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Business and education computer training opens doors to culture, travel, people and insights

By working in the computer industry in the private sector and higher education in Scotland, Arizona, Cheney, Spokane, Russia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Dubai, Morag Stewart gained insights into people, churches and society.

Morag Stewart
Morag Stewart by a painting of women wearing half masks in Dubai.

Living in those settings has challenged her to look at herself, her values, faith and culture.

As she travels back and forth between cultures, she shares insights with people in each setting about people, life, faith and culture in other settings.

So she has brought ideas wider than business expertise when she has served as a trustee or in stewardship roles at Cheney United Church of Christ.

Morag values education to move people from narrow dogma that leaves many people judging and alienated from other people.

“Living in different settings, I have seen hatred and judgment from people of faith,” she said.  “I appreciate the acceptance and respect I find in my church and found among Muslims in Dubai.

“We need to see people as people, not dehumanize them as enemies,” said Morag, who for 11 years taught informational technology (IT) and business as a professor at Eastern Washington University.  “We need to look at ourselves and our history, so we recognize when things are not as they should be.”

Although her career has been based in computer technology, Morag is not enamored with technology for technology’s sake.  She cautions against “throwing technology at everything.”

“Personal connectivity is the essence of being human,” she said.  “We must be careful that entertainment not substitute form over substance and information not overload us.”

Morag is concerned that people caught in computers, emails, the web, computer games and cell phones sacrifice personal relationships for virtual relationships.

Her father was a junior high teacher and grade school headmaster when Morag grew up in the Stirling area of Scotland.  She lived there 25 years through high school, studies for a bachelor’s degree in math and statistics at the University of St. Andrews, and work in computer programming.

Her work included a year at a bank in Toronto and a year with a nuclear physics research organization in Geneva, Switzerland.  Through Motorola, Morag was transferred to Tempe, Ariz.  Her husband, Jim, worked with Motorola until he retired in 1986. 

In 1984, Morag began doctoral studies in business administration and computer information systems at Arizona State University.

In 1988, Morag moved to Cheney to teach at EWU.  While there, she was visiting professor for a semester at EWU’s sister school in Russia and for a semester in the Netherlands.  In 1999, she began four years of teaching with Washington State University in Brig, Switzerland.

After she retired in 2003, the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management invited her to teach the use of computers for the hospitality industry at their new college operated by the Jumeirah Group, a luxury hotel company in Dubai.  She taught there until August 2007.

Morag’s curiosity about cultures, churches and faiths is both about organizational logistics and how they challenge people to accept each other.

“Churches are some of the largest organizations and businesses in the world,” she said.  “Some are autocratic and bureaucratic.  Others are congregational and democratic.  In either case, some are wealthy, and some are poor.”

Her roots were in the Church of Scotland in Europe and in the Presbyterian Church (USA) until coming to Cheney.  In Scotland, she regularly attended church.  In Arizona, she joined University Presbyterian, which was active in the sanctuary movement with El Salvadorans.

Morag said she likes the United Church of Christ because it invites critical thinking and welcomes people of different perspectives.

In Russia, she learned about Orthodox Christianity, contrasting Orthodox icons to austere Church of Scotland churches, and Orthodox bishops’ serving for life to the Reformed lay leadership with moderators elected democratically by an annual assembly.

During her four years in Dubai, Morag reaffirmed her lessons in tolerance, acceptance and humanity.  She experienced a stark contrast to “stereotypes of and the war against people of the Muslim faith” in American media and society, Morag said.

She found people responding with grace and acceptance toward foreigners, including European students in the program. From that experience of welcome, she challenges people in U.S. churches who have lost awareness of the United States as a haven, tolerating and welcoming oppressed people from around the world.

In Dubai, the college gave students a two-week orientation to behavior appropriate in an Islamic country, Morag said. 

That began with immersion in Ramadan with six-hour days and an ifkar—breaking the day’s fast—at the back-to-school barbeque.  The foreigners, who had not fasted, were invited to go to the table first.

Dubai transformed in 36 years from a nomadic Bedouin society into one of the world’s wealthiest, most technologically advanced societies, Morag said.  While the wealth is widely shared, laborers from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka live in relative poverty in labor camps, and most professional and business people have Filipino nannies and maids.

When a newspaper reported on the lack of health care for these low-wage workers, the leader, Sheik Mohammed, decreed the next day that all would have health care.  In addition, construction companies must give a three-hour mid-day siesta time in the summer heat, she said.

In the 1950s, Dubai had no secular schools or hospitals.  Now they have “world class” higher education, she said.

“Life has been transformed in a short period, changing the culture and family life as the society has gone from rags to riches,” she said.  “For example, over dress jeans, women still wear black abaya head scarves, some with elaborate designs and sequins.  Some wear a half mask over their faces,” she said.

Morag was impressed by how Islam permeates life in Dubai:

• Everyday life fits around religious life, rather than religion being squeezed out so people can live as they want.

•  Most live and work less than a kilometer from a mosque, calling them to pray five times a day.

• People leave their seats at horse races to go to a prayer room, or stop their cars to put their mats down beside the road to pray.

 “Faith is everywhere in people’s daily lives.  Worship is the same time Fridays throughout the United Arab Emirates,” Morag said.  “In contrast, here people can worship Saturday evening, or at 8:30, 9, 10, 10:30, 11 a.m. or in the afternoon on Sundays.  Religion is becoming a commodity suited to personal convenience without unwanted ethical challenges.”

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