Jill: Where were you born and where have you lived?
Kathryn: I was born in England. When I was 2, I went to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates until I was 4, then I lived in Kuwait. At 8, I came back to the UAE, this time to Abu Dhabi.
J: Where are your parents from?
K: My mum is from India and my dad is from the UK.
J: What’s the best best thing about living in different countries?
K: It gives you an interesting perspective into the wider world in general, you hear about different cultures and countries because you meet people from all over the world. It’s really cool to have an insight into the world.
J: What are the hardest things?
K: It’s kind of difficult to have long-lasting friendships; lots of people leave here because the economy keeps on changing, depending if the oil price is high or low. Most people only stay for two to four years and it’s really annoying when you grow close to someone and they leave. It’s kind of depressing. It’s also irritating because when you go back to the UK, people make wild assumptions and you’re constantly reminding them that Dubai is not a country, it’s not even the capital of a country, it’s only an emirate. People think there are so many restrictions here or that it’s scary to be a Christian, when the exact opposite is true.
J: Where is ‘home’?
K: Nowhere really, it depends on what country I’m living in at the time. When I go back to the UK, I say: “Yes, I’ll finally be going home,” but then when I’m in the UK coming back to Abu Dhabi, I say: “I really want to go home!” [meaning Abu Dhabi]. Home is really wherever I’m staying, so it changes all the time.
J: What role does faith play in a multi-cultural upbringing?
K: It reminds us that there’s one thing that’s always constant and always the same. In a place like Abu Dhabi, which is still developing and growing, everything is changing, people come and go. It’s really nice to know that there’s one thing that will never change - there’s one thing that you can rely on and depend on.
J: How does youth work make a difference in a multi-cultural upbringing?
K: When people live all over the city and you don’t really see them a lot in your daily lives, it’s a time when we can all get together and see what God is doing, in us and around us. It also reminds us that we’re not alone, there are other people here who know what it’s like; they’re in the same situation, which I think is really nice - they can support us.
J: What’s it like to be a Christian in a Muslim country?
K: Well, practically speaking you go to church on a Friday, instead of Sunday. You can go to church on a Sunday but it’s a little difficult because we’ve got school on Sunday. Friday is a holy day in Islam, so it changes the Christian timetable. It’s more difficult to get pork here. It’s kind of safer here actually as you don’t have alcoholics roaming around - alcohol is not allowed here (you can drink it privately, but it’s more difficult to get hold of). We live next to a mosque and it does take some adjusting to wake up to the call to prayer, but it’s a nice sound and reminds us where we are. It’s also actually easier to talk about religion here, because it’s more normal to be religious, than somewhere like the UK. People don’t say: “You’re religious, that’s weird,” people are just like: “Oh you’re religious, that’s cool, so am I, what’s it like in your scenario?”
Becca: Isn’t Kathryn’s faith beautiful? She talks about the profound truth that relationship with God offers us a constant and a foundation when life around us is changeable. Something we also experience in our own flavours of turbulence, as of course do the young people we work with.
It’s really interesting to hear about Kathryn’s experience as a young Christian in Abu Dhabi. Even though they are talking about life and youth ministry in Abu Dhabi, there are some gems in here for us in a UK context too.
It’s also interesting to hear Kathryn’s frustration with how people might misconceive life in Dubai. She also talks about the ease of religious conversation, that it’s more ‘normal’ to be religious. It makes me think about how we can learn a fluency of religious conversation that enables young people to comfortably talk about their own experiences and be interested in the experiences of others. I wonder how we can creatively foster safe environments to practise this. It is worth thinking about how this is possible in your own context and with what people groups your young people interact with. They might even have more experience in this and can teach older Christians about how to dialogue with people about religious experiences.