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Kuwait

By Melanie Riches Wixwat

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Melanie Riches Wixwat, B.B.A. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan), currently lives in Beirut, Lebanon with her husband Michael, the treasurer for Middle East and North Africa Union (MENAU). She is administrative assistant to the president and the executive secretary of MENAU in addition to working as assistant to the regional editor for the ESDA project. One of her hobbies is studying Arabic and this has led her to be involved with one of the local Arabic Adventist Churches in Beirut.

First Published: March 3, 2021

Country History

The state of Kuwait is a small emirate located on the northern edge of Eastern Arabia at the tip of the Persian Gulf, nestled between Iraq to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south. It is situated in an area of one of the driest, least-hospitable deserts on earth, although its shore includes Kuwait Bay, a delta of the Persian Gulf, and has a coastal length of approximately 499 kilometers.1 As of 2021, the population of 4,500,000 includes 1,300,000 Kuwaitis and 3,200,000 expatriates, the latter of which make up approximately 70 percent of the population. The majority of the country’s population resides in the capital, Kuwait City.2 In 1938 oil reserves were discovered in commercial quantities. In 1946 crude oil was exported for the first time, and between 1946 and 1982 the country became highly modernized. Today (2021) Kuwait has a high-income economy and the third highest per capita income in the Middle East. It also has the world’s sixth largest oil reserves.3

Kuwait was a British protectorate from 1899 until 1961. It drew world attention in 1990 when Iraqi forces invaded under Saddam Hussein and attempted to annex it, but it was quickly liberated in February 1991 after intervention by a military coalition led by the United States. Today Kuwait is a sovereign state with an autocratic political system. The Emir is the head of state and the Al Sabah is the ruling family which dominates the government.4

Kuwait ranks first place in social progress in the Arab and Muslim world, and second highest in the Middle East after Israel. Life expectancy ranks among the world’s top countries. It is home to the largest opera house in the Middle East and its popular culture is adopted by neighboring countries.5

The official language is Arabic, with English being taught in public schools. Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, and other languages are also widely spoken among the foreign population. Kuwaiti citizens are almost entirely Muslim, and a law was passed in 1981 that limited citizenship to Muslims. The majority are Sunni, but about one-third are Shi’i. Christians make up 17 percent of the population.6

As of 2021, Kuwait is a territory in the Gulf Field of the Middle East and North Africa Union of Seventh-day Adventists and has one church and 200 members.

First Adventists

The Adventist work in Kuwait began in the early 1950s through Voice of Prophecy (VOP) broadcasts. Until that time Kuwait was an unentered territory of the Iraq Section of the Eastern Mediterranean Union Mission under the Middle East Division (MED). Plans were being made to open the work there and, in 1952, Wadie Farag, radio secretary for MED, and another missionary went on an extensive tour of the Middle East to promote the VOP Bible correspondence lessons. As they went door-to-door, they discovered that Radio Ceylon from the Southern Asia Division had been beaming the Adventist message there for a while and extensively advertising the lessons. People in Kuwait were already studying the lessons, which had resulted in several families becoming practicing Seventh-day Adventists, including one of the earliest Adventists, Daniel Webber, a power station foreman of the Kuwait Oil Company.7

In 1955 several more Adventists, mostly nurses, arrived in Kuwait when the British government recruited Indian doctors, nurses, and technicians to work in the hospitals in the Persian Gulf area. By the early 1960s the number of members had expanded. Officers of the division corresponded with them, but due to political differences between Kuwait and Iraq, it was difficult for them to visit regularly.8

In April 1963, after more than a year, Carroll V. Brauer (department secretary for MED) was able to visit. He writes: “I found our believers there faithful. They gave me their tithes and offerings for the past year [to turn over to treasury]. We celebrated communion together and conducted other services, some of which were attended by non-Adventists.” Two Sabbath Schools, one at the capital Kuwait, and the other at Ahmadi, 35 kilometers to the south, were meeting with a total of 15 members who requested that a school be started for their children due to Sabbath difficulties in public schools.9

Development of the Adventist Message and Church

Over the years the work in Kuwait was carried on primarily through Ingathering solicitation, temperance work in the showing of films and conducting of stop-smoking plans, and student literature evangelism in the selling of health books.10

In the summer of 1963, two student colporteurs from Middle East College (MEC), Zaharia Youssif and Farouk Rizk, obtained a six-week permit to sell books. Since there were no publishing houses in Kuwait, the books were shipped directly from the Review and Herald Publishing Association in the United States. In Lebanon, two other student colporteurs, Guirguis Narouz and George Khoury, visited the office of a businessman from Kuwait who was spending the summer at a small resort village on the mountainside above Beirut. He purchased 61 books in total and took them back to Kuwait with him.11 During the Christmas holidays of 1964, Nathan Dawood, also a student from MEC, spent nine intense days selling books. He set a record for book sales and orders for magazine subscriptions.12

On March 24, 1965, three young men were baptized at a cove near Fahahil following a series of 50 evangelistic meetings held by the division evangelist, Chafic Srour. Although they were the first members to be baptized in Kuwait, they were not the first to join the church there. The meetings were conducted in the small front room of an apartment that also served as Srour’s living quarters during the meetings. The men baptized were Jameel Riyadh Dirani from Sidon, Lebanon (resident of Kuwait), Nabeel Yunan from Baghdad, and Farid Naraa from Es-salt, Jordan. Nabeel and Farid were electrical appliance technicians employed at the Union Trading Company in Kuwait, and Jmeel was a printing salesman. Division officers, the president of the Iraq section, and other members were able to attend and witness the baptism.13

The First Company and First Church

The first Adventist company in Kuwait was reportedly started under the leadership of Pastor Nathan Dawood sometime around the year 1966. By the early 1970s a congregation was meeting in Kuwait City and had in attendance 20-25 people coming from Syria, Egypt, and India. Samir Hanna and Radi Gindi (Egyptian businessmen), Sumaia Hasso, Narayan, David Daniel, Nelson, Samson, Mohan Row, George Mark, and Napoleon were among some of the earliest families. The first pastor appointed by the Iraq Field was Gabriel Saad Khilla, an Egyptian pastor who was working in Karkook, Iraq, at the time. He moved to Kuwait in the summer of 1971 and pastored until the winter of 1976. Worship services were conducted in both Arabic and English and the services were held in the pastor’s home, which consisted of two bedrooms and a large hall.14

Pastor Saad left in the winter of 1976, and the church didn’t receive a new pastor for many years. Two pastors from the Iraq Field, Pastor Sadiq and Pastor Tawfik Issa, came as often as they could to hold evangelistic efforts and meetings and offer support and encouragement to the members.15 In August 1977 Mukhtar Michael, who was managing the Jordanian Adventist Orphanage in Amman Jordan, was assigned by the field as lay-pastor to assist the church elders and some of the members in taking care of the church.16

Up to this point the members were meeting secretly in the home of the pastor. When the government began to suspect that the meetings were taking place, the members became afraid and voted unanimously to suspend the meetings. However, in 1979 the Ministry of Social Affairs gave its approval for an official meeting place and authorization to carry on the church program, along with a quota of six workers that included work and residence permits. As a result, an action was taken on May 24, 1979, by the Middle East Union Committee to organize the first church.17

The organization took place during the weekend of September 8, 1979, and was attended by 41 members. C. D. Watson (AMD president), Manoug Nazirian (MEU president), Hilal Doss (Iraq field president), and two workers from Iraq, Basim Aziz and Basim Abadir, flew in for the occasion. Four local elders were also ordained at that time. They were Radi Gindi, M. Narayana, Samir Hanna, and Mukhtar Michael.18 Because of Kuwait’s policy of recruiting skilled labor from other countries, the church membership was mostly from the Philippines, India, and Egypt.19 Mukhtar left in September 1980, after which the Middle East Union Mission assigned Pastor M. Carlos to take his place.20

As the church grew in numbers, the house they were meeting in became too small. In the summer of 1980, the members found a three-story villa in the Salwa area. Four years later, in 1984, the landlord refused to renew the rental contract. However, they were able to secure a similar size villa next door.21 After the Gulf War ended in 1991, the church shifted to its present location in Salwa under the leadership of Pastor Dennis Pollatos (1992-1997).22

Health and Temperance work, First Public Evangelistic Series

Kuwait led the Arab world in educating about the dangers of smoking. In April 1975 the Kuwait Ministry of Health sponsored the first Five-Day Plan to Stop Smoking clinic. Conducted by Jack Mahon (Afro-Mideast Division health and temperance secretary), 70 Kuwaitis gave up smoking after the five 90-minute presentations. Morning lectures were also arranged at the Kuwait Health Institute for a large group of school nurses in training. Such was the impact of these meetings on the health officials and general public that Abdul Rahman Al Awadi, the Minister of Public Health, succeeded in convincing His Excellency, Sheikh Sabbah Al-Salem Al-Sabbah, to present a parliamentary bill making it obligatory to print a warning notice on all cigarette packages.23

On August 31, 1978, the World Health Organization organized a special health-emphasis week on hypertension. Al Awadi, who was also president of the International Commission for Prevention of Alcoholism, provided a smoking-and-health exhibit unit, inviting Jack Mahon and Jalal Doss (ministerial worker for the East Mediterranean Field) to assist and represent them.24

The first public evangelistic campaign was conducted in April 1979 for a duration of nine days. Meetings were held by Borge Schantz (Afro-Mideast Division lay activities and youth director), and working with him was Mukhtar Michael. Because it was impossible to use handbills and newspaper advertising, personal invitations were extended by the members to help publicize the meeting. The church hall seated only 75, but 120 adults and 20 children attended the opening meeting. More than 80 adults were non-Adventists. The audience included a mixture of Palestinians, Asians, Egyptians, Iranians, Iraqis, and Lebanese, professing beliefs ranging from Maronite, Pentecostal, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist, to Hindu and Muslim. Three people were baptized on the closing Sabbath, one a prominent life insurance salesman in the city.25

Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait

It was on August 2, 1990, that the Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein entered Kuwait and in two days overtook the country, forcing the legitimate government to flee. Iraq put in a puppet administration, which Saddam Hussein then annexed and a few days later made Kuwait the 19th province of Iraq. Many of the 120 church attendees suddenly found themselves without jobs when their Kuwaiti and other Arab employers had to hastily leave the country. The Iraqi forces started systematically searching the houses for government officials and expatriates (especially from the West) that had not succeeded in leaving the country. Being American, Pastor David Dunn, his wife Elizabeth, and their three small boys were in danger. They went into hiding, while some of the remaining Adventists and neighbors brought them food. The family had only been in Kuwait for about a year. Elizabeth and the boys succeeded, with the help of friends, to leave the country by the middle of September via Baghdad in Iraq, together with a British member of the church. Pastor David was able to evacuate four months later.26

The Church After the Gulf War

After the war ended, the situation quickly went back to normal and Adventist teachers and health workers returned with their families. Samir Hanna and Radi Gindi gathered the members together and organized the church life until Pastor Dennis Pollatos arrived in 1992. A new meeting place and pastor’s residence in Salwa was found with more space and better security.27 Pollatos was followed by Pastor Desmond Boldeau from the UK in 1998, but due to his wife’s illness, they had to return home a year later.28 Pastor Tibor Szilvasi was assigned in 2002 and remained until 2007. Many believers continued to “join” the church during this period, although they were not able to be baptized due to Sabbath difficulties. Most had come in contact with the Adventist message through viewing 3ABN and the Hope Channel.29 On June 23, 2006, for the first time in the history of the Gulf Section North, a Pathfinder investiture service was held in the Kuwait church.30 Pastor Tibor was called to be field secretary and department director at MEU in Lebanon in 200731 and Akhan Awungashi, who joined as assistant pastor in 2005, continued to serve the church until 2014.32

Before the Gulf War, the government-mandated weekend was Thursday and Friday. The members had a difficult time keeping the Sabbath in most workplaces and children were required to attend school on Saturdays.33 On May 28, 2007, Kuwait decided to follow the example of its Gulf partners, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar and switched its weekend to Friday-Saturday, beginning on September 1, 2007.34 As a result, all Adventists, including teachers and students in government schools, were granted Sabbath privileges.35 Church membership gradually grew, especially since the Sabbath privileges granted in the schools made Kuwait an attractive place for Adventists, compared with some of the other Gulf countries.36

From 2015 to 2017, Jony Hajaj from Jordan became the official pastor of the Salwa church. It was during this time that the Mangaf outreach project was formed. The purpose was to reach out to expat workers in the industrial area located 35 kilometers south of Kuwait City. At first Portuguese-speaking Mozambique workers gathered every Friday evening, but later English-speaking workers were also included. Global Mission Pioneer Elvis Osei, as of 2021, is taking care of the Mangaf project under the financial support of the Gulf Field as it seeks to form into a fellowship group.37

After Jony Hajaj left to further his education, the Gulf Field had difficulty in placing a pastor in Salwa. In 2018 a group of Filipino members formed a fellowship group in Daiya, nearer to Kuwait City. The group continued to grow in numbers and mission activities and, in June 2021, it was organized into a company. Since the split from Salwa, both congregations have become more active in mission. On Sabbath mornings there are anywhere from 160 to 180 worshippers from more than a dozen different countries.38

Since the 1970s the church strived many times to be recognized by the government of Kuwait, but every attempt failed. Finally, on July 10, 2018, it received recognition from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.39

Pastor Paulo Rabello was appointed in February 2021 as the district pastor of the Kuwait church and is presently serving it through Zoom until he is able to obtain a visa to enter the country. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic this process has been delayed.40

Organization

In 1951 Kuwait was under the Iraq Section of the Eastern Mediterranean Union Mission of the Middle East Division (MED). In 1970 MED was replaced by the Afro-Mideast Division and the Iraq Section became the Iraq Field under the newly named Middle East Union Mission (MEUM). In 1984 Kuwait was transferred from the Iraqi Field and came directly under the MEUM. In 1988 the Gulf Section was established with the office and residence for the section leader in Kuwait. In 1995 Kuwait and the Gulf Section and the MEUM came under the Trans-European Division. It was in 2001 that the Gulf Section was organized into two sections, Gulf Section North and Gulf Section South, with Kuwait being part of the Gulf Section North.41 The next reorganization was voted in December 2009 when the two sections were combined again as Gulf Section. The Gulf Field was organized in May 2011,42 and again in 2012 as the Gulf Field under the Middle East and North Africa Union (attached to the General Conference of SDA).43 As of 2021 there is one church with more than 200 members.44

Pastors and Caretakers

Gabriel Saad Kehilla (1971-1976); Mukhtar Michael (1977-1980); M. Carlos (1988-1989); David Dunn (1989-1990); Dennis Pollatos (1992-1997); Desmond Boldeau (1998-1999); Tibor Szilvasi (2002-2007); Akhan Awungashi (2008-2014); Jony Hajaj (2015-2017); Paulo Rabello (2021-present).

Sources

“1963 Book and Periodical Sales Nearly Double 1962 Report.” Middle East Messenger, January-February 1964.

Brauer, Carroll V. “Adventist Groups in Qatar and Bahrain.” ARH, July 11, 1963.

Chappell, D. L. “Literature Evangelism in Bible Lands.” ARH, November 21, 1963.

“C. V. Brauer Visits Members in Gulf Area.” Middle East Messenger, May-June 1963.

Dunbar, E. W. “First SDA Baptism Conducted in Kuwait.” ARH, June 10, 1965.

“Iraq Section; Iraq Field.” General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Office of Archives and Statistics, Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Silver Spring, MD: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1952-2021.

Mahon, Jack. “Kuwait Health Ministry Sponsors Five-Day Plan.” ARH, June 24, 1976.

Middle East Union Session Meeting, May 22-23, 2011, MEU Session 11-6. MENAU Archives, Beirut, Lebanon.

Middle East Union Administrative Committee minutes, May 24, 1979, Iraq Field Report. MENAU Archives, Beirut, Lebanon.

Middle East Union Administrative Committee minutes, November 15, 1979, Iraq Field Report. MENAU Archives, Beirut, Lebanon.

Middle East Union Mission Executive Committee minutes, November 15, 1995, 86, Appendix D, Field and Section Reports. MENAU Archives, Beirut, Lebanon.

Middle East Union Administrative Committee minutes, February 19, 1998, MEU 98-014. MENAU Archives, Beirut, Lebanon.

Middle East Union Executive Committee minutes, November 22, 2005, Gulf Section North Report, 82. MENAU Archives, Beirut, Lebanon.

Middle East Union Executive Committee minutes, December 4-7, 2006, Gulf Section North Report, 246. MENAU Archives, Beirut, Lebanon.

Middle East Union Mission Executive Committee minutes, March 20-22, 2007, MEU 07-047. MENAU Archives, Beirut, Lebanon.

Middle East Union Administrative Committee minutes, October 21, 2020, ADCOM 20-141. MENAU Archives, Beirut, Lebanon.

Presse, Agence France. “Kuwait Adopts Friday-Saturday Weekend.” Arab News (Online), May 28, 2007. Accessed April 13, 2021, https://www.arabnews.com/node/298933.

Sadek, Dawlet Ahmed and others. “Kuwait.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed April 13, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/place/Kuwait.

“SDA's hold health exhibit in Kuwait.” ARH, August 31, 1978.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. 2nd rev. ed., Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, 1983-2002. Accessed July 4, 2021. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

Thomas, Jean. “First Church is Organized.” ARH, November 6, 1979.

Thomas, Jean. “Three Persons are Baptized.” ARH, June 7, 1979.

Thurber, Merwin R. “Highlights of the Day.” ARH, June 2, 1954.

Trans-European Division Administrative Committee minutes. November 24, 2008, 200. Trans-European Division Archives, St. Albans, United Kingdom.

Wikipedia contributors. "Kuwait." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. Accessed April 13, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuwait.

Notes

  1. Dawlat Ahmed Sadek and others, “Kuwait,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed April 13, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/place/Kuwait.

  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Kuwait," Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, accessed April 13, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuwait.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Sadek, et al., Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Kuwait.”

  7. Merwin R. Thurber, “Highlights of the Day,” ARH, June 2, 1954, 1.

  8. Carroll V. Brauer, “Adventist Groups in Qatar and Bahrain,” ARH, July 11, 1963, 17.

  9. “Elder C. V. Brauer Visits Members in Gulf Area,” Middle East Messenger, May-June 1963, 4.

  10. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (SDAE), rev. ed., (1996), s.v. “Kuwait.”

  11. D. L. Chappell, “Literature Evangelism in Bible Lands,” ARH, November 21, 1963, 17-18.

  12. “1963 Book and Periodical Sales Nearly Double 1962 Report,” Middle East Messenger, January-February 1964, 4.

  13. E. W. Dunbar, “First SDA Baptism Conducted in Kuwait,” ARH, June 10, 1965, 24.

  14. Georgette Gindi, email correspondence with Melanie Wixwat, March 31, 2021; personal knowledge, one of the early families from Egypt that arrived in Kuwait and began the first children’s Sabbath school.

  15. Akhan Awungashi, letter by email correspondence to Tibor Szilvasi (Executive Secretary of MENAU), January 10, 2019; personal knowledge of being the pastor of the Kuwait Church from 2008 to 2014.

  16. Georgette Gindi, email correspondence.

  17. Middle East Union Administrative Committee, May 24, 1979, 599, Iraq Field Report. MENAU Archives.

  18. Georgette Gindi, email correspondence with Melanie Wixwat, April 15, 2021; personal knowledge from being the wife of Radi Gindi, who was among the first three elders ordained in 1975.

  19. Jean Thomas, “First Church is Organized,” ARH, November 6, 1979, 22.

  20. Samir Hanna, email correspondence with Melanie Wixwat, April 20-21, 2021; personal knowledge from being one of the three first ordained elders of the Kuwait church in 1975.

  21. Awungashi, letter.

  22. Samir Hanna, personal knowledge.

  23. Jack Mahon, “Kuwait Health Ministry Sponsors Five-Day Plan,” ARH, June 24, 1976, 17-18.

  24. “SDA's hold health exhibit in Kuwait,” ARH, August 31, 1978, 29.

  25. Jean Thomas, “Three Persons are Baptized,” ARH, June 7, 1979, 19.

  26. Middle East Union Mission Executive Committee, November 15, 1995, 86, Appendix D, Field and Section Reports. MENAU Archives; Sven H. Jensen, personal knowledge, at the time church ministries director for the MEUM and visiting Kuwait before and several times after the invasion. Reported April 15, 2021.

  27. Ibid.

  28. Middle East Union Administrative Committee, February 19, 1998, MEU 98-014, 77. MENAU Archives.

  29. Middle East Union Executive Committee, November 22, 2005, Gulf Section North Report, 82. MENAU Archives.

  30. Middle East Union Executive Committee, December 4-7, 2006, Gulf Section North Report, 246. MENAU Archives.

  31. Middle East Union Executive Committee, May 20-22, 2007, MEU 07-047, 10. MENAU Archives.

  32. Tibor Szilvasi, email correspondence with author, July 14, 2021; personal knowledge from being Kuwait church pastor from 2002-2007.

  33. Georgette Gindi, personal knowledge.

  34. Agence France Presse, “Kuwait Adopts Friday-Saturday Weekend,” Arab News, May 28, 2007, accessed April 13, 2021, https://www.arabnews.com/node/298933.

  35. Middle East Union Administrative Committee, May 24, 1979, Iraq Field Report, 599. MENAU Archives.

  36. Middle East Union Administrative Committee, November 15, 1979, Iraq Field Report, 630. MENAU Archives.

  37. Jon Park, email correspondence with author, July 3, 2021.

  38. Ibid.

  39. Awungashi, letter.

  40. Middle East and North Africa Union Administrative Committee, October 21, 2020, ADCOM 20-141, 49. MENAU Archives.

  41. Seventh-day Adventist Online Yearbooks, “Iraq Field; Gulf Section,” 1983-2002, accessed June 20, 2021, https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

  42. Middle East Union Session Meeting, 22-23 May 2011, MEU Session 11-6, 2. MENAU Archives.

  43. Seventh-day Adventist Online Yearbook, “Iraq Section; Iraq Field,” accessed July 4, 2021, 1952-2021, https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

  44. Jon Park personal knowledge from being secretary of the Gulf Field (2016-).

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Wixwat, Melanie Riches. "Kuwait." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. March 03, 2021. Accessed February 20, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=5DZ9.

Wixwat, Melanie Riches. "Kuwait." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. March 03, 2021. Date of access February 20, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=5DZ9.

Wixwat, Melanie Riches (2021, March 03). Kuwait. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved February 20, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=5DZ9.