During a recent visit to South Africa, Dr Hrayr Jebejian, Executive Secretary of the Bible Society in the Gulf, chatted to us about their Bible work in the Middle East.
Hrayr has worked for the Bible Society for the last 37 years and the Bible is something he is very passionate about.
"Besides being the book that gives me my Christian identity, I consider the Bible a community book which gives me advice on how to tackle many of the challenges that I go through in my day-to-day life.
"Especially since I work in a non-Christian milieu I always say that the Bible isn't just a religious book for the Christian community because it deals with the challenges of life. Moreover, it helps us as communities to come together and leads us to understand one another. In this respect it is such a dynamic book and I consider it a pivot for my life," Hrayr insists.
Promoting Christianity and the Bible in the Middle East can be a dangerous exercise. Yet, Hrayr says the Bible Society does enjoy some religious freedom in the Gulf States which include the countries of Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman.
"They are all of course non-Christian countries, the official religion is Islam and the official language is Arabic. But because these countries are very rich in natural resources they have attracted a lot of foreigners who come to live and work in these countries. According to official statistics, the UAE has more than 125 different nationalities living there."
Such a melting pot of languages and cultures, Hrayr says, offers them the opportunity to spread the Word of God to people from across the world.
"It is a tolerant community when it comes to the Christian presence. The way it works is, the government gives the Christian community a plot of land and the church leaders can then build a church in this compound. The churches then have the freedom to have their activities within these church compounds.
"We, of course, need to be careful when it comes to going out in the public arena when doing our activities so most of the Christian functions and activities take place inside the churches," Hrayr explains.
He adds that as a Bible Society they try to work within this church set-up.
"Because there are so many different nationalities, language groups and church traditions we need to be very interconfessional and ecumenical in trying to relate to everyone."
To this end their Bible Society currently stocks the Bible in at least 70 different languages. Thanks to a good relationship with the government authorities, the Bible Society has obtained the necessary licences to allow it to legally import Christian Scripture and literature.
"I can say that the Bible Society is the only Christian publishing organisation that exists in the Gulf States," he continues.
Hrayr adds that doing outreach work among the huge migrant population in these countries has repeatedly shown him how powerful the Bible is in changing people's lives.
"They come mainly from the Asian and African subcontinent to work in factories, on construction sites and at petrol stations, while the women work primarily as maids."
Hrayr reiterates that many of the estimated five million migrant workers are illiterate and face many struggles while trying to earn a living in these foreign countries. These workers earn very low salaries (around US$250 a month) and often aren't paid regularly. They miss their families back home, become lonely, experience depression, lack medical care support and, the women in particular, are often the victims of different types of abuse.
"For us as a Bible Society this opens up a huge mission opportunity to instil the Scripture message of hope among these migrants. It is really a blessing to see how the Word of God helps these migrant workers navigate their challenging times in the Gulf States."
One story in particular had a great impact on him.
"This Indian lady came from the village of Hyderabad. She had married very young. She had two children, and her husband had left her for another woman. She travelled all the way to Dubai so she that could make a living and take care of her children.
"She was telling me her story, how she hadn't seen her children for some time. She had been through many difficulties including abuse while in Dubai because she was working as a maid and her situation was very difficult.
"She really started crying, but then she stopped, wiped the tears from her eyes, looked at me and said, 'I am satisfied with what the Lord has given me'". That was a very emotional moment for me because I asked myself, what part of her life is she satisfied with? The salary? Not seeing her children? Not having a husband? Going through abuse?
"She then added, 'I am also praying that Jesus would touch the heart of my husband like he touched my heart, and that his life will be changed and that he will come back to us as a family.'
"This is a great story for me. It is an eye-opener to see how the Word of God is changing the lives of people.
"It is giving hope and inspiration to these people in spite of all the difficulties and challenges they go through. There is still something which can hold them strongly and push them forward."
"God is really working among these people. Not only have their lives changed and been renewed but also, once they experience God's love and God's hope, they really want to see how they can share this message with their fellow workers. They don't want to keep it just for themselves, that's the fascinating part. It's as if they have found a well, as if they have found a treasure."
You can watch the complete interview here.