Worshiping God in Saudi
As you may know, Becky and I came to Saudi Arabia to fill in for a full-time pastor, who is on his summer break. Officially, we are the “interim pastor and wife” for a Protestant Fellowship in the month of June. It actually surprises a lot of people that there are churches of any kind inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but there are. Let me briefly explain (keeping it as general as possible, so I don’t put anyone at risk).
First of all, there are the “officially” approved international churches for ex-pats inside a few of the Western compounds in the country. These compounds can range in size from a small apartment complex (with a high wall and razor wire, of course!) to a sprawling compound like the one we are in. Our compound is one of the largest in the country—it’s literally a small city with 15,000 people, roads, a highway, stores, restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, etc.—all with a large fence around the entire thing! In the States, this would be similar to a large military base, such as Fort Hood in Texas. There are even Saudi Arab families living in our compound.
The King of Saudi Arabia made a provision (back in the 1940s) that allows a certain number of “morale groups” to be led by a “special teacher.” That is code for “church” and “pastor.” Is God full of surprises or what? None of this is published, of course. There are no website or publications by any “morale group”—anywhere.
The church we’re pastoring is a vibrant congregation of about 500 that meets in a gym once a week (on Fridays) to worship and celebrate together. As I’ve written previously, our experience at the worship services has been delightful. There are literally people from all over the world in the congregation. It is truly a taste of Heaven. We’ve been worshiping with people from Africa, Australia, China, Lebanon, Egypt, Canada, America, Syria, Jordan, India, Britain, the Philippines, and many others. It is a unique body of believers. At a recent service, an African choir sang in their native tongue. At another service, a Tamil choir sang in Tamil.
Secondly, there are also many “house churches” within the cities of Saudi Arabia. From what I’ve heard, they are all over the place! I’ve talked to believers from several of these churches. These fellowships meet in homes or other venues in the cities around the Kingdom: Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Khobar, etc. These churches are strictly illegal. I talked with one woman, “Judy,” who lives in a nearby city, about her church. She said that every Friday (the day of worship here), she sees many believers with Bibles in hand, heading to their various places of worship. She said there are many vibrant house fellowships around her city. I talked to another man who was part of a church fellowship in Riyadh, a church of Filipinos. Recently, one of these “illegal churches” was raided (near our compound) and the people arrested. (They are all third-world ex-pats.) They are now in the process of being deported from the Kingdom.
What’s sad in all of this is that virtually none of the churches (official or unofficial) have any Saudis in them. In fact, Saudis aren’t even allowed—by law—to enter the church I’m pastoring. It’s illegal. The vast majority of believers worshiping over here are from other countries. There is no such thing as a Saudi church (that anyone knows of). There are individual Saudi believers (I’ve talked to folks who’ve met them), but the penalty for conversion is so severe that they stay hidden.
So God is being worshipped, every week, by thousands in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, most of these worshipers are not native Saudi Arabs. May the Lord of the harvest open blinded eyes for His glory among this great land.
by Jay Childs, Future Senior Pastor