In a region where Christians are beheaded or crucified for their faith, the thought of tens of thousands of Christians gathering together to worship Jesus in public seems impossible.
Even a half-dozen Christians worshiping together in public risk torture and death at the hands of the Muslim majority.
So how did an estimated 180,000 Christians gather together to worship Jesus in a Middle Eastern Muslim nation just this week?
God is breaking down barriers and establishing his churches in the Middle East, despite persecution by Muslim extremists.
Nowhere has the surge in Middle Eastern Christianity been seen more powerfully than in the United Arab Emirates.
Just last year, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins had this to say about the growing Christian church in the UAE:
“I am greatly inspired by the powerful faith and determination of Christians in the UAE who have established a remarkable 700 Christian churches and ministries throughout the country.
“Observing the security and freedom of worship that minority faiths have in the UAE gives me hope for greater expansion of religious freedom in the UAE and for persecuted religious minorities across the Middle East.
“The UAE is pursuing a path of religious tolerance and peace that I pray other countries in the region would follow.”
Many of the Christians in the UAE are Catholic and according to Reuters, “The UAE hosts about half of the two million expatriate Catholics living on the peninsula, home to the birthplace of Islam in neighboring Saudi Arabia.”
The report added that “the community includes large numbers of people from the Philippines and India.”
There has been a strong inflow of immigrants into the UAE in order to meet the labor demands of their thriving economy.
Many of these immigrants bring with them the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Just this week, Pope Francis visited the United Arab Emirates for the first time ever.
His visit comes “as a group of evangelical leaders has been working over the last few years to improve relations with the Muslim world.”
Pope Francis rode into the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, in his white open top jeep, dubbed the Popemobile by some, and was greeted with cheers from the estimated 180,000 Christians in attendance.
In years past, such a gathering would have been impossible.
But Pope Francis said it best, “The Lord specializes in doing new things; he can even open paths in the desert.”
“For me as a Christian, this is one of the most important days of my life,” said Thomas Tijo, an immigrant from India’s southern state of Kerala, holding his three-year-old son, Marcus. “We are a long way from home and this is like a comforting blanket.”
“It’s a dream come true. I feel blessed,” said Rio Chavez, another immigrant but who came to the UAE from the Philippines. “I feel renewed, positive, he is an inspiration for me and my family.”
According to Reuters, “about 4,000 Muslims, including government officials,” were also in attendance at the event. No doubt the Holy Spirit was present and working on their hearts!
The UAE’s liberalization on the issue of religious tolerance gives hope for the future of the Middle East and the Christians who live there.
And it isn’t the only Middle Eastern country making improvements in this area that has been particularly problematic in the region’s history.
As Christian Life Daily recently reported, Bahrain has made strides in recent years to improve the religious liberty of its citizens and Christianity there too is flourishing.
Click here to read our article on the subject for more details.
Please praise God that He is opening up doors in such a difficult region and continue to pray for the Christians suffering at the hands of Muslim extremists.