08 February 2017

Migrants working on Qatar World Cup building projects find Christian faith

Despite finding work in Qatar, a strictly Muslim nation, migrant workers there are reporting that many are discovering the Christian faith as they come to work on the preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

"I would never have expected to become Christian in such a strict Muslim country. But it happened," said Simon*, a Sri Lankan who is currently working as a maintenance supervisor for some large football-related construction projects. He became a Christian after meeting a group of Christian workers in Qatar.

Another migrant worker, Ahmed*, said, "I was a Muslim, but God had other plans for me."

Qatar is number 20 on the 2017 World Watch List, Open Doors annual ranking of the countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. Leaving Islam carries the death penalty in Qatar, and evangelism is officially forbidden.

However, Christians are still finding opportunities to tell others about their faith. Simon says, "We can't go to people with the gospel in hand. But there is no need for that, they are coming to us. I have many conversations with colleagues about the faith, and they just keep asking questions. They only thing we have to do is answer them. There is no law against that.

"Even when we don’t get a chance to preach, people notice that we are different; they sense that we care deeply about them. That's a witness in itself."

Pastor Samuel* is a 30-year-old Filipino migrant worker who works a low paying job 11 hours a day, and carries out his ministry in the evenings. He says, "In this Muslim country we are limited in evangelising too openly. But nobody can stop us from talking to our fellow workers and witnessing to them in our everyday lives. Every day God gives us opportunities to show His love to others."

An estimated 80 per cent of Qatar's population are migrant workers from countries such as India, Nepal and the Philippines. But there is a deep divide between these often exploited labourers and the fabulously rich Qatari nationals. Simon told us that the labourers are often paid less than promised before they migrated to Qatar, and most contracts only allow them to visit their relatives or families after a full two-year work period. Many employers illegally hold their employees' passports.

"On top of that, we see that some bosses treat their employees with horrible disrespect," he said. "The media here is all censored so it's not in the newspapers, but there are often stories of labourers committing suicide. Many of them get depressed and see no other option than to take their own life."

According to Simon, the human rights conditions for workers have slowly been improving over the last few years. "But the workers still suffer, especially in summer when temperatures easily reach over 50 degrees Celsius, and they still have to work their 11 hour shifts." He hopes a new labour law, allowing employees to freely change their jobs after completing a two-year contract, will improve their situation.

Pastor Samuel believes that God may be using the difficult experiences of migrants to draw them to faith. "Working abroad, away from the family, is an excruciating experience for every expatriate worker in Qatar. They sacrificed the joy and comfort of being with their loved ones for their desire to give them a better life," he said.

"The homesickness is real for them, but God, in His great compassion and wisdom, uses their homesickness to lead the 'homesick' to Christ. Many of those we have encountered in Qatar testified that they came to the country for the opportunity to earn more, but God had a greater plan. They encountered the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords who does not only provide them the 'better life' but with 'life everlasting'."

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Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources, in over 60 countries. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.

Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List - a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church life- plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.

The Open Doors World Watch List is the only instrument that measures the persecution of Christians annually. Its methodology is designed to track how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed in five distinct areas - private life, family life, community life, national life and church life - as well as covering violence such as rapes, killings and church burnings. Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Director of Research at Open Doors International, explains why: "It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all. You may find very low levels of violence as a result, because incidents of violent persecution are often a response to acts of witness."