Who would have thought that the fortunes of an entire region could turn around within a single generation? Just a hundred years ago the Arab Gulf States (Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar) were amongst the world’s poorest countries. They lacked most natural resources and sustained their economies through pearl farming, ship building and maritime trade routes. That was until oil was discovered there in the early 1900s. By that point the invention of the car (in 1885) and the development of transport technologies were opening up exciting opportunities for the oil industry. The Gulf countries began to see the possibilities for changing their fortunes. Most have since enjoyed a season of great affluence built on ‘black gold’.
There is so much fascinating culture - both modern and historic - scattered across the deserts of the Gulf region. Its ancient heritage is found in old forts, burial grounds and temples. Classy cities like Dubai and Kuwait City are famous for sky rise architecture, plush hotels and huge shopping complexes. They’re the kind of places which entertain the mega-rich and where high-end business pours in from around the world. These countries haven’t lost touch with their roots though; traditional and religious lifestyles are still a big part of their societies and give them their distinctive Middle Eastern cultures. Of course, success often comes with a price. The Gulf states have also battled significant war and political tensions to get to where they are. Iraq’s economic development has been completely halted by conflict, and in other countries the spread of wealth has left division and inequality between people.
The overwhelming majority of locals in the Gulf are unreached Muslims - at least 75% in each country. Over half of the countries have 20-30 unreached people groups. Saudi Arabia is known as the heart of Islam, and the other Gulf states reflect this strong Islamic identity. In terms of economy, many locals also lead comfortable – if not wealthy – lives. Frontiers workers report of the great spiritual need there, often stemming from the emptiness of materialistic lifestyles and expectations surrounding social status.
Incredibly around 25 million foreigners have moved to the Gulf States for work. A huge percentage of these are labourers from south and south-east Asian countries who have taken up jobs in construction or domestic work. Among them are many thousands of followers of Jesus who are ideally placed to share the gospel in the places they work. There is huge potential for raising them up and equipping them to reach out to their employers, and some Frontiers workers are already engaged in helping them do this.
Most other expats in the Gulf are working alongside locals in higher paid skilled roles, and this is where the other amazing opportunities lie. There seems to be no end to the variety and creativity which enables Christians to live and work in the Gulf. From fitness instructors and physiotherapists to finance professionals and even animal trainers, it’s the place to go for reaching Muslims through employable skills and passions. Not only does it open doors for building relationships on a peer-to-peer level; people have also found themselves being witnesses for Jesus to key leaders and people of influence, even members of royal families.
Although each of the Gulf States has its own spiritual climate and different stories of how God is moving, it’s encouraging to hear reports of how he is doing miraculous things in the lives of Muslims there. There’s an exciting openness amongst many Arabs to learn more about Jesus; increased interest in radio and social media outreach is playing a big part in this. Yet there’s nothing more effective than meeting a follower of Jesus in the flesh. The Gulf States are in desperate need of field workers who can be salt and light in their places of work and spheres of influence, to impact everyday Muslims with the extraordinary truth of God’s salvation. Find out how you can pray specifically for the region on the back page.