Worship in the Desert. One worship leader’s story from Qatar.
An insight into how church and worship work in a country where Christianity is not exactly legal
Hi, my name is Tejas. I’ve lived in Qatar for the past 17 years. I’m 21 years old, so I’ve lived in the Middle East pretty much my whole life. It’s all I’ve ever known, even as far as the church goes. I’ve never lived in a country where freedom of religious expression is a thing, so I don’t know what that’s like. What I do know, is what church looks like in this part of the world.
Many of you reading this will be the exact opposite of me – you probably will have grown up in a country with free religious expression, where churches and things are normal. It’s likely that you have no idea what church would look like where I’m at – just like I have no idea what church looks like where y’all are at. This is my attempt to bridge that gap. But first, a little about me so you get the whole picture.
Possibly the biggest reason for my extended stay in the Middle East is the healthcare. I was born with Hemophilia A: a genetic condition wherein blood does not have the ability to clot. With this condition, severe injury, disability and fatality are all much more imminent than without. Often times, climbing stairs has landed me in the emergency room because of the internal bleeding complications that arose after reaching the top floor. That’s one example. I’ve also been seriously injured by opening doors.
Treatment for this condition is not cheap. The treatment I receive today costs roughly $15,000 per week. This is how I know my God is alive and at work: at a very young age, before any real complications from this condition could arise, He moved my family to Qatar – where the healthcare for this condition, and others like it, is completely free. Had I grown up where I was born, India, I would be either severely disabled, or dead by now.
God is good. This is what He has done for me before I even knew Him. The least I can do is try to love and serve Him and His people with the rest of my life.
What’s different about worship in the Middle East?
Church in the Middle East is mind-blowingly cool. Possibly the biggest reason why I say that is because of the people involved. Middle Eastern countries are known for their diversity – especially Qatar. Over 75% of the local population are expatriates who hail from every part of the world imaginable – from Alaska to Christchurch. All of these different tribes and tongues and ethnic groups come together on Friday mornings to celebrate the same Savior.
But isn’t church supposed to be on Sunday? Not in Qatar! Middle Eastern countries have a Friday-Saturday weekend. I think it has something to do with Islam, but I don’t really know/care. What I do care about is that we get to worship – not when we get to worship. And boy do we worship. I am honestly reminded of the coming kingdom every Friday – where hundreds of people who are as different as night and day unite to worship the one King we have in common. To say it inspires awe wouldn’t do it justice. We’re different, yet we’re family – adopted by the blood of Christ – and it’s lived out instead of just spoken of. It’s definitely an experience.
Services are just like everywhere else, I’m sure: a usual welcome + announcements, music, message, more music, giving, break. We play the usual Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, David Crowder, Jesus Culture, Matt Maher stuff you hear everywhere else. We are especially fond of Hillsong United’s “Scandal of Grace”. What’s different though, is where we have services. The country has a “religious complex” where non-muslims are allowed to practice their religions. Evangelism and worship of a God not named Allah is illegal everywhere else in the country except the religious complex. While some of you may think this unreasonable, it’s commendable of a middle eastern country to be this tolerant! We can pray that others follow suit, and then maybe relax a little more.
Persecution exists both covertly and overtly: covertly, Christians will not get promoted as easily as muslims, Christians will have to work a little harder to get noticed, etc. Overtly, people have been deported and barred from entering the country for attempted evangelism (they make it sound like attempted murder) of residents in this country. That being said, the most they do is deport people. By God’s grace, no one has lost their head for Jesus.
To conclude, one thing that we get right in this part of the world is that we effectively kill tribalism. By tribalism, I mean the idea that Christianity exists in “camps” – some lean more toward the charismatic side, while others lean more toward the reformed baptist side. Some believe in emphatic SCREAMY worship services, while others believe we should be quiet and orderly. In Qatar, we’ve got people from so many different countries and walks of life that everyone brings something new to the table that we learn from, love and accept. The feeling of family and community here is definitely something to write home about.
COME VISIT US WE’D LOVE TO HAVE YOU!
Thanks to Tejas for this article. So good to read about life in Qatar – a place we’ve often shipped DVDs to and wondered about what happened to them!
As well as being a worship leader, Tejas works as a website designer.