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Monday, November 7, 2011

Even Here He Thrives

"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men." - John 1:4

For some reason, stories of people heads chopped off because they carry Bibles or caught keeping one already caused little hysteria in my psyche even before I ventured to Saudi Arabia. Fiction or otherwise, I was in no mood to put myself at risk and the thought of my family wailing over a sewn reattached head to a familiar body scares me to the hilt.

For a first-timer in a country where other religions are not encouraged except theirs, I had a hard time deciding whether to toss off my old and new NIV Bible from my bag or simply let others pick it up from the airport lounge to be a forgotten article by some disoriented traveler. The agency people were keen to warn us that no offensive articles be found in our luggage, or we risk imprisonment upon arrival. Thankfully, there was an inconspicuously small mail station in  the vicinity where I dropped off my Bible to the surprise of my family when it reached them.

Being an expatriate in Saudi Arabia, you don't necessarily fear going about with your normal life as long as you obey the rules and laws of the country. Of course, there are bad elements on the loose preying on unsuspecting expatriates who most often than not, are too terrified to call the police and end up hapless victims because they do not know their rights, or in most cases choose not to bother asserting them.

Speaking of obedience to rules and laws however, is a struggle to a bunch of people who cannot be perfectly law-abiding , but nonetheless are peaceful-loving (practice of other religions apart from Islam is not allowed here). These are the Bible-believing Christians who find ways to keep their faith burning, even amidst persecution and arrests of believers, who are only gathered albeit secretly, to worship God. The biggest irony of them all, the one tasked to arrest Christians worshiping in secret is a state-sanctioned moral police aptly called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vice (still I'm less than halfway through an agonizing journey of equating gambling or prostitution to worshiping one's Creator).

Since the inception of globalization and mainly due to the king's open-mindedness, efforts to clamp down on Christian worshipers have dramatically subsided. (Of course, Christian gatherings are kept painfully discreet that no one suspects from outside that some living beings do exist inside and too scared to sneeze. If that's what the government decrees, it is being complied dutifully and fearfully with so much trembling). Or I must admit we are a little blessed because in this part of the kingdom, the mutawwas  are less passionate in their mandate to punish  disbelievers, unlike in Riyadh and other parts of the kingdom where they are relentless in their bid to cut off those who they term as enemies of Islam.

It sounds ridiculous, but owing to the threat of getting incarcerated, or perhaps it is best that you choose people whom to trust, in my long years of stay in Saudi Arabia no one has dared invite me to a Bible study. Funny, I don't see it strange if people find my countenance as someone who tends to run to the mutawwas for a tip off. While there are a hosts of issues or concerns to talk about related to life as an expatriate, getting comfortable to talk about one's faith even with a colleague, is a struggle.

Who would have thought that a former colleague whom I only get to see  occasionally could be an instrument for this new journey I take? Okay, this time I give some credit to the advent of social media, Facebook in particular, where people feel free to express anything under the sun, and yes even their faith sans the glare and threat from the claws of another kind. It's been three months now since I responded to a Facebook invite and I'm enjoying every bit of it -- the fellowship of the believers and the worship of the living God, even in uncharted territory. By the way, Romans 8:31 assures us that "if God is for us who can be against us?"

Twenty four years ago, a young OFW started a small Bible study group consisting of only two attendees including himself, acting as jack-of-all-trades being the  pastor, worship leader and all. Armed with a well-concealed Bible and a bike to get to homes of other members, and of course with the bravado of a Spirit-filled person, the once tiny group became a big congregation that multiplied into several sectors spread out in different parts of the city. Twenty four years of God's faithfulness and souls are being harvested for His kingdom.

The great commission is being fulfilled in the four corners of the earth, for God's plan of salvation for all does not change. No authorities, powers and dominions will prosper against God's divine plan, for it is written, "Whoever listens to Me will have security, he will be saved and no reason to be afraid." - (Proverbs 1:33)


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