DUBAI, United Arab Emirates- Religious persecution is often a way of life for many Christians living in the Middle East. But in one Muslim country, Christians are experiencing unusual favor from government authorities.
Welcome To Dubai
"Good morning everybody out there in Dubai," blared the voice of a radio announcer. "It's another beautiful day. It's about 70 degrees and there's a nice cool wind blowing down by the sea. So why not get outside, get down to the beach and enjoy your weekend."
Seventy-three hundred miles from New York City, on the shores of the Arabian Gulf, lies an oasis of luxury.
Dubai is one of seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates. It boasts legendary hotels, breathtaking landscape and glittering shopping malls. Rich in oil and natural gas, this island nation has grown into a bustling economic hub.
Biggest Church in the Middle East
It's also home to the largest Evangelical church in all the Middle East.
Dr. V. Dilkumar is the pastor of King's Revival International Church in Dubai.
"It was so surprising and amazing that this lovely country could be a peaceful home for Christians," Dilkumar told CBN News.
In 1991, Dilkumar, an engineer by trade, moved to Dubai from his native home in Sri Lanka.
Like so many other expatriates, he came here searching for riches. But he says God had other plans for him.
He started a small house church with seven people. Eighteen years later, King's Revival Church International has some 7,000 members and 24 pastors.
"Never did I ever expect such things, never, never," Dilkumar explained. "I only rejoice for what I am today because of Jesus."
Thousands come to worship Jesus in a multitude of languages seven days a week. CBN News visited the church during one recent Friday morning service.
It's almost 11 o'clock in the morning, some four hours since services began at Kings Revival. The day is far from over. Hundreds of people who speak seven different languages, seven different countries have gathered for their turn at church.
Fourteen Weekly Church Services
"We have 14 services for a week, 14 services," Dilkumar beamed. "Out 14 services, four are in English and then the other languages."
The majority of people who attend Kings Revival are expatriates. Christopher Sebastian pastor's the Pakistani congregation. He says the key is to deliver the word of God in the native language of the peoples.
"Understanding is so important because one of the things, one of the keys that Jesus spoke about is understanding," Sebastian said. "You see, when you put a seed, people should understand what that seeds is for."
Living Among Muslims
If all this seems remarkable, it should. Seventy-six percent of the population in the UAE is Muslim and Islam is the official religion of the land.
But the government has gone to great lengths to allow non-Muslim religions to flourish. There are 31 churches operating across the country on land given to them by the government.
"We are grateful to God, we are grateful to the leadership of this country and I would say there is an unprecedented level of tolerance," Dilkumar told CBN News.
There are some restrictions. Sharing the Gospel with Muslims is illegal. Printing the Bible or other evangelistic material is forbidden. And those who convert away from Islam face harsh penalties.
So most of the church's outreach is to the non-Muslim population.
Still, Dilkumar doesn't look at these restrictions as barriers to sharing the love of God.
"We cannot be more zealous and more loving than God himself," he said. "Whatever cup that He has given us, if we can lift it up, He will fill us and increase us."
Many have found at King's Revival a home away from home.
"Before, I felt like I was far from home but immediately when I come to church, I feel, really this is home," said Lucy Wambui, a Kenyan citizen.
"Having a church like this in a Muslim country is amazing and to have something so huge in a Muslim country is fantastic," added Ian Richardson from India.
Signs and Wonders
Pastor Dilkumar says the other amazing thing that is happening is the miracles and healings that take place at the church.
"That's one of the main reasons the church has grown very much, in fact practically in every main service of ours we get people healed instantly," Dilkumar said.
Kings Revival publishes a monthly magazine documenting some of these healings, including instances of cancers being cured, the lame walking and the blind seeing.
The church does extensive charity work and monthly supports 170 pastors who are serving throughout the Middle East and Asia.
And when he's not preaching, Dilkumar is prepping for several evangelistic meetings that he regularly conducts in Africa.
He says it's all part of the calling God placed on his heart many years ago.
"He has anointed me to preach the Gospel of Jesus and to heal the broken hearts, and to cause the blind to see, to cause the captives to be free, to proclaim the coming of the Lord," Dilkumar said.
*Original broadcast February 22, 2009.