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  1515: Word of Life, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Word of Life, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Mystery Worshipper: The Emirati Auntie.
The church: Word of Life, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
Denomination: Interdenominational with Baptist background.
The building: Word of Life meets in a partitioned-off corner of the ballroom at the Holiday International Hotel, a tall concrete monolith near Sharjah lagoon. One of the walls in the ballroom consisted of slightly tired looking Muraspec panelling, the other was of beige plaster heavily decorated with gold plaster reliefs. The chandeliers were large, and gold, as were the lighting sconces along the walls. The carpet, in my humble western opinion, was hideous.
The church: Friday is a holy day here as in other Muslim countries, and for many people the only day off in the working week. And so Christian churches often meet on Fridays too, either instead of or in addition to Sunday services.
The neighbourhood: Sharjah is the second largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. It has roughly a 20km coastline on the Arabian Gulf as well as several enclaves on the Gulf of Oman. Being the only emirate with ports on both coasts, much shipping trade goes through here. Sharjah prides itself on being the cultural centre of the UAE and is noted for its many museums and examples of traditional architecture. The area around the Khalid lagoon has undergone significant improvement in the last ten years and is now a visual and social focal point for the emirate.
The cast: Worship was led by a gentleman known only as Peter. Other gentlemen named Frank and Marco led the prayers and gave the address, respectively.
The date & time: Friday, 11 January 2008, 11.15am.

What was the name of the service?
Friday Worship.

How full was the building?
There were 84 chairs laid out, and I guess around 25-30 persons, so less than half full, though I suspect the chairs were laid out to fill the hired room, rather than to accommodate an expected number of worshippers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I got a "good morning" on arrival. Tea, coffee and water had been set out at the back of the room, and I was invited to take some refreshment.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were standard hotel banqueting chairs, covered in white damask. At the end of the sermon I was quite relieved to stand up to sing!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pre-service was a quietish buzz as people moved around and spoke to one another, but always reverentially. It did seem to fill up seconds before the 11.15 advertised start time, so the actual opening of the service was delayed about five minutes.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"OK, let's start. We're running late and we'll pray."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Songs were on old-fashioned transparencies laid on an overhead projector, though the speaker used an LCD projector with PowerPoint during the sermon. Both the prayer leader and preacher used handheld devices for their scripture references. Some of the congregation had brought Bibles with them.

What musical instruments were played?
Guitar, played by the worship leader, Peter, who also sang.

Did anything distract you?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and one man's meat is another man's poison. But anyone exposed to the the Holiday International ballroom would have to check into a clinic for a dose of decor antivenom! I guess the upside of the decor was that it did make you want to concentrate fully on the speaker rather than the walls, floor or ceiling. The children met outside and played or watched videos, and sometimes this could be heard, but not too much. About halfway through the service, a small boy (who, as it turned out, was Peter's son) walked into the room and asked quite loudly, "Is church nearly finished now?"

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was simple and slightly upbeat. There was lots of music but no clapping. The worship leader was a strong singer and played the guitar well. Congregational participation lagged now and then – for example, one of the songs (which was unfamiliar to me and I suspect to others) was supposed to be echoed, and Peter said, "Let's try that again. It does say 'echo' up there."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
62 minutes, including the closing prayer.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The speaker, Marco, mentioned that he was quite used to addressing business and governmental groups but always felt nervous when speaking in church. But he made good use of visual aids and his presentation was smooth and quite positive, so if he was nervous he didn't show it!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It is important to maintain a relationship with Christ, keeping God at the centre of your life in order to receive God's riches and to experience life to the fullest. Doing for God comes from being with God, not the other way round. Think of the classic video game Pac Man. If the "wedge" of God is removed from your life pattern (i.e. Pac Man's mouth) you might be hungry, but you'll never be filled up by eating the dots. There will always be more levels of more dots!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was nothing that would quite rise to being heavenly, although I enjoyed the worship and Marco's address.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The prayer leader's frustration at the apparent lack of interest in praying aloud. And, of course, that ghastly decor!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get the chance to look lost! The speaker introduced himself promptly and we had a nice chat about his work. Other people were also very welcoming and I even received a handmade invitation to a "Queen Esther party" someone was holding after church next week.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The refreshments were catered by the hotel and so were served on proper china plates with cups and saucers. I'm not a tea or coffee drinker, but these seemed popular enough. There was water served in proper glasses, but by the end of the service the water was a little warm to my taste. There were also plates of mini butter cookies and some fruit cake, both of which were very tasty!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Being a resident of Dubai, my regular church is in my home emirate; but if I were to live in Sharjah, I am sure I could make this my spiritual home. My home church starts the Friday service at 9.00am, and as I like spending Thursday nights out and about, I could easily accommodate myself to an 11.15 service.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The service was uplifting yet challenging, without being uncomfortable or condescending.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Probably Pac Man syndrome.
 
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