Orthodox and Anglicans.

The compound’s largest congregation is the international, English-speaking church, numbering 400 to 500 people. Among the kaleidoscope of other fellowships are Arabic-, Afrikaans-, Filipino and Urdu-speaking Pakistani congregations, large Malayalam- and Telagu-speaking groups for Indians, and a Thursday evening evangelical Episcopalian church. Loud calls to prayer often intrude from the mosque right next door, but that doesn’t inhibit the enthusiasm of church gatherings. All maintain a distinctly evangelical viewpoint and programmes such as the Alpha Course and Perspectives series have been run on a regular basis.

“We’re maxed out!” declares Pastor Stan Rubesh of TEAM, who has lived in the UAE for 22 years. For the last 12 of those years he has been responsible for the church centre in Al Ain, pastoring the international congregation for a time. The pastor adds that he gets a constant flow of applicants to use the compound, especially with the growing difficulties relating to gatherings in hotels and other venues.

Rubesh says he has seen the birth of Sri Lanka and Nepali fellowships, and is anticipating that other linguistic/ethnic groups will also be reached in a similar manner. A recent convention held for Nepali Christians attracted 500 men and women, most of whom met the Lord after moving to the UAE.

The UAE government grants residence visas for church workers who are affiliated with recognised church groups, but most congregations are led by lay pastors. The churches actively pray for and reach out to the unsaved, and are able to sow many seeds amongst the expatriates who work there; often they live in labour camps where construction companies and others accommodate thousands of workers in sometimes poor conditions. Other believers show the love of Jesus through medical care and education.

The number of purpose-built worship centres has increased, and the mind-set of Christians has matured. More are now concerned about the need to reach other foreigners who don’t know Christ. The United Christian Church of Dubai (UCCD) has so far planted three other flourishing bookshopchurches in the country. Congregations are even taking the responsibility of sending people to minister cross-culturally in other countries. An increasing number of youth have volunteered for missions. At any one time, five to 10 are serving somewhere in the world with OM International.

OM feels the time is ripe to establish a full-time representative to churches in the area, to encourage their mission vision. “We are uniquely positioned to demonstrate a different approach to missions and mobilise, recruit and raise money,” explains a spokesperson. “This is a message that you can preach publicly within UAE churches. But to really birth this vision we need people, young men in particular, who are looking for adventure.”

Although there is as yet no national church among Emiratis, Christian workers call the United Arab Emirates a beachhead. “God has put His stake in this land. There is an openness here that is in no other place in the Arabian Peninsula. With hundreds of churches and thousands worshiping the Lord in the UAE, something has got to happen!”

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