By Irene A. Harkleroad
Pastor Jamal Bishara and First Arabic Baptist Church, Phoenix, welcomed 20 members of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship for a Sunday worship service and Arabic hospitality with about 50 of his congregation and their friends on Sunday, June 11.
The Fellowship is comprised largely of Messianic Jews — Jews who follow Jesus as Messiah.
Though media portrayals often depict conflict between Jews and Arabs, the meeting’s location at a church that offers worship in Arabic highlighted reasons for Christ-followers from both groups to partner in evangelism, said SBMF President Ric Worshill.
“That’s unique, that’s cool” when “Arabic Baptists and Jewish Baptists get together,” Worshill said.
The SBMF’s partnership with First Arabic Baptist stems from Worshill’s service with First Arabic Pastor Jamal Bishara on the Multiethnic Advisory Council, which was appointed by SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page.
Pastor Bishara and his congregation at First Arabic Baptist Church wholeheartedly welcomed the Messianic Fellowship.
“I feel blessed to have met some wonderful people,” said Bishara. “Our members prepared an Arabic meal. There was a lot of talking around the table. We were united in Jesus.”
The sharing of food in the Middle East is a very special act of hospitality — a way of making a covenant of peace and fidelity. It is also a sign of great respect to invite people to eat food that a host’s family has prepared instead of dining at a restaurant.
“Sitting at the same table breaks a lot of barriers,” said Bishara. “That’s what Jesus does. He breaks the walls of prejudice. We want to break down the walls of prejudice” that have often characterized Jewish-Arabic relationships.
“We are praising God for the wonderful unity,” said Gwenn Worshill of the Messianic Fellowship. “We had songs and prayers in the English, Hebrew and Arab languages. We felt like one family.”
Bishara was born in Jerusalem to a family that has been Christians for generations. As an Israeli Arab Christian, he understands well the culture and divisions of the area.<p>
“I believe in the inclusiveness for all in the body of Christ,” said Bishara. “God’s message is for everyone — ‘whosoever will’ — and nothing should separate us.”
The meeting of the Messianic Fellowship with Phoenix’s Arabic Baptists could be a model for Middle Eastern peoples. “The Middle East is in turmoil and Christians are being squeezed on every side,” laments Bishara.
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 through a translator how 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.”
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.”
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.
–David Roach, with Baptist Press, also contributed to this story.