It must have been almost a year ago that I received an email from a pastor in India, asking me if I would consider traveling all the way to New Delhi to teach at his church and to meet some of the Christians in that country. I thought about it, prayed about it, and talked to my fellow elders at Grace Fellowship Church and together we decided that I ought to go. A few other pieces fell into place and it soon became a trip to Dubai, New Delhi and the province of Uttar Pradesh.
On Wednesday evening I jumped aboard a plane and headed to Dubai–my first time in the Middle East. We (Murray Robinson, an elder at the church who is traveling with me) arrived in Dubai on Thursday evening; that was 13 hours of flying time, but 22 hours when factoring in all the time zones.
Dubai is a city that has long fascinated me from afar. It is no less fascinating on the ground. The first impression was of the airport–a big, busy airport with people of every race and nationality bustling around. It was kind of like Toronto, but a bit more so. It took us about a half hour to clear customs, something that required a photograph and a retinal scan. We were met by Dave Furman who pastors Redeemer Church of Dubai. A short cab ride took us to the apartment where he lives along with his wife Gloria (who blogs at Domestic Kingdom) and their three children.
This morning was Friday (NOTE: I wrote this yesterday but am posting it today), and since this is a Muslim country, Friday is the first day of the weekend and the day set aside for worship. It’s kind of different having the first day of the weekend set aside for worship. Redeemer Church meets in a beautiful hotel ball room and several hundred people call the church home. Dubai is a city of ex-pats and Redeemer is comprised almost entirely of people who were born elsewhere and migrated to Dubai to work. Redeemer is an evangelical church very much in the Reformed stream and meets here with the assent of the government. They love the gospel and they love one another. The worship service, from the songs to the sermon and the prayer, could have been lifted straight from Grace Fellowship Church. The people were delightful and very welcoming.
After the worship service Dave took us across the city to a religious compound that used to be far outside the city but which is now well within its limits due to Dubai’s ceaseless expansion. This is a compound set aside for religious buildings of all stripes–Evangelicals, Catholics, Sikhs and others all have their buildings here. So too does the United Christian Church of Dubai. UCCD has had a long presence in the city and continues to thrive under the leadership of pastor John Folmar. It has an excellent little bookstore that sells a lot of books you would recognize (including all of mine!).
From UCCD we got aboard the metro system, the first and best metro transit system in the Middle East (and the cleanest, since all food and drink is strictly forbidden aboard), and headed back for the city. This took us past all of those massive and amazing office towers you have heard so much about. It also took us past a lot of unbelievably huge shopping malls.
One thing you learn quickly in Dubai, is that it is a city of superlatives. Everything is the biggest or tallest or fastest-growing or oldest or newest or shiniest or something. Anything. It’s a city that displays all kinds of ingenuity and all kinds of irrationality. The amazingly rich share space with the desperately poor, but most of them are there to make their fortune, to increase their fortune and, ultimately, to spend their fortune. Every brand and every label has a presence here.
In the evening Dave and Gloria took us through the older part of town–the part where there is a huge market with an impressive selection of impressively-large sharks, where there is an incredible gold market (see the photo), where little wooden boats will motor you from one side of the river to the other, where the Indian population is pressed together into this long and impossibly narrow little alley, pressed on all sides by flowers, idols and food.
And that was our day! I travel all around North America and rarely see the sights. But today I think I pretty much saw Dubai.
On Saturday we will be heading for New Delhi. I hope to be able to check in once I’ve arrived.