Friends, I’m so excited about today’s post! I’ve corresponded with Ameera from The Wandering Theologian all summer long and was even able to Skype with her last week. Although we haven’t met in person, I truly consider her to be a friend. She recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute and has committed to being an ESL teacher in the United Arab Emirates this school year. She leaves TODAY, but before she left she answered a few questions I had. Now, I get to share this “interview” with all of you! Her answers blew me away with the amount of clarity and detail they provided. I hope they give you a small glimpse into her mission this year…
1) What led you to pursue teaching overseas?
I think the first time I realized I wanted to teach overseas was in the summer of 2005 when I went to teach ESL in Germany with a team from my church. I was born with a desire to travel and learn about other cultures (I'm a military brat) but when I realized the potential for teaching overseas my heart changed. Two years later I went to Venezuela, to work with the first missionary I had ever met, and I left with a desire to return forever. Both of these trips opened my eyes to the need for ESL teachers overseas and so I applied to Moody with the intention to enter the TESOL department. During my four years at Moody my passion for teaching grew and grew and I knew that God was calling me to teach overseas. My internship in Oman (just east of the UAE) confirmed this calling. 2 months with those students changed my life forever.
2) Did you have a certain country or region of the world that grabbed your heart before the UAE?
Ever since the summer of 2010 my heart has been for Arab Muslim women and children. I spent a week in Dearborn, MI (the highest concentration of Muslims in the US live there). This is what led me to seek out an internship in the Arabian Peninsula. Originally, I wanted to go to Yemen because of my experience in Dearborn. However, the political situation in 2011 made this impossible. This lead me to Oman where I was confronted with the reality of the situation in the Arabian Peninsula. My hope is to one day return to Oman but currently God is opening the door to the UAE (I'll be living a short 5 hour drive from where I was last summer) and the need is just as great.
3) Tell me about the church and worship in the UAE.
The churches that exist in the UAE are international or foreign churches. There are approximately 31 churches in the whole country. The UAE is tolerant of other religions so followers of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions are free to worship. Statistics put the Christian population between 8-9%, only 1.4% of these being evangelical Christians. These Christians include, American, Filipino, British, Armenian and Swedish people. Worship will depend on what type of church you attend but the evangelical churches look similar to the churches here in the US. However, due to the inability to evangelize openly the focus of many churches is simply to gather together. There are many Christians living in the country who have no desire to reach out to the people around them for fear of the government. Therefore, any team there with a desire to do outreach must do so without publicizing it.
4) How is Christianity and the Gospel accepted in the country?
As I mentioned in the previous answer, evangelization, proselytizing and conversion is illegal in the UAE. Muslims are not allowed to become Christians and the UAE censors websites with evangelistic purposes and those which have any negative portrayal of Islam. Islam is not just a religion but a way of life. Therefore, acceptance of the Gospel would mean exile from their families, communities and culture. As a result, many of the people are resistant to the Gospel. A couple other stumbling blocks are the negative propaganda they've heard from the leaders of Islam in their communities and the assumption that every Westerner is a Christian. They also accept Western television as reality and thus think Christians act the way they see people act on TV. I think my supervisor encapsulated the struggle to evangelize well in this statement, "The Arabian Peninsula isn't ready for the seeds of the Gospel to be sown just yet. We must first remove all the stones from the soil."
5) How can teaching be used as an outreach in the UAE and countries similar to it?
Teachers are highly respected in the Arab culture. The more education you have the better. In addition, the Arab people are the most hospitable people I've ever met. They open their homes, families and lives to you just because you're their teacher. In a short two months, I was able to visit many students' homes and became very close with their families. They took me out to see sights around their community, they went shopping with me and I even had one family take me and my friend out to their farm for the whole day. Relationships form in the classroom in a way I've never seen before. They want to know all about what America is like and hope to learn English to better their chances of going to the best universities. In return, they're willing to teach you all about their culture and their language. It is through these relationships that conversations about life and faith (as the two are inextricable) begin. It is through these relationships that stones are removed from the soil. It is through these relationships God is opening doors for the Gospel to be preached.
6) Can you tell me a little more about sharing the gospel in the UAE?
As far as sharing the Gospel, it definitely happens. Discussions about what you believe are commonplace because of how profoundly the Muslim faith affects their lifestyle. It comes down to a lot of discernment of knowing when to share and when not to. For example I noticed the girls were more willing to talk when their mothers/aunts/grandmothers were out of the room. It takes a lot of time to understand what kind of claims I can make and what parts of the Gospel they're ready to hear. Working with Muslims has taught me, more than anything, that evangelization is a process. It takes time and it's ultimately the Holy Spirit's role to convince them of the truths you're presenting.
7) What are some specific prayer requests you have for your country and mission of service?
-Please pray for unity among the team of teachers. We're coming from all over the world and we barely know each other. Pray that God would form friendships and bonds that will further the work being done in the UAE.
-Pray for the hearts of our students. We know that God is already preparing them for this new school year. Since it is an international school there will not only be Emirati students but students from all nationalities. This is a huge opportunity for the Gospel.
-Pray for safety for everyone, both physically and spiritually. Driving in the Arabian Peninsula can be quite dangerous and there is always a concern for single women, even in such a westernized country. Spiritually, it is a very dark place. The devil has a real foothold in this country and I had never experienced spiritual warfare the way I experienced it in Oman.
-Ultimately, pray that God would be glorified through our work there, that the students would see Christ's love through us and He would draw people to Himself, (just fyi, one of the most common ways for Muslims to become Christians is through dreams and visions).
Follow Ameera’s journey here!