PICTURE EDITION 25: THE CHURCH IN KUWAIT: HOME TO A GROWING UNDERGROUND CHURCH

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1. History

Being located at the top of the Persian Gulf near the delta of the Euphrates River, Kuwait was always going to be a place of significance for trade between east and west. To name just one significant group, about 2000 BC merchants from Abraham’s home city of Ur established a trading city in northern Kuwait and became some of the world’s earliest maritime traders, pioneering the trade routes to the Indus Valley civilisation in modern day Pakistan and northern India. In 600 BC the Persians took control of the area. The earliest recorded mention of Kuwait was in 150 AD in the treatise called Geography by Greek scholar Ptolemy.

In 636 AD as the Persian Empire collapsed, Kuwait came under control of the new Arab Empire, and eventually the Islamic culture and religion. In 1521 AD Kuwait came under Portugese control as the Europeans began to use superior maritime skills wrestle control of the east-west trade links from the Arabs. It then came under the control of the Ottoman Empire and eventually passed to British control in 1899. The discovery of oil in the 20th Century transformed Kuwait From a poor backward province into the nation we see today, with independence coming in 1961.

2. Today

Because Kuwait had 10% of the world’s oil reserves and great wealth it eventually caught the eye of Saddam Hussein who invaded in 1991, devastating the economy and incurring the wrath of the USA and its allies. The country recovered and is once again prospering, but with 95% of income coming from oil. Incomes are equal to the USA, literacy is 100% and the country is stable. At 4 million people, Kuwait is a nation of immigrant workers who make up 60% of the population and 78% of the workforce. It is thus a country whose economic prosperity is not on firm ground.

3. Evangelical Highlights

In the Christian Era the region around modern day Kuwait belonged to the wider Persian Gulf Christian community, especially of the  Nestorian and Syriac Christian denominations. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a Nestorian monastery and township on the island of Failaka dating to the 5th Century and lasting until the 10th Century. The church was eventually squashed through Islamic pressure so that Kuwait eventually became 100% Muslim.

In the modern era the church was reborn with the arrival of the British. However it was not until the first Gulf War in 1991 that things began to change rapidly. It is a point worth noting from my research that every time a Muslim country goes through a war, or is subject to a generation of Islamist government suppression, the Church of Jesus Christ begins to grow rapidly. Kuwait is one of those examples. The evangelical population has grown rapidly since 1991 and is now some 2% of the population.

Importantly the underground Arab Kuwaiti church is gaining strength, numbers and maturity. Because of the relatively tolerant government (mainly because most workers are foreign) Kuwaiti Christians are beginning to go public with their faith. Boldness and open witness are the hallmarks of the Kuwaiti Arab church.

Such is the growth that many parents are now sending their children to study within the Middle East as so many Kuwaiti students were coming back Christians after studying in the West. The growth rate for the Kuwaiti church is around 9%, one of the highest in the world and there is strong growth even among the expatriate workers who now crowd out the compounds where they are allowed to gather.

4. Prayer Points

Pray for continued exposure of Kuwaitis to the Gospel as they travel overseas.

Pray for the continued growth of the MBB church.

Pray for this amazing rebirth of the Persian Gulf church to spill over into other Arab countries

Pray for continued tolerance by the government toward the Arab church

Pray for continued revival among the 400,000 expatriate Christians living in Kuwait as guest workers. It has begun!

Pray for all media platforms to continue their great work of reaching locals

Pray for unity among believers, it is a bit of an issue in Kuwait

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