Changes at Al Amana Centre

One year ago, we dropped off our last in-person group off at the airport to return to the USA. They returned to the U.S. not sure how this growing pandemic would affect their schooling when it restarted after their spring break. The next week, as the airport here in Oman was shutting down, my family and I were faced with the decision of whether we too would leave Oman, or ride out the pandemic here in the country we have called home these the last seven years. We decided to stay, and never would have predicted what this year would become.

At Al Amana Centre we embraced our new reality quickly by offering fireside chats, online, that began in front of the Centre’s fireplace. When Muttrah, the part of Muscat where the Centre is, was cut off from the rest of Oman to stop the spread of the virus, we started working and broadcasting from our homes. Asok, our cleaner/driver/facilities assistant and Emma, our volunteer, were at the Centre and couldn’t leave Mutrah for most of the summer as COVID ran rampant in the neighborhood. We worked with other aid organizations to help distribute food, as people were not working and not being paid, and we prayed fervently for Oman and her people. 

As we continued to adapt our programing, we offered some online seminars until it became apparent that people were burning out on them as the pandemic dragged on from a few months, to no end in sight.  We tried a few different ways of doing Scriptural Reasoning, and finally found a program that seemed to work online. We discovered new partnerships that allowed us to help connect U.S. college students with young adults in Palestine. With Intersections International, we were able to gather women from around the world to share experiences, music, and artistic expressions that have brought, and continue to bring, hope and healing during this year of many trials. In Oman, we have been offering Bible based trauma healing to the Christian expatriate community that has been hit hard by the economic downturn that has gripped Oman and the rest of the world. We have adapted. I am proud of, and grateful to, the staff and volunteers of Al Amana Centre in how they have risen to the challenges and opportunities that this year has presented. What is also becoming clear is that even when we start hosting people in Oman again, we will continue with our online activities. COVID-19 has caused us to expand our offerings. No matter what this coming year brings, we will not go back to the way things were before COVID-19, we have grown, we have changed, for the better I hope.

One of the adaptations and expansions that Al Amana Centre has made during this year is regarding staffing. This summer, Aaro Rytkonen, our Executive Director, discerned that it was time for him and his family to return to Finland. In October of 2020, the Board of Directors named me Acting Executive Director during this interim period. Aaro and I worked as a team to figure out what would be next for him and if he still had a role to play at Al Amana Centre. With the increased role of telecommuting, we determined that Aaro could and would remain with Al Amana Centre. However, as he was no longer to be full time in Oman, it would be in a different capacity. Aaro will now serve as Director of Strategic Planning, Development, and Partnerships and be based out of Finland to be with his family. It is an exciting new chapter in the life of Al Amana Centre as we strengthen our partnerships in Europe, the US, and in the MENA region. Aaro will be leading this work.

This left a need for an Executive Director based here in Oman. The Board of Directors has asked me to assume the role of Executive Director.  While it is not a role I had aspired to fill when I landed in Oman in 2013, I feel that my last eight years working in Oman has uniquely prepared me to do so. I have grown and changed a great deal in these last eight years even as I have seen Oman grow and change and been a part of the growth of Al Amana Centre during this time. I am excited for the future of Al Amana Centre as we continue to foster understanding, reconciliation, and peace in our region and around the world.

Part of this future is more fully integrating our staffing with Oman’s goals and desires for her citizens. There is currently a high need for employment of Omani youth, and we have decided to join the Oman project of increasing the employment of Omanis. To start, we will be hiring an Omani to be our Business Administrator. This will be the first Omani employee of Al Amana Centre in at least 20 years, if not more. Sadly, to make room for this change we had to say goodbye to our long time Business Manager, Tony Abraham. Tony has worked for Al Amana Centre for 13+ years and we wish him well as he explores what is next for him and his family.

In addition to the Business Administrator position, we are also contracting with long time associate of Al Amana Centre, Mohammed Al Shuaili, to be a Program Consultant. For the last few years Mohammed has provided experiences for our guests and students in Arabic language, Omani culture, and has hosted many of our groups on his family farm. On his farm he has treated us to traditional Omani food, and his family has provided henna for many of our female guests, and answered questions about how he experiences Oman. Now, Mohammed will be working to help us develop and deliver our programing. We hope that he will be working more closely with Al Amana Centre in the future to provide our guests with cultural experiences and basics of Arabic. Mohammed will be an integral part of our Scriptural Reasoning sessions and will also provide Arabic tutoring to our staff. Already, Mohammed has been joining our staff meetings and has provided good insight to our future plans.

Lastly, we have taken this time without guests to update the Centre. We are adding three toilets and washrooms for general use and creating more meeting and classroom space. We are also updating our internet and Wi-Fi capabilities to better serve us as we work more and more online and as we utilize a new teleconferencing unit in our main hall. This will allow us to connect Oman, Omanis, and our guests with people from around the world as we learn about each other and promote ways to live in peace. 

Much of this season reminds me of John 12:24 when Jesus says “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

While this passage is about Jesus, and not Al Amana Centre, it reminds me that loss and death can lead to new life. There is much we have lost and there are many whom we love who have experienced great loss this year. Al Amana has lost much this year, but there is hope that out of this year we will also rise and bear much fruit.

3 replies
  1. Peter Ford
    Peter Ford says:

    This is an excellent update, Justin! Wonderful that both Aaro’s and your gifts continue to be utilized in perhaps even better ways through the transition of his move back to Finland. And kudos for taking a leap into uncharted territory by incorporating local Omanis into the AAC staff. Yes, we will miss Tony a lot, but this new development is bound to enhance relations with both the Omani community and authorities, and it fulfills a vision that some of us who have served on the board have had for years. May God bless all these efforts for his kingdom and for the role that AAC will continue to play in it.

    Reply
  2. Lois Thoms Dickason
    Lois Thoms Dickason says:

    Justin,

    Thanks for your Al Amana news report of the creative way that you have dealt with all the challenges of a full year with Covid-19, affecting the way you have had to adapt creatively. Congratulations on your leadership through this. Indeed, the centre has much to offer and consider in regard to its mission in the future. Please keep us up to date on all your reports.

    FYI – Dave’s biography of Dr. Wells Thoms (my dad) is now in press. Look for it to be available later this year, it shows Wells’ intimate ministry in Oman for thirty years, and his medical work as the first eye specialist in the Gulf for another ten years in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the Emirates before he came to Oman. The story in Oman goes back to Wells’s father, Dr. S.J. Thoms, who started the first surgical care hospital in Oman in 1909. A women’s clinic had been started by Elizabeth Cantine but the first woman doctor (Sarah Hosmon a GP) came only in 1917. Knox Memorial Hospital in Matrah was built by Rev. Dirk Dykstra in the mid-1930s. Wells also started a contagious diseases hospital in 1948 named for his father — on the site now occupied by the Al Amana Centre! After Sultan Sayyid Qabus came to power, the Womens’ Hospital was renamed As Saada (Happiness) Hospital. Knox Memorial was renamed Ar Rahma (Mercy) Hospital. The book contains many stories about people and places in Oman.

    Sincerely,

    Lowey (Lois Thoms) Dickason

    Reply
  3. Nancy Thoms Block
    Nancy Thoms Block says:

    Thank you, Justin, for your clear and inspiring report, encompassing the truly impressive swivel plays you and Aaro and the rest of the Al Amana staff have made, not only to adapt but to “make some more hay” as you have actually expanded your roles and the reach of Al Amana during the time of the plague that has hit both Oman and this country so hard.

    I believe the most important strategic move is your bringing Omanis into leadership roles of this institution whose mission is both interfaith and international understanding and reconciliation. It has been the government and the people of Oman whose welcoming and support of the work of the Arabian Mission that have made; possible the existence of Al Amana as its legacy, and this is a kairos moment when Omanis can take ownership in it. They should feel that this project belongs to them, allowing them to be authentic leaders in the world community in God’s work for peace.

    I am the eldest of the 4 children of Beth and Wells Thoms, and our family members are still in touch with Hassan Qumber, whose father was our father’s right-hand-man in the operating room and touring the Batinah. Hassan was sent for training as a radiology technician by Dr. Maurie Heusinkfeld, and is forever grateful for that. Those loving ties with Omanis are at the heart of Al Amana’s spirit of love and generosity toward all. Our extended family–Peter, Norman and Lois (Lowey) and our spouses–have each left a piece of our hearts in Oman, and bless you, Aaro and your staff for your vision, wisdom and effort in carrying on the mission of Al Amana.

    Reply

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