Evangelical Christianity is thriving among migrant workers in the Persian Gulf.
In recent interviews with pastors and parishioners in the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—The Guardian newspaper found that many of the region’s 30 million migrant workers are converting to Pentecostalism.
In some Gulf countries, migrant workers constitute the majority of the population. Some 80 percent of all migrant laborers in the Gulf work in construction, hospitality, and as domestic help.
A pastor identified in The Guardian article only as John—a pseudonym to protect his identity from Gulf governments wary of Christian movements—claimed his church helps migrant workers who are driven to domestic servitude and exploited, financially and sexually.
“Rape is a very, very common problem across the entire domestic help industry,” the pastor said. “And it’s not just females—males come to us because they get raped as well.”
Pentecostal churches focus on the problems of migrant workers that their own governments back home in countries such as India and Pakistan are reluctant to address for fear of damaging their trade relations with the Gulf.
“If you go to the embassy, they will talk to your employer and get the local police involved,” the pastor said. “That’s a very intimidating situation for your normal person. In my experience, most of the brethren that face those challenges are laborers and they are very, very vulnerable to abuse.”
Rape victims tend to be drawn to Pentecostal churches before seeking help elsewhere—and the churches organize an escape route in association with embassies.
“They have this special rescue team that communicates to get out of the building at a certain time and the car would be waiting for her,” the pastor told The Guardian. “Obviously, in order for her to be able to trust this process, it needs to be arranged through someone who she actually knows—usually, that’s a church.”
Because of the extreme sensitivity surrounding issues of religious conversion in Gulf states, where proselytizing is often against the law, it is all but impossible to say how many Christians there are in the region. Church leaders and researchers agree, however, that significant numbers of migrant workers are joining the Pentecostal church. And although proselytizing to Muslims is forbidden by law in the Gulf, Muslim migrants are also among the converts.
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