DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Representative of the enthusiasm and anticipation brimming among the Manama Bahrain Stake members for their recent stake conference and the presiding visit of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve, Jude and Lyn Osma and their four children arrived early and sat near the front of the Dubai JW Marriott Hotel ballroom. They were eager to see an apostle of the Lord during the final session of their stake conference.
Members of the Sharjah Ward, Brother Osma serves as high priest group leader and Sister Osma as Primary president. Originally from the Philippines, where both served missions, they moved to Dubai for work — Brother Osma, an architect, worked in Dubai for four years before his family was able to join him from the Philippines.
"The Osmas are a wonderful family, humble and willing to serve," said Sharjah Ward Bishop Michael Allen, who has lived in Dubai for three years as the dean of arts and sciences at Zayed University. "They are representative of the many members of their ward who have come from the Philippines to work in Dubai."
Bishop Allen's wife, Kelli, said ward social activities are key. "Many of our members work in service industries," said Sister Allen. "They often labor seven days a week, making visiting one another difficult. So we have as many activities as possible."
Friday is the sabbath day in the Middle East. "Sabbath days are magical," Bishop Allen said. "Our members lift one another up. They come to our meetings truly seeking spiritual strength and support for their lives."
"Living in this part of the world has its challenges but also its tremendous blessings," said David Alexander, recently released as stake president after serving five years as president and five years before that as a counselor in the presidency. He and his wife, Sue, have lived in the region for 19 years.
"We have faced the challenge of two wars in the region, with SCUD missiles flying over our home, and we have even seen acts of terrorism," Brother Alexander said. "We have lived far away from our extended families. But we have also witnessed incredible miracles."
One such miracle is the growth of the Church in the region, with stake membership five years ago at 900, compared to the current 1,950 total from 16 units spread across seven countries. Last year's Dubai session of stake conference drew a then-best-ever attendance of 450; this year, the 636 total exceeded the 600 available seats in the hotel ballroom.
And that doesn't include the hundreds of members in other cities throughout the stake watching a webcast of the meeting — the first time such a broadcast had been available.
Another miracle is the growth of friendship and understanding between Church members and their Islamic brothers and sisters.
"As one local Muslim leader expressed to us, 'We are all under the tent of Abraham,' " said Brother Alexander. "No proselyting of any kind is allowed in this region, but that does not preclude the making of friends."
William Buffington, first counselor in the stake presidency, said: "We have seen the hand of the Lord in this stake, and that will continue. For example, the webcast of the conference allows more members of the stake to participate and sustain their new leaders than ever before."
Technology plays an important part in the administration of the Manama Bahrain Stake, including the ability to travel by air to visit members and the ability to communicate across the Web through e-mail, video conferencing and satellite transmissions.
For the final general session in Dubai, four Aaronic priesthood holders ages 14 to 17 sat on the first row directly below the podium, having left their home at 2 a.m. to fly from Doha, Qatar, to attend the conference in Dubai. They had missed earlier stake meetings in their own city while representing their school at a cross country event — but they weren't going to miss a final opportunity to be near an apostle of the Lord.
"There is a festival in Doha today, and many of our friends said to us, 'How can you miss the festival?' " said 17-year-old Kevin Prince. "But there is nowhere else in the world we would rather be than here listening to Elder Holland."
— Scott Taylor contributed to this article