Saturday, September 28, 2013

Not Your Typical: Part 1

Even though I've lived in Kuwait for over five years, I still have to field questions in the summer, such as, "Do they have houses over there?" or "Do you have to ride a camel to work?" My wife and I have to be really still in our sand igloo or it all comes crashing down, and my camel needs an oil change and rub-down every two thousand kilometers.

Another question I get asked a lot is about church. People are very surprised when I tell them I go to a thriving church in Kuwait. In fact, the church service I go to is an off-campus site of the main evangelical church in Kuwait, which literally has thousands of people who attend on a weekly basis.

My first year in Kuwait, I had a difficult time finding the church because the phone numbers on the website didn't seem to work, and there is no really functional address system in Kuwait(another story for another time). Because we didn't have a car, we ended up taking a bus and walking around downtown Kuwait City for the church until we stumbled across the main site.

The area itself is this massive site with several buildings where the different church services are held.  There are lights and plants and concrete all over along with several large awnings.  Additionally, there is a book store, library, some offices, a school and a house.

Once we found the church, we started attending a Sunday night service. However, that wasn't really working for me because Sunday is a work day, and because it was my first year teaching in Kuwait, I was super drained after work, and barely had the strength and motivation to worship in spirit and in truth or to listen attentively to the sermon.

Another thing that was hard was the difficulty in connecting with people. Because there are so many people who need to be fed through the church, there are several services that are one after another, so it felt like there was a need to get out and let the next service in.

Finally, we were quite the minority as Americans. While I certainly love people from all languages and cultures, as a first year teacher and going through some major culture shock of my own, I really wanted some sense of familiarity with people from a similar background, profession, language or shared experience.

It was very strange to be sitting in service with a couple hundred people who are mostly from the Indian subcontinent while the worship leader is a Filipino man playing southern gospel songs, followed by a message from an older American gentleman.  After a long day at work, that was definitely sensory overload!

However, we believed that God would be faithful to us and that we were called as Christians to be apart of the Jesus' church, and we definitely grew through that experience.  While that first year wasn't MY ideal church experience, I realized God used it to lead me to the next level of my faith and eventually to where I am today. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Going Dutch or Arab Hospitality

Traditional Kuwaiti Dish with lamb, rice and saffron
"I got it," I said as the check landed on the table at the restaurant where we were sitting.  I was as surprised as he was to take care of the bill.  It was at that point that I realized that some of the positive aspects of living in Kuwait have rubbed off on me.

I come from the cultural background where most people 'go dutch,' when it comes to going out for a meal or drinks.  It probably has to do with our highly individualistic culture in America that prompts us to think, "It's only fair to pay for what I purchase, and anything else is not my problem."

I myself am a champion of this 'virtue.'  I would often go to restaurants with friends and either order the cheapest thing on the menu, or even worse, eat at home and not eat anything at all except for a drink, which was usually water.

I grew up from a lower middle-class family, and there were times I remember where I stood in bread lines with my mom at charitable organizations that would provide basic food items at a minimal cost.  Because of this, I always understood the value of a dollar.  Even when I graduated from college, and was making a decent living as a teacher, I tried to save every penny to pay off student loans.  However, I retained this mindset even after I paid off my loans, moved to Kuwait, and receive, by God's grace, a good income.

To clarify, I believe that working hard, saving money and planning for the future are good things.  However, I also have come to believe in the value of being generous through living in Kuwait.

I had some Arab friends I worked with for two years, and when we were spending every day together teaching or in the office, there would often be times when we would go out for lunch or dinner.  After eating, instead of splitting the check multiple ways, which is what I'm used to, they would just wait for the check to come and one of them immediately claimed it and said they were happy to pay.

I was shocked, and the next time it happened, one of my other friends would grab the bill.  This happened repeatedly, and I understood that they were just caring and serving each other in this way.  Even though I have the heart of a mooch, I didn't want to be the only one always on the receiving end of their kindness.  I then started to take my share of the bills.  In fact, there was often some typical Arab-style arguing over who got the bill.  We developed into a natural rhythm of paying for each other, and I learned to offer as much as I could.

I also began to export this concept with my American friends.  Instead of squabbling over who paid for what with separate checks, I just began to offer.  Even though it is always a little painful to foot the check for other people, I am learning that money isn't only for hoarding, but also for giving.  I have found this especially important for new people from work or church to show kindness because they usually don't have a lot of extra money.

I am by no means perfect at this, and my selfish heart often doesn't want to pay, but I realize that Arab hospitality is equally Christian hospitality, and I should have that same reputation among the people that I influence.  I am blessed to be a blessing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Thursday is the New Friday

In Kuwait, the work-week is slightly different from the Western world. The work week begins in most Arab states on Sunday and ends on Thursday. In fact, the Arabic word for Sunday literally means 'Day 1' of the week. Therefore, people in Kuwait say 'Thank God it's Thursday.'

So, this last Thursday, I finished up my classes and had a meeting immediately afterwards. I was pretty ready to get out of work as early as possible and enjoy my life. As I was walking back to my office to grab my things, I saw one of my colleagues and he asked me how I was doing.

In my heart, I didn't know what to do, because I really wanted to be selfish and not have a long conversation. On the other hand, this individual is asking me about my life, so I didn't want to turn him down.

This summer, I have been praying for opportunities to make a difference as a Christian in my spheres of influence, including my work place. I have also been thinking that every Christian is in full-time ministry wherever they are, and all of our jobs and careers are opportunities for us to share the joy of Christ to those who are around us in whatever way we can. 

Because of that, I (reluctantly) decided to chat with him for a while. We talked about our lives for about an hour and swapped stories. No, I didn't share the gospel or the four spiritual laws, nor did I even mention anything about God. However, I did take an interest in his life, and listen to what he had to say and opened myself up to him.

I hope that God will continue to strengthen me to not be selfish with my time, but willing to give it to people in both planned and spontaneous ways, which I hope will show the love of Christ to the people I interact with.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fun, Fellowship, Felafel

    After we started our second school year in Kuwait, my wife and I had relocated to a different church service because the US embassy stopped conducting religious services, which is where we were attending.  The new location for us was a bit of an adjustment, but most of the same people we knew also went to the new service.

One of the things that I knew we were missing out on was more personal and connected times with other Christians.  While church is great, it's not really a time where you can get to know people well because every service has a schedule that only includes only a minute or two of greeting.

It's also especially important in Kuwait, when you are dealing with different cultures, languages, and thinking, to be able to have some friends to connect with on a spiritual level. 

Understanding this, I went to my pastor after one of the services and said I would like be a part of a small group (aka life group, care group, cell group, or anything else that ends in group where Christians get together, pray for one another, discuss a book or sermon, talk, and eat a snack).

He looked at me and said that there were no small groups in our service, but that I should start one.   My heart sank.  I had never led a small group before.  Who was I going to invite?  What was I going to talk about?  Who would want follow me?  What if I vomited in the life group because I was so nervous? 

For some reason beyond me, I agreed that I would try to start one.  I then dutifully went through the process of begging, cajoling, and finally coercing some of my friends from the service to go with me.

There were initially five of us, and yes, it was awkward in the beginning.  We didn't know each other well, I didn't know what I was doing, and everything felt mechanical.

Fast-forward three years and I was sitting in a chair with a room full of about 20 people, none of whom were part of my original group.  I recently passed on the leadership to a friend to allow more people the opportunity to lead.  I consider many the people in my group to be good friends, and we spend a lot of time together outside of the group.  I had tears in my eyes as we prayed for each other. 

We laughed, we cried, and we certainly ate pieces of fried and mashed chickpeas called felafel.  I am grateful that God has provided a community and an oasis for so many of the people who are living here in the desert.