Christmas in a Closed Country: Good Tidings from Saudi Arabia
Celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia… Is that possible? Officially it is not, but in the deepest secret Christians working and living there manage to celebrate Christ coming to this world. Earlier this month, Open Doors workers managed to visit a group of Indian believers in Saudi for their annual Christmas service. Celebrate with them and stand with them this Christmas through your prayers.
It’s night in one of Saudi Arabia’s cities. The streets are empty. Two Indian men can be seen walking on the sidewalk. When they knock on a nondescript door, it is opened and immediately closed behind them.
Inside, they take off their shoes and enter a meeting room decorated with Christmas stars and garlands. They join a handful of worshippers already there. Over the next hour, over a hundred or more Indian believers will arrive here to celebrate Christmas.
Most of them have low-paying jobs in large Saudi companies or households; they are construction workers, stone cutters, electricians and cleaners. But tonight, there are no differences between them: these men and women are followers of Christ about to be encouraged and then sent back into the world with a calling to spread the light of Jesus everywhere they go.
Churches, crosses and Christian meetings of any kind are deemed illegal all over Saudi Arabia. But when they don’t draw attention and don’t cause a disturbance, migrant workers organizing services for their own community in non-public places are mostly left unharmed. Still, there is always the risk of being raided by the police, which can lead to imprisonment and forced repatriation.
Feels like being in India
When the celebrations begin, there’s no doubt that this is an Indian celebration. The instruments, the music; when you close your eyes you feel as if you’re right in the heart of India. Taking turns, many of the worshippers sing worship songs in their mother tongue, glorifying God who sent his Son into the world.
In the corner of the room, a modest Christmas tree decorates the stage.
Then it is time for the sermon. The pastor, during daytime a worker himself, addresses his congregation and shares a heartfelt Christmas message.
Referring to the tree behind him, he says, “Are we limiting Christmas to four weeks a year? Is it only about the Christmas tree and the Christmas party?” That’s not the true meaning of Christmas, he emphasizes. “How do you celebrate Christmas? Do you acknowledge what it is really about? Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, about Mary who was blessed with a Child, about the shepherds who came to worship him. Let us circulate those things instead of the useless stuff about Christmas,” the pastor shares.
Christmas is about witnessing
This pastor’s prayer is that all those gathered in this secret location may understand the true meaning of Christmas in their lives. “God wants to use you. Now it’s Christmas, but every other day of your life is meant to share His gift of life with the people around you. Every day can be Christmas if you are willing to obey Him when He says: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ ”
With this invitation to witness Christ’s love, the pastor concludes his sermon.
Now, all there is to do is to cut the Christmas cake. The children of the group, all dressed as biblical characters from Luke 2, play a central role in this, while singing a traditional English Christmas song: “Good tidings we bring to you and your kin; we wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!”