Seventh-day Adventists in the Middle Eastern Gulf region anticipate worshipping in their first permanent church building by year's end, local church officials said at a January 8 groundbreaking ceremony.
Victor Harewood, church leader for the United Arab Emirates and Oman, along with some 250 local members met on the plot in Ras Al Khaimah to unveil the building's cornerstone, officially opening the construction site.
Ras Al Khaimah is one of seven emirates in the UAE. Its crown prince and deputy ruler, Shaikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, approved the building project in 2008.
"[The move] will give Adventists official registration, recognition ... and ability to have our own church building," said Rajee Mathew, building project manager.
Previously, Adventists met in church members' homes or rented worship spaces owned by other Christian denominations.
Church officials expect construction on the three-story building to wrap up in 8 months. The first level is slated to house a worship hall seating up to 500.
The building will also serve as headquarters for the Gulf Section of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Harewood said, with space reserved for residences and office space for administrative staff. The region comprises Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen.
"We are all very excited about this development and pray that this project will be the start of a new era for our church in this part of the world," said Jóhann E. Jóhannsson, treasurer for the church's Trans-European region, which oversees the Gulf Section.
Support from the Trans-European region, as well as from the local Middle Eastern Union and Seventh-day Adventist world church headquarters will help cover the projected cost of the building -- approximately $3.2 million with an additional $170,000 to furnish and equip it.
With the recognition the building will give the Adventist Church in the Gulf Section, Adventists will "finally be able to organize the [church's] work in the region," said Kjell Aune, church president for the Middle Eastern Union.