Arabic praises could be heard alongside the more typical Hebrew worship at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship (SBMF) this year as the fellowship met June 11 at First Arabic Baptist Church in Phoenix.
The gathering – held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting – included a joint worship service of Arab, Kurdish and Jewish followers of Jesus; a fellowship meal; and an SBMF business session. Also in attendance were Muslims who have not yet trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior but value the friendship First Arabic offers.
Photo by Bill Bangham
Jamal Bishara, left, pastor of First Arabic Baptist Church in Phoenix, and Mike Saffle, pastor of Sabbath Peace Fellowship in Eagle Crest, Alaska, discuss worship songs to be used during the joined worship service June 11. First Arabic Baptist Church hosted the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. The two churches sang in Hebrew and Arabic together.
The SBMF – which comprises largely Messianic Jews (Jews who follow Jesus as Messiah) – gathered around the theme “disciples making disciples who make disciples.”
“We’re here to celebrate the coming together of two different people groups that love Jesus and want to share Him with our people,” SBMF President Ric Worshill said at the worship service.
First Arabic pastor Jamal Bishara told Baptist Press a “core value” of the congregation he leads “is the unity of the church … Our church is – just like heaven – for every tongue and nation, and will not exclude anyone.”
The joint worship service came about through the friendship Worshill and Bishara developed as they served together on the Multiethnic Advisory Council appointed in 2014 by SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page. The council sought to help Southern Baptist leaders more fully understand and appreciate the perspectives ethnic churches and church leaders bring to the common task of reaching people with the Gospel.
Among the worship service’s highlights were Hebrew and Arabic praise songs; benedictions in Hebrew, Arabic and English; a message by Jewish evangelist Rob Styler, in which he presented a monologue as the biblical character Adam; and simultaneous translation of all English into Arabic.
Bishara, a bivocational pastor who also manages eight dialysis facilities, said First Arabic conducts outreach to approximately 6,000 Muslims in Phoenix each year, seeing some come to faith in Christ. The congregation averages about 25 in Sunday morning worship, including Jordanians, Iraqis, Syrians and Palestinians.
The neighborhood around First Arabic has a significant population of Syrian refugees, said Bishara, an Arab Israeli with dual Israeli-American citizenship. The church attempts to reach them through visitation and English classes.
Muslims of various nationalities attended worship with the SBMF, Bishara said, because they “wanted to meet the Jewish brothers.”
Among worship attendees was Walat, a Syrian Kurd who arrived in the U.S. earlier this year as a refugee from Syria’s civil war. He told BP through a translator he fled from the Islamic State terrorist group because “there was slaughtering of the people” in his hometown.
Walat, who is Muslim, began attending worship at First Arabic because Bishara came to his house and invited him. “I love the community” of the church, Walat said, and the teaching about Jesus is “very good.”
For Worshill, it’s a natural fit to conduct evangelistic outreaches involving both Arabic-speaking and Jewish believers in Jesus. Jews and Arabs tend to resist the gospel, he said. They also can be ostracized from their families upon coming to Christ and need a strong Christian network of love and support.
Worshill, who is Jewish, has been teaching about Jesus by invitation at an Arabic community center in his home state of Illinois.
“We have to think in terms of an urgency. Every single day … people are dying without Jesus. Everyone we lead to Jesus is one less that jumps into the lake of fire,” Worshill told worship attendees through tears.
In its business session, the SBMF:
- Discussed increasing coordination with other groups that seek to evangelize Jews, including Jews for Jesus, Chosen People Ministries and CJF Ministries, formerly known as the Christian Jewish Foundation.
- Reelected its current slate of officers, including Worshill as president.
- Heard reports on mission trips to Israel and Europe.
- Discussed ways to help messianic believers visit Israel.
- Strategized about methods for reaching millennials and other younger generations with the gospel.