Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula. It is a coastal city, 70 miles across the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf from Iran. It borders on Saudi Arabia and Oman. It is the stunning creation of oil wealth since the discovery of crude in 1966.
In 1968, there were thirteen registered automobiles in Dubai. Today there are 1.13 million. In 1995, Dubai had 640,000 residents; now there are more than 2.3 million. At one point, during the building boom, the city had 30% of the world’s cranes in operation.
In 1990, there were no skyscrapers (more than 40 floors). Today there are over 450. The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, is in Dubai (2,716.5 feet; compare the Sears Tower in Chicago, 1,451 feet).
Stunning and Safe
In the coastal waters of Dubai, there are two man-made neighborhoods dredged up into the shape of palm tree branches with homes and businesses being built in rows along each branch. Nearby there is a map of the world composed of man-made islands. They are for sale.
While Dubai’s economy was built on oil and natural gas, it now relies on tourism, trade, and real estate to keep the money flowing. There are spectacular malls throughout the city. One of them has an indoor ski slope with real snow — 6,000 tons produced daily.
Dubai is considered the fifth safest city in the world. There are no personal or income taxes in Dubai . It is hot and dry. On average, there are 3.7 inches of rain per year. The temperatures range from 92, as the average high, to 72, as the average low.
These are amazing facts. But greater yet is what God is doing among his people.
What God Is Doing in Dubai
Proselytizing is against the law in the UAE. But what that means in essence is: You can’t pay someone to convert (as if that were possible) or unduly coerce them to change religions. But speaking the gospel of Jesus Christ abounds.
There are many Christian churches, and the ruler of the emirate is favorable to them for the sake of the expatriates. Only about 13% of Dubai’s local population is local Emirati people. The other 87% are expatriates, half of whom are of Indian descent. Thousands of these are Christians.
Therefore, the gospel sounds forth weekly in Dubai. And on the university campuses, there are organizations that aggressively seek to speak to students about what the Bible really teaches.
In the Church and on the Campus
It was thrilling to be a part of the ministry of the United Christian Church of Dubai, where John Folmar is the pastor. What a visionary he and others there are! They have planted three God-centered, Christ-exalting, gospel-driven churches and have a vision for how the multiplication of gospel-preaching churches can touch this peninsula for the glory of Christ.
It was amazing to me that I was invited to preach the gospel in a university hall with several hundred students, including Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians. The Christian student workers reminded me of Campus Outreach in the States — Reformed, aggressively evangelistic, life-on-life discipling, and church-based.
Surprises in the Desert
One surprising anecdote — I met a man who moved his family from Sweden to Dubai so that he could raise his children in a way that would suit his Christian conscience. I would have never dreamed that someone would see a major city in an officially Muslim country to be more amenable to raising kids biblically than Sweden is. But so he did.
Another surprise was a question about N.T. Wright’s view of justification and the New Perspective during the university outreach Q and A. The issues in one place quickly become the issues globally.
The Gospel Is Running
And some issues never change. I gave a lecture on missions, and during the Q and A, a brother from Africa asked me if I thought God “allowed” or “brought about” the sufferings of Job. I said that I didn’t need to answer that in my own words but would simply read the answer of the author of Job, whose voice is crystal clear: “[Job’s brothers and sisters] showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11).
I thank God for the Christians in Dubai. They respect the Sheikh, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and he is generous to Christians. In this context, the best news in all the world is running — that God saves sinners through the work of Jesus Christ. It made me want to dream big for the living of a wise and strategic life for the reaching of the unreached peoples of the world.