A few months ago I had the privilege of traveling to Dubai to speak at a revival meeting that was organized by a small group of young Adventists. Though I have traveled in other countries with a significant Muslim presence (Jordan, Turkey, Israel), Dubai seemed unusual; like a city that was still trying to figure out its own identity. I’ve never really been drawn to it in spite of all the hype.
Most of Dubai is calculated to impress. It is one of the richest cities in the world, and one of the fastest growing. It is home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which towers above the city at 2,722 feet and contains the world’s highest mosque, highest restaurant, and highest nightclub. Then there’s Burj Al Arab, the world’s only 5-star hotel rated as a 7 star where the Royal Suite will cost you about $20,000 per night. If you get bored in your luxury hotel room, you can always head out to the Dubai Mall—and yes, it is the largest shopping mall in the world.
All this hype makes Dubai a melting pot for people from around the world eager for a chance in the bustling job market.
For me, that screams evangelism.
As part of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is in a Muslim country where there are certain restrictions regarding religious liberties for other religions. Christians are allowed to meet for worship, but only in compounds specifically designated by the municipality. The compound where we met on Sabbath morning is comprised of several rooms, which are shared by Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Seventh-day Adventists.
…he could never shake off the Christian ideals he was taught by his parents.
In a city where only about 17% of the population is of Arab descent, the rest of the population are immigrants, the Adventist church also reflects this dynamic—basically 99% percent of the members are from the Philippines, with a few Africans.
During my visit, I met Karim. He is an anomaly; the only Adventist of Arab descent in the whole church. Karim was born in Lebanon and raised in a Greek Orthodox family. As a child, he was dedicated to all things church; helping the priest prepare the bread for communion, carrying the candles, the cross, and the other icons used during Sunday Mass. Everyone thought he would become a priest himself.
Throughout his teens, Karim’s family faced difficult financial struggles as the result of Lebanon being embroiled in a long civil war at home and military tension abroad. Amidst national instability, he had to manage up to three jobs alongside his schoolwork. Around this time he stopped going to church and began to drift away from God.
Eventually, he dropped out of school and, because of his growing interest in music, became a production manager for a music company while working as a DJ in nightclubs.
Then in 2003, a possibility opened for him to go to Dubai. He jumped at the opportunity. But even while working as a DJ in various upscale clubs throughout Dubai, he could never shake off the Christian ideals he was taught by his parents. Others quickly noticed that he never smoked or used alcohol or drugs, despite many opportunities to do so. He was a really unusual DJ!
It was in one of these clubs that he met his wife. Her parents happen to be Seventh-day Adventists and this led to a close relationship between Karim and his father-in-law. In the many conversations that resulted from that relationship, Karim’s father-in-law constantly spoke to him about God. One day he sent Karim a series of DVDs on Bible prophecy that completely amazed him. He was impressed with the emphasis on Scripture.
Through the process of learning more about the teachings of Jesus, Karim began a conversion experience. It’s as if he heard someone telling him, “Are you listening?” After devouring the DVDs, he continued to study the Bible. Everything made so much sense; it had a ring of truth in it. In February of this year, Karim was baptized.
Today, Karim is happily married and has a beautiful daughter. But his story is far from over. The journey has just begun. He is still a popular DJ in one of the premier cities in the world, and though he has been a powerful witness in that scene, he knows it is not ideal; he wants out. He’s planning to soon quit his job and begin his studies to enter the ministry.
I had the privilege of having lunch with him as he shared his story with me. I can see it in his eyes. His passion is evident. He’s a preacher in the making. I’m excited to watch how God turns this young DJ into an evangelist to preach in a part of the world that needs to hear the everlasting gospel!