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  1360: Well of Life, Dubai Evangelical Church Centre, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Well of Life, Dubai Evangelical Church Centre, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Mystery Worshipper: The Emirati Auntie.
The church: Well of Life, Dubai Evangelical Church Centre, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Denomination: New Covenant Ministries International.
The building: The Dubai Evangelical Church Centre (DECC) is a two storey building with lounge, bookshop and coffee shop, as well as rooms for church meetings. It was intended to serve several churches of various denominations, and so the decor is somewhat generic. Although at the time of my visit Well of Life met here, I understand that they have since had to vacate and are currently meeting elsewhere. Anyone coming to Dubai and wanting to share in the church fellowship is advised to check their website first.
The church: Well of Life uses the Arabic word for life, hayat, as an acronym summing up their mission: Holiness, Apostolic, Yielding to the Holy Spirit, Authentically Christian, Training Christians to fulfill their God-given destiny. In addition to communal worship, they also sponsor smaller gatherings in private homes. They conduct ministries to children, new mothers, the sick, and those in prison, among others. It's pretty international in make-up and is planting throughout the Middle East.
The neighbourhood: Dubai is located on the southern shore of the Persian Gulf and is sometimes called "the New York of the Persian Gulf." In biblical times the area was part of the Persian Empire, ruled by the legendary King Darius and his successor Xerxes. Today's modern city of 4.1 million features a skyline studded with skyscrapers and thrives on business and tourism (but not, surprisingly, oil). The DECC is one of five buildings on a parcel of land given to the Christian community (in its various guises) in 2000 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai. Work was begun in 2006 on a Coptic cathedral, and shortly before my visit adjacent ground was broken for a gurdwara (Sikh temple).
The cast: Pastor Mike Eltringham.
The date & time: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Celebration Meeting.

How full was the building?
The room used on this occasion is meant to hold 800 and was around half to two-thirds full, including around 50 children who left the main service before the address.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
DECC is a busy centre and there were other gatherings scheduled for other rooms that evening, so there was no immediate welcome. After all, you wouldn't want to shake hands with someone that might end up going to a different service, would you? But once I arrived at the room where Well of Life was meeting, I was hoping for a welcome. Although there was a table with some printed materials, there was no one there to say hello. I wandered through to a chair and hoped that someone would notice I was either new, alone, or both, but no one did.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were of a pre-formed plastic with metal legs and linked together in fairly tight rows. I'm not very tall, but anyone over 5' 6" would be quite uncomfortable in those chairs. In fact, the guy in the row behind me thrust his feet through the chair next to mine for most of the address.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Cacophony is the only way to describe the atmosphere. Lots of buzzing and talking and some energetic children chasing each other, or perhaps they were just practicing their slides on the polished tiled floor. The worship group cut through the noise pretty quickly with some strong amplification when the appointed time came.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The first words I heard were "Jesus, you are indeed worthy of our praise, we just want to lift you up," which served as a segue between worship songs.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None at all. The words for the worship songs were on screen at the front of the room, complete with funky graphics. Secondary screens had been set up at other key locations, but nothing was being projected onto them. I noticed a number of members had brought their own Bibles; and whilst there was no reading as such, Pastor Mike referred primarily to New International Verson texts during his address, quoting sometimes from the King James Version.

What musical instruments were played?
Wow, there was hardly any room left at the front! Electric piano, two electric guitars, bass guitar, drums with a full percussion kit, plus two female vocalists. One of the band members also served as the lead male vocalist.

Did anything distract you?
I know that when it comes to air conditioning, some like it hot and some like it cold, but it seems that this church doesn't want you to get too comfortable either way. It was absolutely freezing! Most of the regulars were well prepared with pashminas and jumpers, but I had come straight from work and had only my suit jacket, which I buttoned up as best I could against goosebumps of the non-spiritual nature! There were lots of international flags on the walls, and although they had captions telling you which country they belonged to, I couldn't help but try to test myself before I read the answer, nor could I help but wonder why there was an empty flag holder labeled "Iraq." During the service I heard two mobile phones go off, each playing its own inane little tune. Oh, and don't sit in front of a tall person who sticks his feet through the chair next to you, especially if he likes to wiggle his toes!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a sea of waving arms. One would think that Right Guard was a church sponsor! I knew about 20 per cent of the hymns and enjoyed singing them with my eyes closed so as not to have to stare at everyone's uplifted arms. (I had chosen a seat toward the rear and kept my arms at my side.) In some of the more upbeat numbers, young people, and some not so young ones, were bouncing up and down toward the front and in the aisles.

Well of Life, Dubai Evangelical Church Centre, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Exactly how long was the sermon?
1 hour and 10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Mike liked to roam about the front of the church with his Bible open before him. The presentation was very slick. It seemed he had little in the way of notes, and if he did refer to them, I never felt that he was reading something he had prepared earlier.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God is the rule of God. In God there is no sickness or depression, only complete joy, peace and righteousness.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Eight new believers were "prayed into the church." The group had recently attended a one day course on the vision and values of the church and wished to formalise their committment to it. It's always great to see new souls for the Kingdom, and when one of them is called Melody Maker you can't help but revel in God's glory as well as her parents' sense of humour.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, um, for me the worship was a bit raving evo and as it took me a few repeats to learn the tune, the Devil made the most of the hand waving while I tried to concentrate. There was also quite a bit of talk about the manifestation of demons, which was bit unnerving. And the mention of depression in the sermon was upsetting. I have faced depression. Does that mean I am some kind of phoney Christian, not truly believing in Christ, for according to the sermon, in him there is only complete joy.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Yikes, it's as if I wasn't there! Even standing around looking lost didn't seem to attract anyone's interest. Finally, putting on my best shy look, I approached a table in the lounge area. One of the girls there asked me if I was new, and when I replied "Kind of," her demeanour looked a little fallen. But she recovered quickly enough and offered me some literature and something to drink.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I'm not a tea or coffee drinker, but a team of people were serving hot drinks in polysterene cups. There was also a selection of biscuits laid out. I took water from one of the chiller dispensers, but it wasn't very chilled.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – There seems to be a great sense of community here and the teaching I heard was mainly very good (it's just the depression thing that I found a bit odd). I have since downloaded a couple of sermons from their website, which are good. The music was not really my thing, but everyone seemed to get the groove.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did. Although there were some things that did not personally appeal to me, I must conclude that Well of Life has made some great initiatives, and their style of worship is attracting some younger folk that might otherwise be lost to God. So yep, it was good know we are all part of one big church family.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hmm, a close run thing between (1) depression being the sign of a lack of faith or failing to submit to God's will, and (2) that the kingdom of God is the rule of God.
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