Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Awkward Situation

I made my way to one of the cross-cultural centers in Kuwait which offers Arabic classes.  It took me a little while because the address wasn't on my GPS, so I had to actually read the road signs.  Upon entering the building, I saw a young Muslim woman who I assumed to be a Kuwaiti or Syrian because of her fair skin, along with her hijab (head covering) and abaya (black outer garment).

She greeted me with "Salam Alaykum", which is the Arabic and Muslim traditional greeting, which means 'peace to you.'  I responded with "Alaykum Salam," which means the same thing.  After this, I spoke to her in Arabic about my interest in taking Arabic classes.  It always takes a little time to communicate in Arabic what I'm saying, and she quickly said I could speak to her in English.  I felt a little foolish because I was sure she thought my Arabic was awful and that it would be less painful for us to speak in English.  I told her I know some Arabic and want to continue learning.

She asked me how much Arabic I knew.  Again, I started speaking in Arabic to show her my range, abilities and limits with the language.  This time she said nothing, which prompted me to ponder why I even try learning Arabic if it's that bad.  She asked me where I learned Arabic, so I told her in mixed English and Arabic that I've taken different classes on and off over the last several years and that I wanted something with more speaking than reading and writing.

When she asked me why I wanted to learn the language, I told her I liked it and that I want to know some since I live in an Arab country.  It was at this point that she responded with, "I want to learn Arabic too."  I was kind of stunned.  I instantly replayed all the scenes of me talking with her in Arabic and realized that she didn't speak it once except for the initial greeting, which also explains why she wanted me to talk to her in English and she didn't respond to my Arabic dialogue.  I was pretty embarrassed, and I felt that I should have known better than to assume. 

This experience reminded me that, while Kuwait is an Arab nation, it is full of people from all kinds of cultures.  In fact, there are more foreign workers than Kuwaitis.  I was also reminded that not all Muslims speak Arabic.  I believe the largest Muslim population on Earth is Indonesia, and where they do not speak Arabic.  At the end of the conversation, I asked her where she was from and she said Pakistan, which has a huge number of non-Arab Muslims, who only know Arabic from the Koran.  I guess my situation would be like hearing a Christian say hallelujah and assume they know Hebrew.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How can we pray?



Here are some ways I can think to pray for Kuwait and the Middle East right now:

  • Pray for The Lighthouse Church, which is the evangelical English speaking church in Kuwait, and consists of many nationalities.  Pray specifically that they would continue to worship Jesus in peace, and that the voices of extreme conservatives to shut down the church would not be heard.

  • Pray for the Kuwaiti younger generations, who seem to be going through an identity crises, with lots of Western influence on one hand, and also a lot of influence from Saudi Arabia.  Pray that they would seek the truth and find their identity in God.

  • Pray for lower-income foreign workers, especially those of Indian descent.  There has been a crackdown in recent months about the rules and regulations for foreign workers, and several thousand people have been deported so far.  Pray that the Kuwaiti government would mingle compassion with their laws and would allow families to remain in Kuwait or go home together.  

  • Pray that there would be greater mixing between Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis, along with Christians and Muslims.  It is easy for foreign laborers to stick together in the same ethnicity or even in the same profession.  It can often be difficult for foreigners to meet and interact with Kuwaitis, so pray that opportunities would develop and there would be boldness to reach out to Kuwaitis and people from other backgrounds. 

Friday, August 16, 2013


Imagine thiswalking off a plane into 120 degree heat at night after traveling over 24 hours including two layovers, a rescheduled flight and several vain attempts to reach your future employer.  Deliriously tired but full of confusion and adrenaline, you aimlessly walk around until you fumble into a line that is supposed to be where you get your entrance visa.  You survey the area, and you hear a lot of a language you don't understand, smell smoke from all the lit cigarettes inside mixed with an unusual perfume, and you see men in white dresses and women in black with their hair covered.

When your number is called, you explain the situation and they give you a piece of paper and unhelpful directions(in a thick accent) to the next place you have to wait in line.  This line takes another 20 minutes, and you begin to reconsider whether looking for a job in the middle east was a wise idea while praying that you will be able to get to some shelter, privacy and rest.  Once you make it through the next line, you find where you collect your bags by watching what other people are doing just to figure it out, but realize that your bag is not on the machine, and you have no idea what to do.  After asking several people, you get some sort of general explanation why your bag isn't on the plane, a phone number to call with an unusual number of digits and a plus sign, along with overconfident reassurances that everything will be okay.  

You make your way through another checkpoint, where all bags and carry-on items need to be scanned for contraband, and then walk through some big doors into the the airport main lobby and arrivals which is full of people waiting for friends and loved ones.  You look around anxiously for someone to have your name on a piece of paper, and you feel as rejected as your were in junior high when you don't see anyone immediately.  Eventually, you talk to someone who refers you to someone else who is waiting for you, and he makes you exchange money to buy a cell phone and then has you get into his van.  

At this point, you begin to realize that you don't have any confirmation that this person is who he says he is, and he could be a con artist or a murderer and dump your bodies in the desert.  However, you have no choice but to trust this man, or get back on a flight home.  

This was exactly the experience that my wife and I had when we first came to Kuwait, and after five years of living there, that initial experience is as vivid now as it was then.  However, I've learned to love that airport and all the sights, smells and experiences that goes with going back to Kuwait as I get ready to launch into another school year.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Arabia: Lost and Found

I have titled this blog as Arabia: Lost and Found because my current residence in Kuwait is a part of the Arabian Peninsula.  Many people who live in or come to Kuwait are lost, both spiritually and culturally, but many become found in God and in Christ because of their time here.    

I have lived in Kuwait for the past five years, and I've started this blog to share what that experience is like. My wife and I are from the United States, and as educators, we have the benefit of going back in the summers as well as traveling throughout the school year.

I am also a Christian, and that is one of the reasons I decided to move to the Middle East. Jesus saved me when I was 15, and I have been interested in missions and travel, fueled by spending a semester in South Africa while in college.

I am hoping to catalog some of my experiences living in the Middle East. This includes my experience with the church I am involved in, which is a thriving international community of believers and is one of the strongest churches in the Middle East. I also hope to share my interactions with Muslims, whether they are through work or other social functions. Finally, I will share some of my anecdotes about learning Arabic, which has been both a difficult and humorous struggle.

I hope that this blog will be an encouragement to myself and others to interact and build relationships with Muslims, because they are people just like anyone else. They need the love of Jesus just like me. I also hope that this will be used to give people an accurate picture of what living in a middle eastern country is like, and share some of my experiences interacting with people of other religions and cultures, and my interpretations of Muslim life. Hopefully this will be both informative and entertaining to all people.