No one would confuse me for an expert on Middle Eastern affairs. You probably must live there to earn that distinction. Yet when I received an invitation through Training Leaders International to teach this fall in the United Arab Emirates, I jumped at the opportunity. That’s largely because I’ve heard about the remarkable ministry of the United Christian Church of Dubai, led by pastor John Folmar. His wife, Keri, writes, teaches, and leads ladies’ Bible studies at UCCD, a diverse congregation of believers from every habitable continent.
Keri Folmar will lead a workshop at The Gospel Coalition’s 2012 national women’s conference, June 22 to 24 in Orlando. You can now register for $125 or less if you’re a full-time student or live outside the United States. Along with Leann Stiles—-also living in Dubai—-Folmar will discuss “Abayas and Burqas: Gospel Outreach to Muslims (and Others Who Don’t Look Like You).” We corresponded about how to share the gospel with Muslims, why she’s excited about TGC’s women’s conference, and how she prepared to write the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban when she served as chief counsel of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.
Give us a glimpse of what a worship service looks like at the United Christian Church of Dubai.
Worshipers from 50 different nations—-including several from North Africa and the Middle East—-gather here every week to praise God and hear his Word proclaimed. It’s a foretaste of Revelation 7! Because we are surrounded by Islam with the call to prayer echoing from mosques throughout the city, there is a sense of urgency and expectation when we meet. Our goal is to display God’s glory through our fellowship with one another and to penetrate the region with the Good News. To this end, each Friday (the Muslim holy day and only day off in Dubai) we read the Bible, sing the Bible, pray the Bible, and preach the Bible. It is a joy to worship with UCCD, knowing that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
One Friday not long ago, the Lord opened my eyes wider to what a privilege it is to be a member here. Before Friday Foundations (our version of Sunday school) I visited with a man from Malta who is regularly attending our classes and services, working through the differences between Catholicism and salvation by grace alone through faith alone. I then was introduced to a Spaniard visitor who said he thought it was weird how loud our church sang, but we obviously believed what we sang and had something he wanted. Before I sat down in the service that morning, I greeted a dear Muslim-background North African friend who had grown up in Dubai and come to faith in Christ. Across the aisle I saw a Russian sister who had come to faith from an atheist background. That morning was a gracious reminder that the Lord is building his church and bringing every tribe, tongue, and nation to worship him.
What was your greatest misconception of Muslims before you began living among them?
I thought Muslims were a monolith. I have learned that I can’t make assumptions about how the women will dress or behave. Islamic cultures are shame-based, so the women will often be much more conservative around their families than when they are traveling or outside of their peer group. Also, different people groups have very different personas. For instance, Iranians tend to be warm and friendly, while Gulf Arabs are generally more aloof toward expatriates when we first meet them.
Another misconception some have is that all Muslims are terrorists and Islamic countries are dangerous places to live. We have never felt any danger from terrorism and, in fact, feel safer here than when we travel in the Western world.
What’s the first thing you tell Christians visiting from the West about ministering to Muslims?
Be bold in talking to Muslims about the gospel and get them to the Scriptures. Unlike in Western countries, people in Islamic countries enjoy religious conversation. Their language is filled with talk about God. The standard greeting here means “The peace of God be with you.” If you ask someone how they are, their answer in Arabic means “Praise God!” They are happy to talk to Christians about God. They also highly venerate their holy book, the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran tells them to venerate the Injil, the Qu’ran’s word for the New Testament. So Muslims are not likely to be offended when you ask them to read the Injil with you if it’s done in the context of a genuine friendship. God’s Word is able to make one “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). We have seen many Muslims given this wisdom through God’s Word. Our regular practice is to study a Gospel with a Muslim who is willing. If they avoid studying together, we give them a Bible in their language as a gift of our friendship. Our Holy Book is always received as an honorable gift.
How did you prepare for being staff writer of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban?
I’m not sure I ever consciously prepared for my position on the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution. I went to law school not knowing how I would use my degree. While in school, I had a desire to help the pro-life cause but didn’t know how. Through an internship at National Right to Life, I secured a job in Washington, D.C., after I graduated. Eventually I worked as legislative counsel for a congressman who became the chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution. It was only God’s gracious providence that enabled me to be at the right place at the right time.
Writing and researching for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban was both heart-wrenching and a joy. The bill was written based on a teaching paper presented by an abortionist at a medical convention. The paper described the procedure in detail, including the doctor holding the “fetus’” body in his hands while he stabs scissors into his or her neck at the base of the skull. Abortion-rights advocates began their attack on the bill by saying the procedure didn’t exist and then followed with a number of other false attacks. It was amazing to see God uphold truth by bringing out a nurse who had witnessed several of these abortions, an abortion advocate who attacked his own side for not admitting to and defending this type of abortion, and a reporter who uncovered several more doctors doing the procedures because they found them to be convenient. It was clear that thousands of these abortions were done electively on healthy, partially delivered babies in the second and third trimester every year. And it was only made clear by the work of God.
The goal of the bill was to stop this type of abortion but also to show the absurdity of deciding whether a baby is a person by its location: inside or outside the womb. So the most exciting fruit from the bill was not only finally getting it signed into law and having the Supreme Court uphold it, but also hearing about women deciding not to have abortions at all after hearing about the procedure and considering the personhood of the baby.
What excites most about participating in next year’s women’s conference?
The Gospel Coalition is doing important work, calling pastors and leaders to be gospel-centered and hold up the Word of God. Women in good churches greatly benefit from this work. However, women’s ministries tend to emphasize personal stories and emotional appeals. Teaching women to teach women expositionally is vitally important to calling these ministries back to the solid rock of the Word. In Dubai, we have benefited from Kathleen Nielson’s Bible studies, sitting under her biblical teaching at retreats, and getting her counsel on women’s ministries, and we’re grateful for the work she is doing as director of women’s initiatives for The Gospel Coalition. I look forward to the teaching and to fellowshiping with like-minded ladies from all over the world. I’m especially looking forward to having my middle-school daughters and some dear sisters from Dubai with me.