Dubai is listed as one of the most influential cities in the world. It’s easy to see the influence that various cultures have had by simply looking at the architecture landscape of Dubai’s buildings, the array of food served in restaurants and hotels, the various events that pop up around the city, and even in the way people dress and interact with each other. All of which can be attributed to the people that inhabit Dubai.
Over 86 percent of the nationalities living in Dubai are foreign born, a diversity that is almost unparalleled in other cities around the world. From Singapore to India, Britain to Finland, South Africa to the U.S., Australia to Japan and everywhere in between, the people of various visiting countries have influenced the way Dubai citizens live their lives.
Most expats moved to Dubai for a better job opportunity. We were offered a chance to move up in our career, to establish ourselves financially to give our families a new start, the adventure of a lifetime, and the opportunity to experience life in a different position – a position of influence.
Whatever our situation, we would have never considered our “opportunity” strategic in any way with regards to being Christian; especially being Christian in Dubai. In this sense we could look at a group of people who wouldn’t have considered their existence strategic with regards to their beliefs either – the early church of first-century Christians.
Today, we associate Rome with the Catholic Church, but if you could go back in time and tell first-century Christians living in Rome that their city would one day be full of ornate crosses celebrating Jesus, they wouldn’t believe you. They lived in an environment hostile to their faith. People around them considered them members of a strange cult. They faced intense persecution.
The emperor Nero falsely accused them of setting the Great Roman Fire of 64 AD and punished them by crucifying them and feeding them to dogs. The apostles Peter and Paul were martyred during Nero’s persecution. Yet by the third century, Christianity had grown into the official religion of Rome. Thankfully, we personally live in a city that has a great appreciation for a variety of faiths. Nevertheless, we are surrounded by a region that feels extremely similar. How then did such a hated, powerless people become so influential?
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said some surprising things that reveal what he thought about power and influence. He lists a number of qualities that he associates with being blessed: those who are poor in spirit, mourn, and are meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who are merciful and pure in heart; those who are peacemakers; those who are persecuted because of righteousness or are insulted because of their faith in him (Matthew 5:3–10).
None of what Jesus said made much sense to people living in first-century Rome. In their world, might made right. Women, children, the elderly, and the sick had no voice. Generosity wasn’t a virtue. Human life had little value. Yet within a few centuries, the followers of Jesus turned the Roman Empire upside down.
Jesus used two word pictures that explain how his followers, living on the margins of Roman society, changed their world. His metaphors were a call to his followers to live world-changing lives. Though they had no standing in the culture in which they lived, their lives would be the last stand.
“You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13a).
Salt is a preservative; it prevents food from rotting. Jesus was calling his followers to be the preservative of the entire earth. Though their world was falling down around them, first-century Christians lived out a kind of mercy, purity of heart, and righteousness that found worth in those that Roman society thought worthless. They demonstrated a powerful love that changed the way the world valued human life.
“You are the light of the world. A town placed on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).
Jesus meant for his followers to light up the world, showing the way to God’s grace. He called them to live in such a way that the people around them would connect the dots between how Christians live and the God they serve.
If you’re a Christian, it’s because someone was salt and light in your life. God put them in your life at just the right time. When you look back on your life, those people were “towns on a hill,” showing you the way to God’s grace. Their persistence may have been a little irritating, but their love changed your life.
You have a chance to influence those around you during your time in Dubai with that same love and grace. It’s a transient city, ever changing, with people coming and going from all around the world. We have an opportunity wherever we are, in our workplace, in our neighborhoods, even on the roads in our cars, to be salt and light and help people connect what we do to the God we serve. We can be salt and light to the people of Dubai. Two things that Dubai’s culture absolutely loves when you think about it. Who is one person for whom you can be salt and light this week?