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Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I had the most incredible opportunity to hear Anne Graham Lotz speak in Dubai for this Spring's IBC Women's Retreat. Our church here, Aviano Baptist, is part of the International Baptist Convention which organizes these retreats for women twice a year -- though anyone is welcome to attend. This was my second such experience as I also got to go to the one in Rome last year when Cynthia Heald, another godly woman, was the speaker. But unlike my trip to Rome last year, this time I went by myself! (To Dubai!)

(To where?!)

I did know where Dubai was (in the United Arab Emirates) when I first heard the Retreat was going to be hosted there. But I had no idea what was in Dubai. I kind of figured that, if you were a Christian in Dubai, you probably knew all the other Christians in Dubai. Small community and all that. I was astounded when I saw the sheer number of women who were at the conference -- almost 600! -- and I would estimate probably half of them were local: that is, expatriates living in Dubai who attend a local English-speaking Christian church. Hundreds of Christian congregations in Dubai, I was told: Americans; South Africans; Europeans; Indians; more Indians...
But not many Emiratees. I was told 80% of the people living in the U.A.E. are not Emiratee, and maybe as many as 90% in Dubai itself are expatriates. English is so widely spoken -- and written on about as many of the signs as Arabic was -- that it probably should go ahead and be the second official language.

It truly was an international experience -- besides being my first visit to an Arab country a full (gulp) thirteen years(!) after studying Arabic with the Air Force. I quickly confirmed that I remember next to nothing of the language I learned oh-so-many moons ago. And I realized I am soooo out of practice of traveling alone when, in my exhausted state (all flights like to arrive in and depart from Dubai in the middle of the night, for whatever reason) I completely forgot to pick up my luggage and had to backtrack through a couple of security points. (And was only questioned once!)( So much for security?) I was a little in awe of the craziness with the hordes of humanity teeming around the airport at 2:00 a.m. -- don't they have lives? But I deduced during my time there that these crowds are indicative of the sheer numbers of foreign workers in Dubai who are, among other things, responsible for the massive amount of construction taking place which earns the city the title of Most Construction Per Square Foot In The World.

Dubai truly is a city of contrasts: Traditional vs. Modern; Extreme Wealth vs. Abject Poverty -- the wealthy being the Emiratees and the foreign businessmen, the poor the foreign workers who, I was told, often get lured here with false promises then have their papers taken away, leaving them stuck.

In my brief time there I came away with the impression of Dubai as an outrageous Las Vegas: the obscene display of What Money Can Buy in all its shallow brilliance; and the ugliness of the urban landscape that couldn't disguise the corners and crevises that allowed the barren desert to seep through in areas that weren't minutely landscaped. I was told that taking a trip to the dunes beyond the city was a beautiful, awe-inspiring experience -- there's nothing like a sunset over the desert -- but my time constraints didn't allow for that kind of excursion, so I'll have to take their word for it. I went for the experience of hearing Anne Graham Lotz speak, and to fellowship with other believers from all over the world. In that respect I was not disappointed. The U.A.E. is an open society for greedy purposes, I am sure: it doesn't want to discourage investments from foreign businesses. The irony is that their open policy allows Christian congregations to thrive. Sitting in the posh five-star hotel conference room with hundreds of other women, among dozens of other nationalities, I was awe-inspired by the sheer brilliance of Him -- using that greed to further His Word, to encourage women of all nationalities to gather together in His name, in a place that, otherwise, might not know Him any other way.

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