ABU DHABI // Thirty-seven years ago, the Reverend Carl Sherbeck founded the capital's Evangelical Community Church. Yesterday he was back to see the congregation's new building inaugurated. Rev Sherbeck, with his wife, Barbara, and three children, left the United States in 1966 and travelled to what would become the UAE. He worked in Al Ain at the Oasis Hospital, which was staffed with many western Christians. Rev Sherbeck recalled it as "one of the few places that had electricity".
Like many expatriates who lived in the UAE at the time, his reminiscences involve tales of a simple lifestyle and friendships forged between expatriates and Emiratis. The Oasis Hospital built a bond with many members of the Royal family. Several of them were born there, the most notable being Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Before long, the Christian staff of the hospital were permitted to hold church services in the compound. Rev Sherbeck moved to Abu Dhabi in 1972. In a meeting with Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who was at the time Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince, Rev Sherbeck shared in Arabic with the future President of the UAE his desire to start a church. "He donated some land for us and we took out a loan to build some housing and a small hall," Rev Sherbeck said. Sheikh Khalifa later donated more land.
The Sherbecks went on to start an Arabic Evangelical Church in Dubai. In 2002, they left the Emirates for retirement in the US. As more expatriates of different nationalities settled in the UAE, the Abu Dhabi church grew and now has 26 congregations with more than 3,000 worshippers. In 2006 it began constructing a new home on the site, which brought the Sherbecks back for the inauguration. "If there's one thing I could tell the expats here," Rev Sherbeck said, "it's to get to appreciate the culture."