I just arrived from a two week trip in the Arabian Peninsula – UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. My journey started on February 22nd and culminated on March 7th. During this trip I went through six international airports from both sides of the Atlantic and the Arabian Gulf; I was also a member of “The Flying Community”. Here are my experiences and discoveries.
Toronto’s Pearson and London’s Heathrow are two major crossroads for airline passengers. These two international airports are connecting points in North America and Europe for millions of passengers.1.
The airports of Dubai, Manama, Kuwait and Doha receive millions of travellers as well. These airports connect the east and west, north and south hemispheres. The uniqueness of these modern airports is that they have become the entry points for millions of economic migrants and contract workers into the Arabian Peninsula. Here, I saw waves of people disembarking from jet liners – non-stop flow of people from different points of the globe. It seems the world has descended into this region.
The departure areas are full of people who are tired, overwhelmed, some upset, downcast, lonely and mixed feelings. The arrival sections are lively, excited and have many signs displayed for welcoming passengers.
While in Dubai International Airport, I spoke with many Filipinos who work at the duty free shops. I also talked with a man who just came from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He was full of joy after recently having become a Hajji. Then I met a Korean man who seemed to be “raking” in thousands of Kuwaiti dinars. He said “Business here is good, lots of money here.” In Doha, I saw hundreds of Indonesian ladies sitting on the floor while their immigration documents were being processed. Westerners too come and go at these airports; many of them are men with crew cuts – they just came from Iraq and nearby Afghanistan.
THE PASSENGERS, CREW AND PLANES
When I left the Pearson International Airport in Toronto, I boarded one of Air Canada’s Airbus 330. There were some 250 of us inside the plane. The passengers reflected Toronto’s diverse multiethnic, multicultural, and transnational community. After seven hours of a trans-Atlantic flight, the passengers rushed to disembark. I wonder how many of those passengers would be together again (unless they travelled together). On my way home from Dubai to London Heathrow, I was on board Emirates Boeing 777. It was a full flight. As a frequent flyer, I observed that Emirates Crew are more hospitable, helpful, and seemingly hard-working, compared with some other airline personnel that I have encountered.
Before take-off in Dubai, the pilots introduced themselves as “Captain John” and “First Officer Peter” – they were obviously non-Arabs. The pilot went on to announce the flight path and inform us that there are twelve (12) nationalities representing their crew. They came from Egypt, Vietnam, China, Philippines, Romania, India, Turkey, Lebanon, U.K., etc. They speak multi languages – a very impressive multinational crew.
Half an hour after take-off, I walked around the cabin to see all kinds of nationalities – a wonderful rainbow of colour — black, brown, yellow, white and red. There were men and women, children, youth, seniors. Some were strong, some in seemingly normal health, and few were handicapped. Here the plane became a multicultural community but only for a little over seven hours. We lived and travelled together, but our actions were disjointed – some slept, some read books, others watched movies and listened to their iPods. The workaholics tirelessly worked on their laptops preparing for their business meetings or lectures at their destination. The alcoholics indulged themselves with their favourite Cognac, Brandy, beer etc. The restless children did their own thing — they played, spilled their drinks and some cried for hours relegating their parents helpless. Still the pious passengers demonstrated their faith – the Roman Catholic nuns prayed with their rosaries while the Muslim men held their beads and spread their mats facing Mecca from 36,000 feet above sea level.
I have been travelling extensively these past six months but the recent trip impressed me with a few 21st Century realities.
- The world has become “borderless” and citizens of states/nations can be momentarily part of “The Flying Community” – there these people experience peace from war and turmoil and intercultural conflicts.
- THE WORLD HAS GOTTEN SMALLER.
- People are moving in every direction. Missions strategy must follow the movement of people.
- Diaspora (scattering/dispersion) of people or migration will continue to accelerate as transportation move faster and become even bigger.
- Waves of people continue to follow like streams. 21st Century missions must ride on this wave.
- Mission force in the 21st Century must become more and more transnational and multicultural. Evangelism and discipleship among the people on the move must be delivered by diverse and highly relational teams. This is possible if the teams are trained to minister inter-culturally, and are willing to partner for the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sadiri Joy Tira (D.Min., D.Miss.) is the Senior Associate for Diasporas of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization; the Diasporas Specialist of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada; and the International Coordinator for the Filipino International Network.
1. Pearson International served over 30 million passengers in 2009 – see http://www.gtaa.com/en/gtaa_corporate/statistics/; London Heathrow served 65 981 077 passengers by November 2009 – see http://www.airports.org/cda/aci_common/display/main/aci_content07_c.jsp?zn=aci&cp=1-5-212-218-224_666_2__