The strict Muslim state of Qatar is preparing to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. "All the efforts and resources in the country are now focused on making 2022 a success," says Simon*, a Sri Lankan who is currently working as a maintenance supervisor for some large football-related construction projects in Qatar. "The stadiums, the roads and the new train line have top priority."
Simon is one of thousands of migrants who are working on the project. An estimated 80 per cent of Qatar's population are migrant workers from countries such as India, Nepal and the Philippines.
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 says. "The situation for labourers is improving, but still they suffer."
But in the midst of this, God is at work in Qatar, and despite being a strict Muslim nation, many are meeting Jesus here. Simon was raised as a Buddhist, but decided to follow Jesus after coming to Qatar and meeting Christians. "I didn't even know Christ when I moved here. I would never have expected to become Christian in such a strict Muslim country. But it happened," he says.
Qatar is number 20 on the 2017 World Watch List, and leaving Islam carries the death penalty. Evangelism is officially forbidden - but that isn't stopping the Christians in Qatar. 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."
Opportunities to show God's love
It is mostly through informal meetings that Christian workers are being encouraged to reach out to their fellow labourers. An Open Doors worker was able to visit a weekly discipleship meeting for Filipino labourers on a roof terrace in the Industrial District of Doha, Qatar's capital.
Their pastor, Samuel*, is a migrant worker himself. Six days a week he works for 11 hours in a low paying job. But when his work is finished, the 30-year-old pastor opens his Bible and speaks with authority and passion.
Pastor Samuel recognises that Christians can have a hard time witnessing in Qatar. "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."
Ahmed* is an example of this - he started attending the weekly discipleship meetings just a few weeks ago. "I just accepted Christ recently. I was a Muslim, but God had other plans for me. I lived a wicked life, but God didn't allow me to go further with that."
Ahmed does, however, have a question: "In my heart I want to share the gospel, but often there is a language barrier with people from other nationalities. How do I deal with that?"
The pastor responds: "Let your life be a living testimony. If you can't speak their language, let Christ in your life speak for Himself."
According to Pastor Samuel, God moves in mysterious and powerful ways. "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 says.
"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'."
*name changed for security reasons
- Praise God for the way he is working through Christians in Qatar
- For protection for believers, particularly those from Muslim backgrounds who risk severe punishment if their faith is discovered
- That God will continue to give Christians opportunities to show the love of Christ to those around them, and for courage for them to give a reason for the hope that they have
- For migrant workers to have better working conditions, and that Qatar's leaders would provide laws to protect them.