Friday, May 23, 2008

Churches in the Land of Al-Jazeera

Sometimes people you admire and respect say something you disagree with. For me this was the case when the people at were critical of the new churches being built in Qatar. The fact that these buildings do not display crosses, according to jihadwatch, indicates their "cowering dhimmi character".

In 1969 I was with a group of friends travelling overland from Europe to India. While stopping in Kabul for a few days, we were hosted by Dr. Christy Wilson who founded the School of the Blind in Kabul. He was also a missionary, and was planning construction of the first Christian Church building in the country. With great enthusiasm he described the pews, organ, church bell, and steeple that were all being shipped out from the States.

I was just a 22-year old kid who knew nothing about anything, but I remember distinctly thinking, "This is not a good idea and it's not going to work." You don't build the replica of an Augusta, Georgia, Southern Baptist Church building in Kabul, Afghanistan.

And I was right; it didn't work. Soon after construction of the building began, local opponents razed it to the ground and the project was never started again.

In India I saw a different model. An Indian Christian leader named Bakht Singh didn't agree with Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist missionaries constructing buildings that looked exactly like Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist churches back home and where they only sang covers of translated Western hymns. They were a mismatch in every way to the national culture. Bakht Singh constructed simple pandals, open-sided buildings where people sat on mats on the floor. They wrote their own songs in their local languages, accompanied by musicians playing the harmonium and tubla. The idea spread like wildfire, and within years there were hundreds of these simple assemblies scattered all over India. Tens of thousands of people worshipped together every Sunday. Hindus and Muslims often visited the services, attracted by the local flavor and not turned off by Western imitation. And there wasn't a cross in sight.

Here in Riyadh, we're really excited about the churches being built in Qatar. We've just sent them five thousands dollars to help with the project. Africans, Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis, and Western expats will be able to worship at a central location. The facilities are spacious enough for smaller groups to meet separately and conduct their worship in their own languages. It doesn't bother us one bit that there's not a big cross out front. Christianity did just fine its first 400 years without them.

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