One of the key challenges facing Adventists in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) is the misconception about the Adventist Church. Other Christian denominations in the region often don’t recognize the Seventh-day Adventist Church as being Christian.
“A big number of people in this part of the world do not know who Adventists are,” said Omar Tubungbanua, co-director of Journey to Bethlehem, a reenactment of the birth of Jesus Christ. “People in this region misconstrue that we don’t believe the Bible.”
Steven Manoukian, president of the Gulf Field, thought that the year-end holiday season would be a good opportunity for the Adventist Church to dispel this misunderstanding by re-enacting the story of the birth of Christ in a region with a population of more than 60 million.
“We wanted to develop good relationships with neighboring churches and the community,” said Manoukian. “We also wanted to serve the community somehow by bringing something tangible, something practical, and share with them the gospel message.”
In 2015, the Gulf Field of the Middle East and North Africa Union, headquartered in Ras Al Khaimah, the U.A.E., decided to put together the nativity story, Journey to Bethlehem, in an effort to engage and share with its surrounding Christian and non-Christian community.
Manoukian said that at first other Christians were hesitant to visit the event because the invitation was sent by the Adventist Church, so many of them sent others to check it out before they came. Now, after two years, people appreciate learning about the real meaning of Christmas.
“We were able to understand the real journey of the birth of Jesus Christ,” said A.J. Paulos, a visitor from the nearby St. Mary’s Orthodox Church. “I really appreciate the Adventist Church.”
A neighboring church pastor said he was surprised to find the reenactment so close to the Bible narrative and he is planning to invite his congregation to come and see it next year.
More than 1,600 visitors from various religious and ethnic backgrounds took the Journey to Bethlehem.
“So far God has blessed us with hundreds and hundreds of people from the community coming and witnessing the gospel message of the birth of Jesus,” said Manoukian.
Visitors to the Journey are taken back some 700 years before the birth of Jesus to the time of the Prophet Isaiah, one of the prophets entrusted to foretell the virgin birth of Jesus, His ministry as well as His death and resurrection which opened the way for lost humanity to receive salvation.
Travelers on the journey are then welcomed into King Herod’s palace where they experience how God led from the birth of Jesus and every step of the way, even amid dangers from the enemy who tried to end His life before His ministry began.
The journey continues on to explore the inn-keeper’s experience as they contemplate that he did not have any room for Jesus to be born and the travelers are challenged to make room in their lives for Jesus to be born in their hearts.
After visiting and experiencing the real nativity story from the eyes of the Wise Men and the shepherds, visitors are then ushered into a prayer area where, before they are blessed with a prayer from an Adventist Pastor, each is given a copy of the ‘Keys To Happiness’ (Steps to Christ) book and a ‘Who Are Seventh-day Adventists’ pamphlet.
The Journey to Bethlehem inspired both visitors and the church members.
“Hearing the wonderful testimonies of visitors and participants alike was very heartwarming,” said Laurice Tubungbanua, co-director of Journey to Bethlehem.