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Cristian Chior in Ras Tanura ,Saudi Arabia
Protestant Church in Ras Tanura (Aramco) Saudi Arabia

My Faith Journey Begins

June 2, 2019 – Today is Sunday. I want to share a little bit about the faith journey I am walking, beginning with my childhood. Growing up, my family shared in an interdenominational faith. I grew up in Saudi Arabia where my father worked for Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO). The faith leaders who came to teach were either Protestant, Catholic, or Episcopal. So, Protestant, we were. Our minister was occasionally Methodist for a couple of years, then Presbyterian. Later, I understand there was even a Rabbi on staff. My faith journey begins.

In 1964, my father took the job in Saudi Arabia when he was leery about the stability of the job market in the US, particularly his job at Boeing. For our family, it was a big adventure leaving the United States and going to a new country.

My father was an engineer with Boeing before we set off on our adventure. One day, he saw an ad in the newspaper calling for engineers to go to Saudi Arabia for a two-year contract. We stayed for eighteen years. It was the best lifestyle decision my father, Bobby Alexander, could have made for our family. If you lived in Saudi Arabia from the late 1960s to the early 1980s you may have known Bobby.

Sunday in Saudi Arabia was actually Friday

In Saudi Arabia, the Muslim’s Holy day is Friday. Being culture sensitive, Aramco worked Saturday – Wednesday, and took Thursday and Friday off for the weekend. Friday became our Sunday, so to speak.

Every Friday, we had Sunday school classes at the school, then moved to the movie theatre for the church. Our family was Methodist, so we went to the Protestant services. There was also Catholic, Episcopal, and later Jewish and Mormon service as well. Other than not having a traditional church, there was nothing different about our Protestant Church than any church in the United States.

In fact, when I look at Lake Nona, Florida, where I live today with many churches being hosted in schools or other community buildings, my church in Saudi Arabia was very much the same with the exception of the high tech “stuff.”  When I sit in Bethesda Church, when we meet in the Frizen Center at Pioneer USA, I am extremely comfortable as it takes me back to my church days in Saudi Arabia located in the movie theatre.  We never missed a church building for “church is where your heart is, and God fills the movie theatre whenever we are there.”

My influences growing up

We had a wonderful community of families who were wonderful neighbors. They worked together and socialized routinely.  There were potlucks, women’s groups, the Shriners, kids’ sports, adult sports, and exceptionally active charitable groups.  Our community was multi-cultural and inter-faith, which taught us how to be tolerant, global thinkers.  Better yet, we were a humble community. There was never a day when we did not appreciate the land that surrounded our community and the people who invited us as guests in their country. 

When I was growing up, I was told in one form or another, we must “love one another.” “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. (1 Peter 3:8 NIV). The influence of how the faith journey begins.

It was easy to recognize there were many in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding region that were poor, needy, and tired. There were efforts to support like Palestinian refugee children in Lebanon, and we often gave a little coin to the children as we got off the bus to go shopping in the local town of al-Khobar.

Palestinian Refugee Children

We traveled the world on vacations and saw the beauty of countries like Africa, Pakistan, Nepal, India, and Thailand.  But we also saw the extreme; the horrific poverty, starvation, and people with no hope in their eyes.  All the while, we were so fortunate to have so much.  I wondered why there was so much disparity in the world.

My view today

Today in the United States, there is a lot of disparity. For me, living in Lake Nona (Orlando), Florida, I still see so much inequality, indifference, and inconsistency.  There are poverty, starvation, and people with no hope in their eyes in our backyard and just around our corner.  I am glad that I found Bethesda Church as I believe the Episcopal Church has the same humble philosophy that I do.  Father Nick, who is the leader at Bethesda Episcaopal Church in Lake Nona, asked about a month ago, “Are we a humble community?”  He asked an exceptionally good question.

The path I want to walk

My goal is to be a humble leader in the Lake Nona Community. I hope I can live up to that goal by helping to envision a plan for a new church building that the Episcopal Diocese will be interested in; one that will serve the community as well as the church.  We hope to form community alliances to make our church a humble place that serves.  “Being humble means possessing a better capacity to form cooperative alliances — a crucial component in strengthening connections.”

“The humble can always ask for help, and they do not insist on everything being done their way. Some people might see being humble as a sign of weakness. However, a humble person is patient and does not get frustrated with the weaknesses of others” (Galatians 6:2).  My faith journey never ends, and for me, my faith journey just begins.