As the 777 swung west in its descent over the Arabian Gulf on its approach to Kuwait International Airport, the city’s myriad lights twinkled like a fading crown before the dawning sun. Soon we had disembarked and began immigration through the airport building which was small but magnificent, a phrase which summed up Kuwait City too. Hard to believe that only 25 years earlier Operation Desert Storm had been fought here. Half buried memories emerged of TV scenes showing oil wells burning fiercely, darkness as thick smoke covered the land, a black plume visible from satellite, and black rain falling even as far away as India. Now the only obvious traces were oil lakes in the desert and a wildly popular Liberation Day, celebrated during our visit.
Friday morning saw us attending church, Sunday being the first working day of the week. Unusually for a Muslim country, Kuwait currently permits or licenses churches. They do not have to operate underground as in Kuwait’s southern neighbour, Saudi Arabia, or run the risk of wholesale destruction at the hands of ISIS in Kuwait’s northern neighbour, Iraq. So for now, Kuwait sits like a liberal pearl between the iron finger of Iraq and thumb of Saudi.
There are Arab Christians in Kuwait. Some arrived from Iraq very many years ago and have largely assimilated. Others came later, many having elected to leave Palestine when the State of Israel was born on 14 May 1948 (Isaiah 66:8). But the numbers are just a few hundred. By contrast there are reckoned to be some 450,000 ex-pat Christians, ex-pats being around 70% of Kuwait’s population, and mainly Indian and Egyptian. The compound in the city which houses the National Evangelical Church in Kuwait (NECK for short) is home to congregations of many different nationalities, all sharing a love for the Lord Jesus.
In contrast to its liberal approach to the church Kuwait can seem quite harsh in other ways. Recently a group of four who had tried to smuggle drugs into the country were sentenced to death. A few months ago Kuwait Airlines refused to allow a Jewish passenger flying from New York to London to fly with them, simply because he was Jewish. When the American aviation authorities reprimanded them, they simply chose not to fly out that route again! (Daily Telegraph 18 Dec 2015)
There is a yawning chasm between the phenomenal wealth of some Kuwaitis and the dire poverty of many expats. Forgetting and even worse oppressing the poor is something the Lord takes a dim view of (see for example Ezekiel 16:49 concerning Sodom). It was a privilege to be involved in a small way with the efforts of a few folk, Christians and non-Christians together, to provide basic food supplies to some in great need in a dark corner of the City.
A brief visit to the Southern desert was surprising. You expect a desert to be, well, deserted. However in the cool season (November to March roughly) the Kuwaitis like to return to their desert-dwelling roots. As far as the eye could see were pitched tents of all shapes and sizes - complete with diesel generators, air conditioning units and satellite TV. And it was cooler in the desert than in the City.
But not as chilly as the return to Heathrow!