Of all the developments that are taking place globally in the network, Steve Fuller’s decision to plant in Abu Dhabi is one of the most exciting for the A29 Emerging Regions team. Steve has been serving as the pastor of Mercy Hill Church in San Jose since 1989. Below is the story of Steve and Jan’s decision to move across the globe and plant a church amongst one of the most diverse populations on the globe.
The place the Fuller’s have moved is comprised of 80% ex-pats from 150 countries. As we continue to grow into a diverse, global network, church plants like this do much to see us get there.
Abu Dhabi is a city of 1 million people located in the desert between Saudi Arabia and Oman in the United Arab Emirates. It is a melting pot of cultures and religions. Although the native population practices the majority faith of the region, the government allows workers from other countries to practice their own faith and to worship freely.
Some of the largest and most vibrant of these expatriate Christian churches are English-speaking congregations comprised of people from many different nations. And God has led us to plant one of these churches in Abu Dhabi, which will give wonderful opportunities for ministry.
So how did God lead us in this surprising direction?
A Shocking Dream
A year ago September I had a dream in which I was being sent out from our existing church to pursue some other ministry.
This was troubling, because I love Mercy Hill Church. But I took this dream seriously, because in the past God has used dreams to nudge us into new ministry directions.
So Jan and I started asking God for wisdom. We also shared the dream with our church leaders, and asked them to join us in praying.
A few weeks later I was walking by a creek near our home, crying out to the Lord for wisdom. As I prayed, I suddenly had an overwhelming sense of God’s nearness, with an unmistakable feeling that he was, in fact, calling me to be sent out from my church.
I felt joy in receiving God’s guidance, and sadness that I would be leaving the church I have pastored for years
I felt both joy in receiving God’s guidance, and sadness that I would be leaving the church I have pastored for many years. But now I knew that God was calling me to different ministry. And yet I did not know what that ministry was.
A Crucial Question
A friend of mine suggested that I start looking at ministry employment sites, to see if anything stirred my heart. So I did. I saw dozens of openings for pastoral positions. But surprisingly, none of them interested me.
Then one Sunday afternoon at a membership class someone asked: “If it’s true that lost people will not be saved without hearing the gospel, and there are people who have no access to the gospel, shouldn’t that change the way we live?”
I knew the answer was Yes. And I have taught that for years.
But this time as I answered the question, my heart was unusually gripped. I felt a stronger-than-usual burden for the unreached. Then that evening, as I looked at the ministry employment site, I saw that an international English-speaking church in a needy part of Southeast Asia needed a pastor.
And my heart was deeply stirred. It dawned on me that this could be the way that I as an English-speaking pastor could minister in unreached areas.
Feedback and Resumes
So I sent out emails to missions leaders, to learn more about international churches, and to get feedback as to whether this would be a good fit for me. The feedback was positive, so I sent out resumes, and started talking with international churches who needed pastors.
Then I received an email about two international churches in Abu Dhabi who wanted to join forces and plant a third church. I was not thrilled at the idea of a church-plant, since I had already planted one church, and knew that it was a lot of work.
But out of obedience to the Lord I thought I should send in my resume, so I did.
One of the Abu Dhabi pastors emailed back and said he and his wife would soon be vacationing near San Jose, and asked if we could have dinner together. We had a rich time hearing their story, and learning about Abu Dhabi. But as Jan and I drove away, we were still not convinced that we wanted to take on another church plant.
Then a few weeks later I had a video-conference with that same pastor and three other leaders from those churches. I was encouraged by their love for the Lord, and their passion for church-planting.
But I still did not think I wanted to pursue a church-plant. And besides, we were talking with other international churches, and praying about other possibilities.
A Surprising Change
Then I received an email from the Abu Dhabi leaders. They told me that after much thought and prayer they believed I should lead their church plant. They wanted us to pray to see if we thought this was God’s will for us, and that if it was, they wanted us to come and visit.
So Jan and I started praying. And almost immediately God started changing our hearts about church-planting.
So Jan and I started praying. And almost immediately God started changing our hearts about church-planting. He started to give Jan and me faith and excitement about church-planting.
I made a matrix of our options to see how they compared with each other. And as I typed “church-planting” under the Abu Dhabi option, I felt a Holy Spirit stirring that this was what he was calling us to do.
I had a dream in which I was preaching in an English-speaking church in Abu Dhabi.
And as I talked with our church leaders, and other trusted counselors, everyone agreed that this would be a good fit.
So I emailed the Abu Dhabi church leaders, and told them we did believe this was God’s call to us, and that we would like to come visit.
One More Mercy
But God had one more confirmation for us.
The Sunday before Jan and I took this trip to Abu Dhabi, I shared with Mercy Hill Church how God had been leading us. At the end of the service people gathered around to pray for us.
But before they started to pray, a woman said that the night before God had given her a dream. Then, with tears, she said she did not want to share this dream, because it meant God was calling us to Abu Dhabi.
But out of obedience she said that in the dream Jan and I were planting a small plant in the desert, which grew and flourished.
This was an encouraging confirmation for us, and it strengthened our church that this was, in fact, God’s will.
So Jan and I visited Abu Dhabi. We interviewed with both churches’ leaderships, and they confirmed our call.
Then we visited a second time, where I preached at both churches. And both churches’ memberships confirmed our call.
So it’s official. Jan and I are now on the ground in Abu Dhabi and thrilled about the opportunity to plant an English-speaking international church.
Please pray for Jan and me. It is hard to leave our church, and it is painful to think of being far from our children and parents.
We will need much grace for the move, and to make all the cultural adjustments.
But Jesus has called. And he is worth it all.
Steve is Lead Pastor of Grace Church Abu Dhabi.
You can also follow Steve, his family, and their church plant on his blog.