The World Cup is underway, featuring two nations on the Arabian Peninsula that are on the World Watch List – Saudi Arabia and host nation Qatar. Living as a Christian on the Arabian Peninsula can be dangerous. But it’s not stopping thousands of people having online conversations about Jesus with an Open Doors team, which is leading to some 200 face-to-face conversations each year. And it all begins with Google.
“On the Arabian Peninsula, a person who is searching to know more about the Christian faith cannot enter a church,” says Daniel*, who is helping lead this ministry. “In Saudi Arabia, there are no churches. In the other countries, the churches are only accessible to foreigners. For example, in Qatar or in the United Arab Emirates, every person who enters the church compound is checked, and only foreigners are allowed in.”
Given that many Christians on the Arabian Peninsula are secret believers, finding someone to ask about Jesus is difficult and risky.
“When a Christian ex-pat living in one of the countries on the Arabian Peninsula wanted to meet with a seeker, or even a new believer, in the era before the internet and social media, he would try to meet with people face-to-face in coffee shops and cafés. But that was very risky; ex-pats were kicked out of countries as soon as their activities were discovered.”
But following the Arab Spring just over ten years ago, access to the internet and mobile phones grew, and this presented a new opportunity.
“Our focus turned to using the internet to connect with searchers,” says Daniel. “The internet is anonymous, although governments on the Arabian Peninsula are monitoring what people do on social media.”
But there was another challenge. When seekers ask questions – such as “Who is Jesus” or “Do Christians believe in three Gods?” – the first websites to appear aren’t always the most helpful for those seeking or are new to faith. The Open Doors team began work on creating content – including videos, animations and frequently asked questions – that would appear prominently on searches.
According to Daniel, ‘tens of thousands’ of people ask such questions every year, thousands of which lead to online conversations with a member of a follow-up team. This is resulting in some 200 face-to-face meetings each year.
It may sound like a low number, but Daniel has a different take on it. “This is so much more than before the internet when foreigners on the Peninsula would go to coffee shops to get in contact with random people and start a conversation hoping to meet a seeker. That didn’t lead to so many good conversations as we have nowadays.
“When a person really is interested, we arrange such a meeting within 12 to 24 hours after the online meeting. Open Doors makes those face-to-face meetings possible. The situation on the Arabian Peninsula is different from the West. Sometimes a woman must take a taxi and drive for an hour to get to a place where she can meet someone safely. Sometimes the seekers don’t have the money to sit in a coffee shop to have a conversation.”
Unsurprisingly, the face-to-face meetings are the trickiest – and riskiest – part of the journey, particularly for native seekers. To help address this, the Open Doors team will often send a local and a foreigner to a meeting, because the seeker is more likely to trust the latter. But it’s not just those searching that take a risk when having a meeting. “Sometimes the seeker can be a person who pretends to be a seeker,” says Daniel.
This ministry has already to led people encountering Jesus. You can help not only by praying, but by clicking some of the below links, because the more they’re used the greater chance they will appear higher on people’s searches and therefore deemed a reliable source of information. Thank you for your prayers and support for our brothers and sisters on the Arabian Peninsula!
1. Home page (website name means “Growing in Christ” and is for seekers and disciples of Jesus)
2. Questions (think gotquestions.com)
3. Articles (think desiringgod.com)
5. Basics about Christianity (common misconceptions, what is the Bible, who is the Christian God, etc)
*Name changed for security reasons