I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in Abu Dhabi. It was the first time out of my host country since moving here (17 months- I am aiming not go back to my passport country within 2 years). One of my best friends from university lives there with her husband and since recognising the importance of regular deep connection with friends who know my well (read more about that here) and it only being a short inexpensive flight away it was the ideal opportunity for a visit.
When many think of Abu Dhabi plush hotels, deserts, bling cars and billionaire princes spring to mind (they’re not far wrong!). I had no idea what to expect actually and what I did find was so different to anything I could have imagined. This profile of Abu Dhabi is from my own experience, a bit of basic research and what my friends have taught me, but being one the biggest up and coming city hubs of the Middle East is of course yet another place where the gospel and His church needs to go forth.
46 years ago this vast city was a big pile of sand. In fact nestled between Saudi Arabia and Oman, the desert known now as the United Arab Emirates was populated by Bedouin tribes. In 1971 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan discovered oil and instead of using it for his own greed founded of the UAE providing commerce and industry for the world and jobs for millions. The UAE is populated 80% by foreigners. A huge hospitality and commerce industry base, I met Americans, English, Canadians, Filipinos, Egyptians and Lebanese people just in the 2 days I was there, all of whom had moved there to work. 20% of the population are locals are (Emirati). It seemed to me to be a pretty transient place with some people only coming to make their money and only staying short term but many in fact do stay long term. With the whole city only being 40 something years old, this factor could well be the reason it felt this way. It reinforced in my mind the need for believers who move there and intentionally stay plant gardens and invest in the community like Jeremiah 28 says.
An hour and a half drive away from its opulent neighbour Dubai I heard that Abu Dhabi was by far the preferred place for people to live, offering a far higher quality of life and slightly slower pace of life. Both however are eyewateringly expensive to live in, but there are many reasons foreigners are beginning to call Abu Dhabi home. It’s spacious and despite its many iconic skyscrapers, a mere hours drive will bring you to stunning desert dunes (unfortunately I couldn’t witness that this trip). Salaries are relative to living costs and the weather is warm all year round dropping to lows of 15 degrees at Christmas. I found it would be great for family life too with plenty of massive green parks and beaches. I definitely want to take my kids back when they’re older.
With a mix of European/British law and sharia law with a zero tolerance for terrorism Abu Dhabi is one of the safest cities in the world. Due to it being so new, poverty is rare and so therefore homelessness and destitution unheard of. I found this quite staggering. Speed cameras and seat-belt legislation make the highways feel incredibly safe and this struck me as very very different from the middle eastern city in which I live (my prayer life has grown due to the roads in the city where I live!), Abu Dhabi actually made up lots of small islands conjoined by highway.
With architectural mosques required per 20,000 people, religious freedom is celebrated and there seem to be several foreigners churches well established in the city (of different denominations).From what I understand I did not hear of any churches working with locals. That doesn’t mean they aren’t any of course. My friends working in the hospitality industry and project management industry gave me an insight into both their lives and their colleagues that displayed an awesome opportunity for the church to grow through the workplace. Like every major city every sphere of society provides an outlet for the gospel to go forth and bear fruit. If hungry hearts that worship Islam or Mammon and everything in between could meet a real follower of Jesus how wonderful it would be. So. Maybe you’re reading this and feeling stirred to visit. Heart for the Middle East and an IT engineer, project Manager, Businessman/woman/teacher or banker? Speak English and want to move somewhere where English is the main language? Want to be part of growing the church to one the newest and most influential cities on earth? Why not visit Abu Dhabi? Feel free to comment : )