The ruling family in the United Arab Emirates have transformed the country’s maternity facilities, thanks to a multi-million pound investment in Christian medical care.
Oasis Hospital in al-Ain, once just a mud-brick affair built at a date-palmed caravan crossing point before oil wealth modernized the area, will become the top childbirth facility in this former Trucial State.
Four members of the royal family inaugurated the new facility on 15 November this year, with hospital staff old and new.
‘This hospital may be better equipped and integrated than ninety per cent of the hospitals in the United States,’ said Dr Daryl Erickson, a missionary surgeon who served at Oasis from 1976-1985.
The expanded complex now includes 98 rooms over three floors and a state-of-the-art neo-natal intensive care unit. There are twelve delivery rooms – doubled from six – and more specialist staff.
Still present throughout the hospital are Arabic translations of the Gospel of Luke, the physician.
American missionary doctors Pat and Marian Kennedy founded the hospital in 1961, coming at the invitation of the nation’s founder, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
They scaled sand dunes by Land Rover in a rugged two-day trek to arrive at the desert oasis, tasked with developing modern medical care.
‘Before the hospital, thirty per cent of women died in childbirth and sixty per cent of children died before they were six years old,’ said Erickson, after whom the new surgical wing is named.
‘Immediately after delivery women had their vaginas packed with rock salt. As a result the post-partum period was incredibly painful and any subsequent labour could last up to four days because of severe scarring,’ he explained.
Among the Kennedys’ first births was Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, younger brother of Sheikh Khalid, President of the UAE.
Gertrude Dyke, author of the definitive history of Oasis Hospital, delivered babies for twenty-six years. She related to the National that Sheikh Mohamed told her, ‘If you had not come, we would not be here.’
From the beginning, Erickson said, the Kennedys were up front about their desire to share their Christian faith. The tolerance – even honour – afforded to them and the hospital by the royal family continues to this day.
‘The founding doctors came as missionaries, which was allowed and accepted by the rulers of that time,’ Oasis President Dr Trey Hulsey told Lapido.
‘Because we have kept to the spirit of treating everyone and turning no one away, we are allowed to keep Bibles out for people to take if they choose.’
Oasis is part of CURE, a network of Christian hospitals in thirty countries that has assisted more than 2.5 million patients, performed more than 180,000 surgeries, and trained over 7,200 medical professionals.
The hospital provides free care worth almost £1.8 million per year, mostly to migrant workers from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Equal dignity to the poor, said Hulsey, is integral to the CURE slogan: Healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God.
But so too is top-notch professional service to wealthy Emiratis. The hospital has twenty VIP suites fitted out with floor cushions and carpet: Emiratis prefer to sit on the floor.
‘We want people to understand they are cared for, both by us and by God,’ said Hulsey, ‘because God has cared for us first through Christ.’
Oasis hospital employs sixty doctors, about half of whom are Muslim. One-quarter are Christians of traditional missionary spirit.
They deliver three thousand babies a year, but are in need of more staff. The hospital is operating at only two-thirds capacity following the expansion.
At the grand opening UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Saif bin Zayed especially honoured the Kennedys’ two daughters, Kathleen and Nancy, thanking them publicly for their parents’ service, the nature of which he said he highlighted to all his international visitors.
Saif also acknowledged their faith, saying whether Muslim, Christian, or Jew, everyone must follow God in their own way.
Christians represent 13 per cent of the UAE’s population, according to the Pew Research Center, drawn entirely from the migrant worker community.
The UAE constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of religion, and guarantees freedom of worship if consistent with public morals.
But according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the UAE is among a number of Muslim-majority countries that make insufficient provision for individual religious freedom.
Open Doors ranks the UAE at number 49 on its list of countries showing degrees of Christian persecution. Though persecution is ‘scarce’, and there is wide freedom for non-Muslims to worship, evangelism is prohibited and the law does not recognize conversion from Islam to Christianity.
Preaching at the hospital had to cease in 1978, and the Christian bookstore was forced to close. In the 1980s, Bibles were banned from patient rooms.
But today they are available again, while the church adjacent to the hospital hosts a Bible Society of the Gulf kiosk.
Oasis Hospital recently delivered its one-hundred-thousandth baby, and certainly enjoys the favour of both citizens and government.
Coordination is now underway with a national charitable foundation to provide medical and surgical aid in Syria and Yemen.
Erickson muses: ‘I wonder if the UAE is as peaceful as it is today as a result of God’s blessing on the local people—citizens and leaders alike—because of their long-term interest in and tolerance of the Gospel.
‘I don’t know how you prove this, but just look at what the rest of the Middle East is like.’
This article was first published by Lapido Media.