ETHNIC CHURCHES: Arabic-language congregation reaches lost for Christ
EDITOR'S NOTE: Southern Baptists are one of the most diverse denominations in America, with more than 9,330 ethnic congregations -- almost one in five Southern Baptist congregations. Many ethnic churches -- from New Jersey to Oklahoma to Oregon -- are excellent examples of what it means to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ with a heart for lost people of any background. Baptist Press offers these five ethnic congregations as snapshots of Southern Baptist diversity and role models of congregational health.
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Inside a small trailer that sits on a plot of land in suburban Nashville, Tenn., a friendly congregation reads Scripture, sings hymns and partakes of the Lord's Supper. The only difference between this church and neighboring evangelical congregations is the fact the worship service is conducted exclusively in Arabic.
Members of The Evangelical Arabic Church in Antioch, Tenn., come from nations like Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon. They are united not only in language but also in purpose -- living out the Great Commission among non-believers in Middle Tennessee.
"I see that the Lord has given to Nashville the opportunity to witness to non-believers in their heart language through our congregation," says Allen Bennett, one of the pastors of The Evangelical Arabic Church. "The Arabic language is a means we use to invite nonbelievers to come to faith in Christ."
Church members minister to Arabic-speaking families, youth and collegians at least three times a week through Sunday evening worship services, Wednesday evening prayer meetings and Friday evening "Sunday school." Bennett says they adopted the unusual schedule because many members and prospects work in the hotel and restaurant industry and can't meet during the morning.
Bennett, who is a native of North Africa, said the 120-strong congregation is keenly aware of the mandate to live out the Great Commission.
"We understand that the Bible tells us to go to every nation and preach the Gospel,'" Bennett says. "We also know that the Bible says that 'whosoever' believes will be saved. Here in Middle Tennessee, we have many Arabic-language nationals who come from overseas who do not know the Lord. We want to win them to Christ."
Bennett grew up in a non-Christian background and was first exposed to Christ as an 18-year-old when a friend in North Africa invited him to a Christian meeting.
"I went to the meeting just for fun," Bennett recalls. "I wasn't interested at first, but while I was there I bought a book called 'The Gospel.' I ended up reading the New Testament."
Bennett was impressed with Matthew 5-6 and intrigued at how Christ displayed love to people. He gave his heart to Christ after reading Romans and Psalm 51:10, which says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."
"I know God has led me to help this congregation and He is using this church to reach the lost," he adds.
The Evangelical Arabic Church originally started as a small group of five Arabic-language nationals who met in homes, then in 2001 moved to a room at First Baptist Church in Nashville.
Bennett volunteered to help with Bible reading and music in that initial group.
"From the very beginning we had a motto that revealed our heart for the ministry," he says. "'We come to this place to worship God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.'"
The handful of worshippers soon grew to more than 100, and in 2006 the congregation purchased five acres of land in Antioch, Tenn., and began meeting in a small trailer. They currently have plans to build a permanent worship facility.
Though the congregation is growing, there are still many needs, including help with leadership and funds to build the worship facility.
"We need a minister to help us follow up on the contacts we make," Bennett says. "We also need someone to lead the programs and education ministry. We could use a visitation coordinator and someone to help with discipleship."
The growth reminds the congregation it is important to minister to Christians and non-Christians alike.
"It is our responsibility as believers to go toward those who don't know God," Bennett says. "I pray that God gives us the knowledge we need to continue this growth. Our congregation represents a great opportunity to look not to those of Christian background, but others who don't have any hope ... those who have no understanding of salvation."
Rami Ibrahim, who is originally from Egypt and serves as one of the church's pulpit suppliers, said the Arabic church is a source of spiritual food for many who are non-English speakers.
"The Evangelical Arab Church offers spiritual food for a lot of people who are in desperate need of the Word of God," Ibrahim says.
Kelly Shrout is a freelance writer who lives near Nashville, Tenn.