The Arab Gulf States, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the sultanate of Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates all share a similar culture and economic structure. All of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf have significant revenues from oil and gas and, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, have small local populations. The Persian Gulf Arab states share a regional culture that is sometimes referred to as "khaleeji (gulf) culture". They all speak the Gulf Arabic and share similar music styles, cuisine, and dress. All six states are also hereditary monarchies. Together, the area is home to about 42 million people.
MERF works in the Gulf States through its Arabic language radio ministry, which daily broadcasts biblical programming across the Arab world. This work is bearing much fruit in the hearts of Arabs across the Arabian peninsula. One listener, T.J.M., is a native of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. His university studies had led him to move to another Saudi city. A few months ago he wrote an angry message calling the doctrine of Christ's divinity "false and blasphemous." He received a gentle response urging him to seek to understand the real reason for Christ's incarnation. He was referred to MERF's Arabic ministry website and encouraged to read the Arabic Bible, especially several passages from Isaiah and the Gospel of John. Recently he wrote: "It all makes good sense to me...it is obvious I cannot atone for my own sins. Thanks be to God who has done that for me..."
With the help of MERF, there is a growing network of like-minded churches throughout the region (e.g., Bahrain, Beirut, Qatar) sharing limited resources, exchanging ideas, and encouraging health and faithfulness. Pastors and missionaries are best developed not in seminaries, but in healthy local churches, and so we have established a pastoral internship program in Dubai for young pastoral candidates, to expose them to good models for church planting, and then send them out to continue the work of evangelism, shepherding, and planting. It's already bearing fruit.
The brightest area of evangelism in Arabia is on university campuses. In Qatar, the UAE, and even Saudi Arabia, these multi-cultural centers are oases of free inquiry in an otherwise repressive Muslim society. For example, a Muslim-Christian Dialogue was recently held at the Knowledge Village (a multi-institutional campus in Dubai) and was well-received among the local people.
The Arab Spring has proven that even "closed" countries are actually open to the media. Millions of young people on both sides of the Arabian Gulf are online and inquisitive. We have not yet fully exploited the evangelistic and discipling opportunities that are available online and on the airwaves, but we are working faithfully toward using all the means available to spread the Gospel and disciple God's people.