Saudi Arabia (MNN) — It’s been a tough week for Saudi Arabia. Forecasters predict a record low global oil demand due to coronavirus restrictions that will directly affect the country’s already-struggling economy. Oil is responsible for 63-percent of national revenue, according to the IMF.
Now, Saudi Arabia is expanding its efforts to contain COVID-19 and deterred Hajj tourism could deal another difficult financial blow. The Hajj and Umrah, another Muslim pilgrimage, account for 20 percent of Saudi Arabia’s non-oil GDP, as noted here.
Total coronavirus infections in Saudi Arabia are approaching 2,000, and the death toll is up to 21. Kingdom officials put a 24-hour curfew on the holy cities of Mecca and Medina this week, and they’re asking Muslims to delay Hajj bookings. Each year, between one and two million Muslims journey to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, a ritual that Islam requires every follower to do at least once. Learn more here.
When Saudis leave Islam and turn to Christ, it sets them free from things like the Hajj.
However, for believers like Deena*, it doesn’t make life easier Social distancing takes on new meaning because, if revealed, her faith in Jesus could get her killed.
Deena: Saudi’s secret believer
Saudi Arabia is deeply rooted in Islam, and strict Islamic laws govern every aspect of public life. All Saudi citizens are expected to be Muslims, and leaving Islam is punishable by death. Religious freedom doesn’t exist, as described here by Open Doors:
Saudi believers must keep their faith completely secret. Christians from other countries risk arrest or being deported if they share their faith with Muslims. Some Saudis have had dreams and visions of Jesus; many others have responded to Christian content on TV or the internet.
Deena began following Christ several months ago, and it’s been a lonely journey.
“Deena has been a believer for less than two years, and she has never met another believer,” JoAnn Doyle tells MNN. Doyle began Not Forgotten, a division of Uncharted Ministries.
Deena’s isolation isn’t surprising. Since Christianity is illegal, even discussing a non-Muslim faith is dangerous. Many foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are believers, but they’re not allowed to share their faith with Saudi citizens. In several ways, the Islamic Kingdom seems impenetrable.
Nevertheless, recent changes opened the desert kingdom to tourism and Gospel opportunity. Previously, “the only way you [could] get into Saudi Arabia is by an invitation, or you had to have work there with one of the oil companies,” Doyle explains.
“Their economy is starting to plummet. They’re afraid that, within the next 20 years, their oil is going to decrease and their economy’s going to flatline. So, they’re wanting to bring in tourism… doing that opens the gate for Christians to come into this once-forbidden kingdom.”
However, the coronavirus pandemic threatens to close Saudi Arabia’s doors once again.
Thankfully, before coronavirus travel restrictions went into place, Doyle and the Not Forgotten team spent a few days with Deena during a visit to the Arabian Peninsula. “I cannot tell you the joy that was on her face when we met for the first time,” Doyle recalls.
“We talked for a little while, and then we introduced her to the rest of our team. She goes from knowing zero believers to 25 believers in one day!”
Find your place in the story
In a land that forbids Bibles and believers, it would be understandable if Deena had a limited understanding of God’s Word. However, “her knowledge of Scripture was phenomenal,” Doyle shares.
To Doyle, it confirmed two facts: “Number one, the Holy Spirit is the best Teacher, and number two, there is awesome solid, biblical teaching on the internet.”
Praise God for Deena’s salvation and for the solid biblical teaching she discovered online. Pray Muslim seekers who want to know the truth about God will discover the Gospel message.
“Pray for the secret believers around the world: that the Holy Spirit will teach them, that they can get their hands on a copy of God’s Word, and that they will be directed to the really solid, sound Bible teachings on the internet,” Doyle requests.
“Prayer truly is the work of missions; [it] is a big way for all of us to get involved.”
*— Name changed for security purposes.
Header image is a representative stock photo courtesy chzaib from Pixabay.