I wrote this during my first year in Bahrain, now seven years ago. It’s probably more true today than ever before, and lays a good foundation for a path through the desert…
Bahrain, in my opinion, is a place of great contrasts. It’s a country with 125* highs when the air conditioning never shuts off followed by 40* lows when the heat never comes on. It’s a country proud of its Middle Eastern heritage and uncomfortable with American influence; yet it continues to build more sky scrapers and shopping malls, and McDonald’s, KFC, and Applebee’s all deliver to your door. It’s a place where Christianity is associated with Hollywood, yet when walking through the mall, you see some Muslim women wearing the head scarf like a fashion statement along with designer sunglasses and a rhinestone studded abaya. On the street, blondes wearing T-shirts pass women completely covered from head to toe. On one corner is a 5 star hotel with fountains and lighted palm trees. On the next corner is an unfinished apartment building where 100 workers all share one bathroom. A place divided along Sunni and Shi’a lines where Christians have a great deal of freedom, Bahrain is a country of division and toleration, of tradition and progress, of great wealth and great poverty, of grief and hope. These last two, grief and hope, are the ones that have meant the most to me in the past year.
I moved to Bahrain not really knowing what to expect. The first few months passed by in a blur. I was doing the best I could as a new teacher, struggling to keep up with grading papers, trying to keep the Mohammeds straight from the Abdullas, and pretending to know what was going on when I really didn’t have a clue. It was October before I had my first really challenging experience. We were having a special school assembly to mark the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting in Islam. As a guest speaker, the school had invited in a woman to teach the students how to read the Koran. I don’t know how many of you have ever heard the Koran read before, but it’s not read like we would read an English text. It has a very specific rhythm to it, almost like a chant. At certain points the reader says something which requires the listeners to respond. All of this was going on while I sat in the back of the room. I looked around and saw my student Yousif, who has about a 60 second attention span, hunched over his copy of the Koran, his face scrunched up in concentration as he tried to get the reading and response just right. Behind him sat Mariam, another one of my students, who recited the words with ease like she had practiced them a thousand times before. And then there was Ali and Salman and Dana and Fatima all proclaiming Allah as god and Mohammed as his prophet. I had long since learned to look past the long garments and the head scarves, so here I was for the first time actually seeing my students as Muslims, Muslims practicing their religion. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. In that instant, I was struck with feelings of horror, disbelief, and overwhelming grief. I went home that night plagued by those images. What was I supposed to do? I had 54 students who I had come to know and love who don’t know the love of Christ. More than that, there was an entire student body that didn’t know the truth of the Gospel. And as I looked at the lights of the city that night, another wave of grief hit me as I realized I was looking at an entire city, no, an entire country, that does not believe in Jesus. Facing a situation like that, it’s hard to feel anything but grief. But like I said, Bahrain is a place of grief and of hope.
I found hope much later, on Easter in fact, as I sat in the church parking lot. The church building where I attend is home to several different congregations. It is their tradition that on Easter Sunday, the congregations hold one service, a sunrise service at 5 am in the church parking lot. It has been said that that church gathering is a taste of heaven on earth, and that morning I believed it. The parking lot was filled with people of every color and race, from Filipinos to Africans to Indians to Arabs, all proclaiming the resurrection of our Lord. People said you could hear the music from blocks away as together voices were raised to sing the familiar hymn: He is Lord; He is Lord. He has risen from the dead, and He is Lord. Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
As I stood there looking at the two towers of the mosque only a block away, those words took on a whole new meaning. There is hope in Bahrain. There is hope in the Middle East because Jesus Christ is Lord.