From 14-16 November 2013, the ‘United Christian Church of Dubai — Evangelical congregation’ hosted its autumn conference. This year’s theme was ‘Global missions and the church’.
The main speakers were John Piper from Minneapolis, founder of Desiring God Ministries; and Victor Atallah, general director of the Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF). Sadly, Mark Dever of Washington DC was prevented from attending.
The conference began with a supper for 250 people and Mr Atallah speaking on ‘Discerning the times’ from Matthew 16, exhorting us to see God’s sovereign hand in history and his purposes for salvation even in a predominantly Muslim region.
Worship on the Friday morning commenced with an adult class led by associate pastor John Welkner, focussing on several scripture passages setting out our corporate responsibility to reach out with the gospel.
His other role was to encourage the reading of good books. This aim was helped by a large display of books provided by the Bible Society, with titles by such authors as Piper, Lloyd-Jones, Spurgeon and various Puritan writers. These attracted many customers.
In the main service, Mr Piper preached from Romans 8:12-18 on a promise that is both ‘spectacular and scary’, beginning with the challenge, ‘Is God our Father?’ Mr Atallah spoke in the evening from Luke 7 on the centurion’s servant, showing how Christ is in control and the gospel is for all. This was followed by Mr Piper reminding us that God is supreme in global mission, for his glory and worship. More than 1000 people from around the region attended each of these sessions.
The Saturday morning session opened with Mr Atallah speaking from Matthew 15 on the faith of the Canaanite woman revealed and the wrong attitude of the disciples challenged.
Mr Piper concluded the conference with ‘Let the nations be glad’, springing out of Psalm 67. Each session contained a helpful panel discussion. The overall aim was to enlarge our vision for outreach in a region dominated by Islam.
It was a joy to see John and Barbara Sherbeck interviewed regarding 40 years of their missionary labours in Dubai. How the city has changed in that time, from few cars and buildings, to space-age structures and teeming with people and traffic!
Encouragingly, the congregation in Dubai has grown to 700 under the ministry of Pastor John Folmar, now a director of MERF. It has been able to plant another church, meeting in a hotel ballroom in the north of the city, which has doubled in size to 400. A third meeting has begun recently in Sharjah.
The Dubai church provides a nine-month training internship to develop leadership qualities and has benefited some of MERF’s staff. The congregation consists of expatriates from all over the world, with the international community outnumbering the indigenous Emiratees.
Opportunities to witness abound. One Pakistan Muslim taxi-driver enquired about the conference and asked us to sing Christian songs in the car to him. So we sang ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ and ‘Amazing Grace’, and then told him of the God who is indeed great, but loving and merciful in sending Christ as Saviour.