Tabletalk: How did Redeemer Church of Dubai begin?
Dave Furman: We spent our seminary years traveling around the world engaging in various ministries. Uncertain of where we wanted to serve after graduation, the only thing we knew was that we wanted to live among the unreached. Through much prayer and conversation, we became aware of a lack of gospel-preaching churches in the Arabian Peninsula and began to prepare for service here. My wife and I sold our car, packed our bags, and sent our books ahead of us on a ship. Then we hopped on a plane with our sixteen-month-old daughter and set off for a land full of unknowns. We didn't really know how we would be able to stay or if it was possible for a church to be planted. While we investigated the answers to those questions, we studied the language and got involved in the life of an existing evangelical church in the city. By God's grace, we were embraced by the leadership of the church and began meeting with people to cast vision for church planting, beginning with a church in the center of the city. Redeemer Church of Dubai was started in February 2010 in downtown Dubai to reach out to the diverse population in our city.
TT: How is the spiritual climate of Dubai different from the United States? How is it similar?
DF: This city is a melting pot of cultures and religions, though everyone must (of course) live and abide by the law of the land, which is an Islamic state. Those of other faiths are welcome to practice their religion as long as it does not transgress the law. The spiritual climate is unique in that regard. However, similar to the United States, there are people who would be religious in name only and not in practice. Many implications for ministry flow out of this.
TT: How can Christians pray for you and other church planters, particularly in your region?
DF: There are several ways you can pray for us: (1) Pray most of all that our affection for Christ would grow, that our love for our Savior would increase and overflow in our ministry. (2) Pray for more workers for the harvest. There are all kinds of opportunities here. Please pray for more laborers to come out to this part of the world to pastor, plant churches, counsel, and disciple. There are several major cities that are ready to see new churches launched in a variety of different languages. (3) Pray for the development of a pastoral training center. We are working toward more formal training for pastors and church leaders in a variety of different languages. We are hoping that our city will be a launching pad for gospel work in our region.
TT: More than 85 percent of your country's population consists of expatriates. What challenges and opportunities does this population present for gospel ministry?
DF: The witness of the local church here is a beautiful adornment to the gospel. One night at our home, we held a church dinner. The next day, a neighbor confessed to my wife, Gloria: "All night I had my face glued to my window looking at your yard. I saw Indians and Africans and Asians and Westerners coming together—bringing food and eating at your house and everyone looked so happy. What would bring you all together? Why would you eat with people who are so different than you?" Gloria saw an open door to announce the gospel and said, "It's all because of Jesus." Because of the diversity of our church, my wife had an opportunity to describe in full how Jesus tears down the dividing wall, breaks down all barriers, and brings together people from all nations at the cross. It's because Jesus loves us and we love Jesus that we come together and worship Him. This was stunning news to our neighbor. Our church, filled with sixty different nationalities, is a beautiful picture of the reconciliation God has provided for us through Christ.
TT: How is life for your family different in Dubai than in the United States?
DF: Family life for us here is similar to life in the States—we are concerned about how to have quality time in the midst of busyness; we have to weigh the pros and cons of options for our children's schooling; and we endeavor to be faithful witnesses to Christ as we go about our daily lives. But then again, family life is different for us here. Three of our four children were born here, and our oldest was a baby when we moved overseas. Our children feel at home in Dubai, and they feel like strangers when we visit the States. Being a minority (in religion, nationality, and ethnicity), we are presented with opportunities each day to answer the curiosity of people who ask us, "Why are you here?" Please pray that we would be faithful with those opportunities.
TT: What would you say is the biggest misconception that Americans have about ministering in a Middle Eastern context?
DF: The biggest misconception that Americans have about ministering in a Middle Eastern context is to think that all Middle Easterners are the same. This region is diverse—culturally, politically, and practically. The issues that a Christian faces in one city (or workplace or neighborhood) may be very different from the issues that one faces in the high-rise or village next door. When you are seeking to support and encourage your brothers and sisters in this region, please make it your aim to understand their particular context.
TT: What aspects of the reformed tradition have most equipped you for ministry in Dubai?
DF: The first and biggest thing that came to mind when I read this question was the crystal-clear call of Christ. Jesus says: "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:16). It is hard to describe how encouraged I am by the Reformed doctrines of grace that describe how Christ assuredly calls His elect, that the elect respond, and that He keeps them forever. This strengthens my heart to endure hardship, to labor over expositional preaching, and to glorify Jesus when I see fruit or face rejection. Reformed doctrine has fueled our sharing of the gospel and emboldened us to be faithful to Christ in difficult times.
TT: What is the biggest misunderstanding of Christianity that you have encountered in Dubai, and what are the reasons for this misunderstanding?
DF: The biggest misunderstanding of Christianity that I have encountered comes from the messages that people hear and see in American media. It is widely believed that the United States is a Christian country; therefore, it is assumed that the American media (movies, TV shows, politics) represent distinctly Christian values and messages. This situation is not irredeemable, though, as we have so many opportunities to talk about why we (as Christians) have not met their expectations of how they presume we would behave and believe.
TT: What advice can you give Christians for sharing the gospel?
DF: Romans 1:16 says that the gospel is the power of God. There is no need to change it, distort it, add to it, or subtract from it. Indeed, we must not alter the gospel. If you add one drop of works to the gospel, you destroy it, change it, reverse it, and oppose it. Gospel revision always equals gospel reversal. I would tell all Christians to hold on to and herald the one true gospel. We've seen it change lives time and time again. I read in a biography of Charles Spurgeon a story about his grandfather preaching one night. The story goes that one night Charles Spurgeon, the great British preacher, was running late getting to the church, and by the time he got there, his grandfather had already started preaching. Young Spurgeon was already widely known at that time, and when he walked in, his grandfather paused his sermon and said something to this effect: "My grandson is here now; he may be a greater preacher than I, but he can't preach a greater gospel." All Christians are equipped with the same message. We need to hold out the gospel. There is no better message and no greater news.
Dave Furman is senior pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He and his wife, Gloria, moved to the Arabian Peninsula in 2008 to help start the church. He is the church's first pastor, having previously served at several churches in the United States. He is on Twitter @davefurman.