Feature

Gone Fishing

How the Arabic-Speaking Association of the C&MA makes disciples

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For decades, turmoil in the Middle East has caused large schools of Arabs to arrive on U.S. shores. President Obama has told his administration to take in at least 10,000 displaced Syrians by the end of this fiscal year. These men, women, and children will add to the nearly 3.6 million Americans who also trace their roots to an Arab country.1

Recognizing the opportunity these circumstances bring, the “fishers of men” in the Arabic-Speaking Association (ASA) of the C&MA are ready to cast their nets wide.

Every month the Arab-American Learning Center in Sacramento, California, serves more than 400 families (Photo by Samo Zeal).

“These are crushed and broken families, and they are seeking tangible help and a place where they feel they belong,” says Raed Awabdeh, president of the ASA.

Lines in the Water

One way ASA members help Arabic-speaking immigrants and refugees adapt to life in America is through Arab-American learning centers like the one in Sacramento, California. Under Raed’s leadership as director, the center provides services like ESL classes, help filling out government forms, and activities for children. Every month the staff and volunteers assist more than 400 families.

Last year Hadi ElKhoury, originally from Lebanon, moved his family from San Francisco to start a learning center in Dallas, Texas. In August they hosted a banquet at the Plano (Tex.) Chinese Alliance Church where more than 100 people came to learn how to get involved. With the Southwestern District’s support, Hadi is now working on finding a facility for the new center and raising funds to begin ministry.

Pastor Mkram Shahatit of Meridian Arabic Church (El Cajon, Calif.) and the South Pacific District are working to start a learning center in the San Diego area. Shortly after hearing the announcement of it, a woman from the nearby Agape Chinese Church (Alliance) donated $25,000 to buy a van so the center can provide transportation for people who have none.

Pioneer missionary George Breaden often traveled by camel through open desert to preach the good news.

But an official program or building isn’t mandatory to love one’s neighbor. Sometimes word gets out about churches or leaders with resources and contacts, and on a case-by-case basis, they help families with a variety of needs.

Last fall Pastor Joseph Moussa of Harrisburg (Pa.) Arabic C&MA Church and Arabic Christian Church (York, Pa.) received a call out of the blue from an Egyptian family moving to the United States. Joseph, a Syrian, arranged for someone to pick them up from the airport, and he talked to members of his church in Harrisburg to provide the family an apartment to rent.

Bring in the Nets

Providing basic necessities is the start to helping refugees not feel like fish out of water. Next, they need people to visit them regularly and ask how they’re doing, Joseph says. Oftentimes, these conversations evolve from discussions not only about physical needs but also spiritual needs.

“The door is open, so the gospel is shared,” Joseph says matter-of-factly. “I don’t believe in doing mercy ministry for the sake of mercy ministry. It’s just an opportunity for us to share the gospel.”

In Pennsylvania, most of the people Joseph and his Egyptian colleague, Fadl Nagi, meet through their churches in York and Harrisburg have a background in Christianity. But being Coptic or Greek Orthodox, they know only church traditions. Many of them have never been in an evangelical church.

A family prepares for baptism at Arabic Christian Church (York, Pa.).

“The thing that really encourages me as a church planter is—I hear this all the time—‘Thank God we came to America. We know Jesus personally here in America,’” Joseph says. “Back in their homes, they [Arab immigrants/refugees] are connected to their traditional church, and they stay there. Then they come here, and the evangelical church extends its hand to them. Many of them find Christ in the way of reaching out for help. For me, that is a great blessing.”

Most people in the small congregation at Arabic Christian Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, have a Catholic background. Their pastor, Gerges Y. Gerges, isn’t exaggerating when he says they know nothing about the Bible.

“Every time I say a verse in the Bible, they answer with a Koran verse,” he says. “The first time it happened I started laughing because the lady answered me back, ‘Yeah, Jesus spoke when He was a month old. He was a prophet of God.’ They know nothing.”

To teach his congregation what’s really in the Bible, Gerges says he preaches about the love of Jesus. “We usually focus on preaching the Sermon on the Mount because this is the most powerful sermon. And we also do a lot of fellowship so they can see our actions and compare.”

Training More Fishermen

Once someone puts his trust in Jesus Christ and is baptized, he needs to grow in his faith and also become a fisher of men. A pastor’s ministry isn’t only preaching on the platform but training young men too, says Dr. Jacob Kakish from Jordan.

Pastor Jacob Kakish performs a baby dedication at Arabic Evangelical Alliance Church in Madison Heights, Michigan.

In 1978, when Jacob and his family moved to the Detroit, Michigan, area, home of the largest Arabic community outside the Middle East, there were no evangelical churches. He started Arabic Evangelical Alliance Church (AEAC) with the Great Lakes District in 1999. Now, because Jacob has intentionally identified and trained up new leaders, AEAC is the mother of four evangelical churches in the Detroit area. Four church members were licensed in 2015 as official workers.

“The Lord is blessing us with workers, ministers, brothers who are really working in the ministry,” says Jacob, pastor of AEAC. “I love to sit down and watch them work and preach.”

The ASA knows now is a critical time for U.S. Arabic-speaking churches and ministries to cast their nets wide. They trust God will provide the finances and workers they need to do the work He’s given them.

“While the world is in chaos, we have a short window [of time] to take advantage of and get as many fish as possible,” Raed says.

So, the question for the entire Alliance family is: Are you going to watch, or are you going to fish?

1. According to the Arab American Institute, www.aaiusa.org

Building Bridges

Watch Raed Awabdeh tell his story about the Arab-American Learning Center in Sacramento, California, as well as his connection to the suffering Syrian church.

Forgiven

Issa* is from a Middle-Eastern city you’ve probably seen on the news. This town has been shelled and bombed due to all of the violence in that region over the past five years.

One day Issa and his wife and their teenage daughter were in their home. Despite all the chaos around them, they had not been injured. Their house had not been hit. But they were starting to get hungry, because for weeks they had not left the house to get any food. Their cupboards were empty; there was nothing to eat.

The streets finally quieted down enough that Issa’s wife said to him, “You can’t go out because being a man, you’ll be a target. But maybe as a woman, I can go out and try to get us something to eat.” The teenage daughter said, “Can I come too?” Issa reluctantly said yes.

The wife and daughter stepped out of the door, and Issa heard gunfire. A neighbor screamed the girls’ names. Issa ran out to the street to see his wife and daughter breathing their last breath. Then he was clubbed over the head with a sharp, metal object and left for dead.

Issa woke up a few hours later at the local morgue. Surrounded by dead bodies, he shouted, “I’m not dead!”—but he was one angry man. His life goal became to exact revenge on those who killed his wife and daughter.

Forced to escape the fighting in his country, Issa immigrated to Sacramento, California, where The Alliance has an Arab-American Learning Center. Issa came into the center, got help settling in the United States, and was invited to the upcoming Christmas service. He didn’t know what a Christmas service was, but he came along with a friend. Afterward, Issa was full of questions. Who is this Jesus? What was that about? he wondered. There was so much love in that place. I’ve experienced something I’ve never felt before.

By Easter, Issa had become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ and got baptized with this testimony: “I no longer need to get revenge, because now I’ve discovered what forgiveness is.”

*Name changed

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