by Luis Bush
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.
THE ARABIAN PENINSULA is a land of stark contrasts. Vast oil reserves lie hidden under equally vast uninhabited deserts. Enormous wealth is displayed in gleaming modern cities, while nomadic tribesmen in the desert cling tenaciously to their ancient way of life. The Arabian Peninsula is the very heart of Islam, and its cultures are isolationist by nature. It is also a land in great transition. To reap a financial harvest from the enormous oil reserves, the Peninsula's national leaders have turned to western technology. After centuries of protective isolation, the people of the Arabian Peninsula have been brought face-to-face with the rest of the world during the last half-century. The Peninsula has been considered by some to be impenetrable with the gospel, but God is miraculously moving in the region today.
As I have visited most of the countries in the Arabian Peninsula and met with Christians throughout the region, it has become very clear to me that this is the hour of spiritual opportunity. This brochure will tell you why.and how you can have a vital part in a great spiritual awakening in the very heart of the Middle East. (An eight-page full-color brochure is available for $0.50 each from the AD2000 International Office; E-mail: email@example.com)
Is the Middle East - and specifically the Arabian Peninsula - truly reachable? Most western Christians believe it is not. But after you read this article I hope you will agree with an increasing number of Arab nationals and internationals who respond to that question with a resounding "Yes!"
Stereotypes abound in the Middle East, especially negative stereotypes about Arab people. It is an area of striking contradictions and conflicts:
Twenty-one Arabic-speaking countries are spread across North Africa, the Central Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. Together they have a population of some 270 million people, and that number is growing by half a million every month.
Seven of those countries are in the Arabian Peninsula: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. These nations are the focus of this article.
The core of the world's unreached people live in a window that extends from West Africa to East Asia, from ten degrees north to forty degrees north of the equator. This region, called "The 10/40 Window," encompasses nearly three billion people, including most of the world's Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.
The Arabian Peninsula lies at the very heart of the 10/40 Window. No region of the world has been so resistant to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Peninsula is the core of Islam. The two holiest cities in the Islamic world - Mecca and Medina - are in Saudi Arabia, the largest nation on the Peninsula.
There are over one billion - ie. 22% of the world's population -- Muslims in the world. Each is required to pray toward the city of Mecca five times every day. Each year more than two million of them make the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca.
A massive Islamic missionary effort is coordinated by the Muslim World League in Mecca. Vast sums of money are used to propagate Islam around the world: aid to countries considered sympathetic, building mosques, sending missionaries, literature, radio, etc. The world's largest printing presses are located here, and they churn out 28 million copies of the Koran every year for worldwide distribution.
If we are serious in our commitment to provide a valid opportunity for every person to experience the truth and saving power of Jesus Christ, we cannot ignore the compelling realities of the Arabian Peninsula.
Many Christians think of the Old Testament as the story of God's dealing with Israel, His chosen people. But from Creation to Abraham, there was no unique "People of God." Throughout this vast expanse of time, God was dealing with "the nations" (Gen. 1-11). That included the ancestors of today's Arabs, the people of the Arabian Peninsula.
When God called Abraham, a man who lived in a pagan culture, He promised that through Abraham "all nations" would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). Solomon, following God's instructions, built his Temple for "all nations" (2 Chr. 6:32-33). Isaiah, representing the Old Testament prophets, reaffirms God's desire that "all nations" should turn to Him (Isa. 49:6, 56:1,3).
In the New Testament, Christ's parting charge to His disciples was that they should carry the Good News of His love to all people everywhere. That Great Commission certainly included - and includes today - the neighbors to the east of Palestine.the people of the Arabian Peninsula.
"He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs" (Ps. 107:35).
The growing flow of internationals into the Arabian Peninsula (see chart) brings labor and expertise for building the nations' infrastructure and providing needed services. It also brings many Christians to the region. More than seven of every ten residents in Qatar and Bahrain are expatriates. There are at least 420,000 expatriate Christians in the entire Peninsula.
Christians within the Peninsula comment: "We have seen great gains in the last five years in this part of the Middle East. More people are praying for this part of the world than ever before in history! That gives us confidence, and a spiritual mandate to enter and be fruitful in the land. With this kind of heavenly prayer cover we know the Arabs who we care about so much will have a chance to hear. Your prayers continue with our servants on the ground led by the Holy Spirit to set the people free!"
Growing interest in the 10/40 Window is focusing prayer for a spiritual breakthrough in the Arab world. In the October 1993 "Praying through the Window" emphasis, more than 1,200 local churches and some 21 million Christians adopted one of the Arab countries - many of them in the Arabian Peninsula - for special prayer. On-site intercessory teams came to each of the countries for days of prayer and fasting, asking God for a spiritual breakthrough.
In 1995 there was a further global prayer focus on the megacities of the 10/40 Window. An estimated 36 million Christians participated in that effort. Millions prayed for the megacities of the Arabian Peninsula.
In 1997 global prayer was focused on the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula. During "Praying through the Window IV" (October 1999) millions of Christians worldwide are expected to pray specifically for the Arabian Peninsula, with a special focus on the strategic towns.
The history of the people of the Arabian Peninsula begins in Genesis 10 where the beginnings of nations are described. The bulk of the population of Arabia are descendants of Shem (ie. Semitic peoples - the Hebrews, Arabs, Arameans). There were two primary peoples who inhabited Arabia. One was largely nomadic, wandering with their flocks over the great deserts, which lie, between the river Euphrates and the center of the peninsula. The other group was the inhabitants of the rain-fed uplands of Yemen. Camels were domesticated in Arabia between 1500-1200BC.
The Arabs were the nomadic peoples of the central northern part of Arabia. The word itself is probably derived from a Semitic root related to nomadism. It was the Romans who used the term Arabia to cover the whole of the peninsula. It was with these nomadic peoples that Ishmael and his twelve sons - together with the children of Esau - joined. There are still Bedouin tribes in Northern Arabia named after two of the sons of Ishmael.
The southern peoples of Arabia are also basically Semitic peoples, descendants of Joktan and Cush. The source of their wealth in earlier times was their position on trade routes from India, East Africa, South East Asia and China, as well as their supplies of frankincense. Later, in the 4th century BC, Himyaritic peoples from the Horn of Africa dominated the area. Navigation of the Red Sea was difficult and dangerous owing to coral reefs and pirates. Most of the goods traded were carried by camel from South Yemen up to the Mediterranean Sea. This lucrative trade produced a wealthy and civilized community in Yemen. The Queen of Sheba, who paid a very famous visit to Solomon, was a Queen of Yemen. Halfway between Yemen and the Mediterranean cultures lies a small desert settlement called Mecca. Mecca was a staging post for this caravan trade.
Judaism, and to a lesser extent Christianity, had penetrated into the area by the 6th century AD. But most of the peoples of northern Arabia were worshippers of spirits. They made pilgrimages to sacred stones. These places were thought to be residences of spirits, jinn or afrit. Slowly monotheism was beginning to be increasingly accepted.
In one Arabian Peninsula country Christian leaders of different nationalities met together in preparation for the Global Consultation of World Evangelization (GCOWE 95) in Seoul, Korea. They reviewed the present realities and current trends of their region, dreaming/visualizing by faith where God would want the church to be by December 31, 2000. ("My dream is that the Christians in the Peninsula will love the people of the Peninsula." "My dream is to see a church started for every tribe." "My dream is to see people reach out to every village.") ("My dream is that the Lord will extend to the Arabian Peninsula a special measure of grace and mercy to receive a Gospel message without resistance or deception of Satan." "My dream is that every mall will have a bookstore selling Bibles.") ("My dream is that the women of the Arabian Peninsula have liberty in Christ.")
Because God loves these people and has given us promises that He will move in this area (Isaiah 42, 60:7-8). Also, because it is a place where there are tribes who have never heard and we need to tell them in order to 'hasten the Day' that Jesus can come back (2 Peter 3:12 and Matt. 24:14). A new spirit of unity is growing in the region, laying the foundation for even greater partnership. An Arab national Christian has said, "We have thought less than even one half of what God is about to do here."
It is time for God's people around the world to get involved. National Christian initiatives are growing. The ground has been prepared through careful study. Cooperation and partnership are increasing. Intensive global prayer is increasingly focusing on the Arab world. A respected international working in the area has said that he expects a spiritual harvest in the Arab world in the near future "because of the growing awareness and prayers of the saints around the world."
Expectation of nationals and expatriates is growing. One long-term Christian worker in the area summarized it this way: "We are in the generation in which the Arab world will see a dramatic spiritual breakthrough." An Arab historian/theologian told me: "I believe an outpouring of God's Spirit is coming soon to the church in the Arab world. I have been a student of church history for many years. Every other region has experienced revival except ours! Now it is our turn."
So be it, Lord!
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