Arabian Region Prayer Journey Review
Visited 2 countries, 8 cities
For security reasons the location of this trip is deliberately omitted
In November, I joined a short-term prayer opportunity in the Arabian Region. I wanted to be part of this prayer walk team for several reasons. Professionally, I wanted to see God’s work first-hand and I also wanted a local Norwegian pastor friend of mine to see it. Hopefully, he would then be inspired to share his experience with other pastors and this would mobilize more Norwegians into mission.
Personally, I wanted to experience the middle-eastern culture, to see the Muslim world first-hand, and to challenge myself to face some of my personal fears. Ever since September 11, 2001, my worldview regarding this region and its people has been heavily influenced by the media and people with polarizing views. Even within the church, I have heard that Islam’s main goal is to overtake the world and kill all “infidels.” Therefore, I felt compelled to get out of my comfort zone and see for myself. This report is in no way intended to make a political statement or to argue against the long-term goal of Islam. It is only to report to you what I experienced, to encourage you to pray for this region, and to challenge you to see for yourself.
Port of entry was a modern world class city, my first impressions were: clean, safe, professional, and status-conscious! The airport reminded me of a mix between Las Vegas and New York City with very bright lights, and lots of glitz and glamour. I also noticed a very “status” conscious culture. At the passport control area, there was a lady telling everyone which line to enter and when to approach the window. When the officer at the window motioned for me to approach, I glanced back at the first lady to verify it was OK for me to proceed. When I got to the window, the officer scolded me for looking back at the first lady. She said “why did you look at her? I am the one in charge!” That exchange set the tone for much of my observations in this country.
The people (generally) appear to be very status conscious. They only do very high-level work and they hire ex-pats to do all their other jobs. They rarely made eye contact with us and when they did, it was mostly a look of indifference. One thing that surprised me was the interaction I saw between the men and their wives and children. Fathers appeared to be very involved with their children and I saw many couples holding hands or walking arm-in-arm. I didn’t expect to see that.
Something else that surprised me was the presence of an evangelical population. We visited a very large gathering of several hundred people. There were no locals present (that would be illegal), but the ex-pat community was definitely being reached by this church.
I was also surprised by the secret police, literally! One morning I was out early with my camera looking for a place to buy a cup of coffee. While I was walking, I took some photos of the people/buildings not thinking anything about my behavior or movements. As I was standing at a street corner trying to locate a coffee shop, a white Toyota Land Cruiser (the vehicle of choice) pulled up beside me. A local man got out from the opposite side and walked towards me with his hand out in greeting.
I thought, “Wow, this is different, finally someone wants to talk to me.” The man introduced himself as Mohammad, showed me his identification and said, “I am secret police!” Can you imagine the thoughts that were going through my mind now?!
He asked me if I had taken pictures of the mosque that was across the street and I had to quickly recall whether I had or not. I said “no” and showed him the images on my camera. He was satisfied and started to leave. But, I wanted to engage with him somehow so I asked him why that would be a problem and what I could take pictures of. He explained that the mosque was under construction and that would give a bad image of the mosque. I didn’t understand his reason, but didn’t want to press the issue. As he was leaving I asked him one more question, “Do you know where I can get a cup of coffee this early?” He smiled and pointed me to a local coffee shop. Nothing like the secret police to get your day started off right.
We visited several cities in the first country, met with some Kingdom workers, and learned much about the work that is going in in that region. The best visit we had was to a Christian hospital that was started by a Christian husband and wife doctor team back in the 1960s. This couple loved the Arabs and made such an overwhelming impression that the royal family donated the property needed to build a fully functional hospital to serve that area. The King also decreed that this hospital would be free to operate under Christian principles. The doctor and his family are still local legends in that area.
After several days we travelled to 2nd country, where we visited the capital and some inland cities. The differences between the two were immediately obvious. By crossing a boundary in the sand, we had literally entered a different world. The latter are so friendly! They were making eye contact, smiling at us, and even waving to us from inside their cars.
There were two different times that we were near families with small children and the fathers handed their babies to our team members to hold. We couldn’t believe how willing these people were to engage with us.
There were also two different times when I was sitting in the local market place and men actually sat near me and started to talk with me.
In both countries, we had opportunities to visit mosques. These buildings were beautiful examples of architecture with amazing chandeliers, paintings, and stained glass. Here is what happened during one of our visits.
One of the mosques had an Islamic Information room which they invited everyone to visit. We had been briefed before the visit that this room is where the “conversion” begins. So, I had to go!
It was a small room and there was a man serving tea and dates (the standard local snack). They “invited” me to sit and I immediately felt like I was at one of those places that try to sell you vacation property. The man who came to “talk” to me was only interested in a monologue, he didn’t care to hear my thoughts at all. After several minutes, I managed to direct his attention to a display they had on the wall. The display had several inspirational sayings and one was, “know the truth and the truth will set you free.” I told the man that I was impressed by that saying and I asked him if he knew who said it. He thought for a few seconds and said, “no, I don’t.” That was my opportunity to share with him what I believed about Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life.
He didn’t care to listen to me as I had listened to him, nor was he interested in finding common ground. He acted offended that I would even say something like this. So, I excused myself and was eventually able to leave the room.
Outside of this room, there was a younger man who was obviously working there so I approached him. He was very willing to have a dialogue and we found some common ground very quickly. I even asked him, “I understand that Islam requires the death of Infidels. Because I am a Christian, does that mean I must die?” He assured me that he did not want to kill me nor did he believe that Islam taught that. We chatted for several minutes and he even allowed me to take a photo with him. We agreed that if I would be in town longer, we could have a coffee and have a very friendly conversation. Within 30 minutes and 30 meters of each other, I had two very different encounters with Islamic men. Both had a very strong commitment to Islam, but they had very different ways of interacting with me.
A final thing I learned from my interactions with the people is they apparently think all non-Muslims are Christian. I had three different conversations with people about Islam and they all pointed to non-Muslim people who were passing by (based on their clothing) and said, “I dress the way I do because I am a Muslim and that person dresses the way they do because they are a Christian.” I found it very interesting that 3 different people in different cities made the same generalization; all non-Muslims are automatically Christian.
I would encourage everyone to visit the Arab region sometime. I felt safe all the time, it wasn’t any more expensive than a big city in the US, everyone speaks English, and they cater to tourists. I would especially encourage Kingdom workers to go on a prayer journey through the region.
The verse that kept coming to mind while I was praying over the region was Romans 10:20
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” ESV
There are many stereotypes in both cultures, some true and some not true. My goal, was to let the people see my smile and willingness to interact with them, and hope they would realize that all Westerners are not like what they see on TV.
May the people of the Arab region find the One they are not seeking through the prayers of those who have been found.
A special thank-you to everyone who made this trip possible through prayer and financial support.
A market scene, a mosque, engaging with a local man, father giving us his babies to hold, engaging with some local youth, and a man at the market.