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Everyone loves Christmas (and Ramadan and Diwali…)

After decades of parish-based ministry in Australia, CMS workers Warwick and Caroline have been serving in the Middle East since 2014Here Caroline shares about life in a city where people love to talk about religion.  

Everyone loves Christmas, am I right? Well, you might say, it depends on what part of the world you live in. 

For the last seven years my husband and I have lived in a modern city in a moderate Islamic country in the Middle East. 

In some way, almost everyone here celebrates Christmas, and Thanksgiving, Diwali, Ramadan and Easter—to name just a few religious events. 

Multicultural, multifaith city 

Over 80% of our population are foreign workers, from over 200 nations. Tolerance is strongly upheld here, and all faiths have enormous freedom. Proselytism is illegal, as is conversion from Islam, but speaking about Jesus is perfectly fine. 

The high proportion of expats means we really do not have a dominant culture in our city, and all cultures are celebrated. At the mall you find international food to cater for almost any taste, and clothing to cover almost none or all of your body! TV comes in a multitude of languages, and we have met people from countries we had never previously heard of. 

“Most westerners are ‘of course’ assumed to be Christian. Sadly, few here are, but there is amazing openness to talk about Jesus, not just at Easter and Christmas.” 

Christmas, one celebration among many 

Retail therapy is almost a religious activity here, and gathering at the mall for exercise and socialising is as common as shopping in the long hot summer. All religious festivals are marketing opportunities, even Ramadan. In some way, we all participate in a variety of faith-based celebrations—Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Ramadan and Diwali being the most prominent. 

Many retail and hospitality workers are Filipino and many love the Lord. It is common to hear carols at Christmas in the stores, but also well known gospel music throughout the year. Some more dubious ‘Christian’ authors can also be found on display in the self-help section of mainstream bookstores.  

Freedom to talk about faith 

In our city religion is visible and audible constantly, from the call to prayer five times a day to the locals proudly wearing traditional Islamic clothing. Assumptions are made about the religious belief of individuals based on their clothing. Therefore, most westerners are ‘of course’ assumed to be Christian. Sadly, few here are, but there is amazing openness to talk about Jesus, not just at Easter and Christmas. 

A typical response from a Pakistani taxi driver when I described myself as a follower of Jesus was, “I love Jesus”.  

Conversations about Jesus are a great starting point in our context. Most Muslims regard him as a prophet, and identifying as a follower of Jesus rather than as Christian has opened the door to conversations about the end of the world and the assurance we have of our welcome in heaven. It seems to me that many Muslims do not have assurance about judgement as it depends on their works, rather than on those of Jesus. 

Taking every opportunity 

We speak about Jesus whenever and wherever we can—at church, in our small groups, in kids and youth ministry, through our sports ministry and other outreach activities like ESL (my passion). Throughout the pandemic, when we could not meet for over a year, we still saw new believers baptised at the beach and in pools almost every week. 

On Easter Sunday, pre-COVID, every year our church would hold a sunrise service where hundreds would gather before work and school. The police would help us with traffic management! 

Our church hosts a huge Christmas event each year, in a rented ballroom or convention space. People love it and bring family and friends. For many years we have had two time slots to cater for demand. Local authorities attend in traditional dress and take photos—they love it too! 

We continue to be amazed at what the Lord is doing here. People here are more receptive to the good news than in Australia. God is at work. 

GO 

There are many opportunities to share Jesus in cultures where talking about faith is welcomed. Get in touch with your local CMS branch to start a conversation about serving with CMS.