ICC Note: The Anglican Archdeacon in the Gulf and Chaplain of Qatar recently gave an interview sharing his thoughts on the future of Christianity in the Gulf. The constant flow of migrant workers means that these hardline Islamic countries are constantly exposed to Christianity. The Archdeacon believes that in his country of Qatar, the country has more Catholics than Muslims because of foreign workers. This presents a unique opportunity for the church in the Gulf.
07/21/2018 Qatar (Sat 7) – “I have no doubt in my mind that in the Arabian peninsula there’s easily ten million Christians,” says Venerable Bill Schwartz, OBE, Anglican Archdeacon in the Gulf and Chaplain of Qatar. Speaking at SAT-7’s NETWORK conference in April 2018, Schwartz spelt out some of the astonishing results of the region’s meteoric economic development, driven by oil wealth.
Most notable is how the region’s religious mix has shifted in a totally unprecedented way as foreign workers have flooded in to benefit from the explosion of jobs. Today, at least 50 per cent of migrants and expatriates “have some kind of Christian tradition,” Schwartz believes. In Qatar, where foreign workers outnumber locals by 10 to 1, the country now has more Catholics than Muslims.
New church buildings – including one being constructed in Abu Dhabi to accommodate 5,000 people at a time – are one result of this phenomenon. Another is the opportunity for witness through lifestyle in societies that have been culturally isolated and “monochrome” for thousands of years.
Today, the migrant population – although transient – means that the Gulf states (the Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait) are anything but monochrome. And the Church especially expresses this diversity. Apart from Saudi Arabia, where there are no church buildings, other states have Christian compounds serving up to 150 congregations of different nationalities and language groups, all in one space!
“Opportunity” rather than persecution is the key word for Archdeacon Schwartz. This includes the opportunity to pastor Christians separated from their families for years at a time – as is the case for most in lower income jobs from the Philippines and India. There is the opportunity to teach believers how to explain their faith when local colleagues, who completely misunderstand doctrines like the Trinity, criticise them for their beliefs. Most importantly, there is the opportunity for Christians to demonstrate their faith and values by a Christian lifestyle to colleagues and contacts from many nationalities at this crossroads of the world.
When he moved to Qatar from Saudi Arabia ten years ago, Schwartz began building one of the first churches in the country for 1,400 years (five other churches began construction as well). As in most Gulf states, the Anglican complex is designed to serve the majority of churches that don’t have direct government recognition. In Doha this means that 85 congregations from different nationalities worship there every week, up to 18 congregations at a time, some 14,000 to 15,000 on a Friday! “You better not preach too long,” Schwartz says, “because there are hundreds queueing outside to begin their service!”
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