Oman where first received a missionary in 19C, proximately 200 Muslims convert
Capital Muscat landscape located on the coast

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[No. 219 / Series – The Islamic World is Opening (2)] 

The death of King Qābūs bin Sa’īd Āl Sa’īd, who was the architect of comprehensive economic policy “Oman Vision 2020,” which has made today’s Oman, attracted attention from all over the world. His successor was named cousin Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, who previously served as the Minister of Heritage and Culture in the Sultanate of Oman. Oil reserves in Oman are relatively small; however, Oman has had great significance in the international oil market because of its strategic position facing the Strait of Hormuz. This Islamic article looks at the present and the past and mission environments in Oman after the death of King Qābūs who was considered as a good leader of Oman. <Editor(s)>

In early December of 2019, I met Indian businessman K on an airplane to Muscat in Oman. He was traveling to Oman for work of a company that deals with dozens of countries around the world and he introduced changes happening in the Middle East to me as far as he knew. He finished his MBA in India and he knew about the Middle East quite in detail, and told me that in the Middle East big changes are happening on a daily basis.

It is a well-known phenomenon that the oil power enjoyed by Middle Eastern oil producing countries has declined significantly because of the recent shale revolution in the United States. It seemed that K was physically feeling the changes in the Middle East.

He said Saudi Arabia’s travel visa announced last year was just the beginning of a change and said Saudi Arabia’s goal is to have a business-centered city such as Dubai in the UAE. Prince Mohammad bin Salman proposed the Saudi economic diversification strategy called Vision 2030 in 2016. In Vision 2030, seven businesses were presented to improve the quality of life through economic diversification fostering entertainment business and the goal is to bring 15 million tourists by 2020 and 30 million by 2030. The performance of BTS, the boy band emerged as the icon of K-pop, last year in Saudi Arabia was considered as a major event to show the change of Saudi Arabia to the Middle East and other counties in the world. This is a phenomenon of liberalization among Middle Eastern countries, which is to set a new growth engine behind the contraction of the oil market. Meanwhile, Oman, which has the lowest oil reserves in the Arabian Peninsula, has the same crisis as other Middle East counties.

Middle East is opening its doors in the face of oil price crisis

As I thanked God for letting me hear the unexpected brief news of the Middle East on the flight, I arrived in the New Airport of Muscat which is the capital of Oman that opened in 2018. The foreign passport control at the airport, which was built in ultra-modern style, was relatively slack compared to the national passport control. I entered Oman very quickly with my Korean passport because with a passport of Republic of Korea, its national can enter Oman visa-free for 30 days, and I realized how powerful the Korean visa is.

But my interest was, ‘Can the preaching of the gospel be possible in Oman which is an Islamic state?’ We examined whether there are any traces of evangelism on the land, where conversion to Christianity is banned for Muslims. In Oman, there were traces of the missionaries who arrived in Oman in 1891. At the similar time, missionaries also entered Korea.

Mission B, who I met in Oman, said, “After Samuel Zwemer, the father of the Islamic mission, and missionary Thomas Balfi who opened the way for Islamic mission, there was Peter Zwemer, the nephew of Samuel Zwemer.” In particular, missionary Thomas Balfi could speak foreign languages freely enough to have the nickname “7 tongues” and left his tracks clearly as the first missionary in Oman since he entered Oman in 1891.

Missionary Thomas Balfi enters Oman in 1891

Missionary Balfi (1825-1891) was sent to Agra, India, at the age of 25, to establish a university, and to work in Lahore, Pakistan, between 1859 and 1887. On the way, he returned to England due to deteriorating health, and served seven years from 1870 to a large area of Lahore and Kashmir, obeying the way of a pioneer of Muslim ministry. Then, after retiring in 1887 due to deteriorating health, and after recovering a little, he returned to Muscat in 1891 at the age of 66 with the dream of the Arabian Peninsula mission. Only in three months which is a short period of time in Muscat, he obeyed as a missionary and buried in Oman, leaving the record of being the first missionary in Oman. John 12:24 “I tell you the truth, one grain of wheat will not fall to the ground, and one grain will die, and if it dies, it will bear much fruit.” is carved on his tombstone which is now located in the Saali military cemetery on the Muscat coast.

Meanwhile, countless missionaries would have knocked on the door and approached the souls of Oman. Missionary B suggested the results of such approach. He said Christian converts were steadily rising on the Arabian Peninsula, including Oman. Between 1960 and 2010, there were approximately 60,000 Muslim Based Believers (MBB)[1] in Saudi Arabia, 1650 in Bahrain, 400 in Yemen, 350 in Kuwait, and 200 in UAE and 200 in Oman.

Even today, there are Christians who preach the Gospel silently in various fields where they live as Christians in the world. Right before I arrived in Oman, a celebrity’s funeral was held as a Christian funeral. I prayed that such small attempts would accumulate and the history of turning Oman to the Lord would take place.

[1] Muslim Based Believer (MBB): Muslim converted to Christianity on the Arabian Peninsula

The Middle East=C.K.

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