We went in with the expectation of not understanding anything. Last year we enjoyed a month worshiping in churches where English wasn’t the primary language and just observed people praising in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Slavonic. (Though we both could catch a word or phrase in the Spanish language service, and in the Chinese service a nice woman sat next to us and gave us occasional updates and summaries.)
But we knew the Friday evening service at the Arabic Evangelical Alliance Church in Madison Heights, Michigan, would be in Arabic, a language we have absolutely no knowledge of, and we were okay with that. But shortly after the service began, Pastor Walid brought headphones for both Mindy and me, then returned to the back of the room and proceeded to translate the entire service for us, songs as well as the spoken word. I felt like I was a member of the U.N.
Mindy and I were rather surprised at how difficult it was to find an Arabic church we could visit in the Detroit area. After all, there are over a million people of various Arabic ethnicities in the area. But after the worship time I spoke with Pastor Jacob Kakish, and he told that there were very few Protestant churches for Arabs in the area. He knew about one Baptist church, one Brethren church, three Methodist churches and their own Christian Missionary Alliance Church. Those churches probably totaled a regular gathering of about a thousand people in a population of a million.
Pastor Kakish also noted that their congregation was unique in owning their own building. He came to the area in 1978, and for a time they shared the building with an English language Christian Missionary Alliance congregation. But with demographic shifts, that English language congregation died out., and the CMA denomination gave the building to the Arabic language congregation. (Every other Arabic congregation in the area, as far as we know, shares a building with an English language congregation and works around their schedule.)
Pastor Kakish is originally from Jordan, and he came to Christ at the age of 13. He went on to study in England, and then came to the United States, going to Bible college and seminary in Indiana. He is not discouraged by the task before them. He said several times, “This is just the beginning.”
When he came to the area nearly forty years ago there were approximately 150,000 Arabs in the area. (“The mission field is coming to us,” he told us.) They have a radio ministry that reaches throughout Detroit and a global satellite ministry (“we reach the whole world, even Australia”).
The area has a large refugee population, obviously with great physical and spiritual needs. There is a great need for Arabic Bibles, and Pastor Kakish mentioned this as ongoing concern. The church has a food pantry and aids people in the maze of transitions that are a part of coming to a new place. I spoke with one elderly gentleman who left Iraq three years ago. He had been a university professor, but encountered persecution for his Christian faith. His son was kidnapped, and the family paid a substantial ransom for his release. When this gentleman came to the Detroit area, he didn’t have the proper identification to get housing. Someone in this church made the arrangements for renting an apartment. He continues to be grateful for the aid this church has given him.
Pastor Walid, our worship service translator, and his wife, Summer, were very excited to tell us that they are now going into full time ministry serving the area’s refugee population. Walid will be using his expertise as a social worker to care for people using a holistic approach to ministry. Many people from Iraq and Syria suffer from post traumatic distress syndrome and need counseling and care, and he hopes to direct people to the proper resources. He hopes to bring together public schools and members of churches to get children into Big Brother and Big Sister programs. He said the needs are many: “people are coming from places of great darkness, and it takes time for the gradual adjustment to light.”
I also spoke with Elvira, a young woman who works with the Friday night children’s program during the worship service. The children (about twenty most weeks) first gather together for a time of worship and praise and then are divided into smaller groups by age and rotate between activities (games, crafts, snacks). The church sponsored their first Vacation Bible School this summer and were pleased to see over sixty children from the community in attendance. All of the children’s activities, in contrast to adult worship, are conducted in English.
Mindy and I greatly enjoyed the Arabic language worship. A variety of ages groups were in attendance (people in their 20’s through those who were quite elderly; as mentioned above, the kids were elsewhere). We obviously couldn’t sing along, but we enjoyed listening to the worship songs. (They were not tunes we were familiar with, it wasn’t “Amazing Grace” in Arabic.) During the Friday night worship service, people request songs, and there is a time for open sharing. One man shared about a recent cardiac incident where he experienced God’s healing (“God has come to take care of the condition of our hearts; not heart attacks, but our hearts of sin.”). Another man shared a poem about the grace of God (Walid translated, but sadly without rhyming).
Pastor Kakish gave the announcements, welcoming guests (us) and introducing us to the congregation in English. In Arabic, he invited people to a Labor Day picnic in a local park. Rides would be provided for those who needed them. The next day, Saturday, was to be a day of fasting. The church has a day of fasting and prayer the first Saturday of every month, and then everyone comes together at four in the afternoon to break the fast with a potluck and prayer together.
We were invited to coffee time after the service where we were quite happy to find baklava. We were greeted warmly by a great number of people. (As a man, I was conscious of the fact that in the Muslim community, it would be rude, perhaps a sin, to shake a woman’s hand. Of course things were different here; many women offered their hands, and there was much kissing of cheeks.)
We left the church quite confident that Pastor Kakish is correct, “this is just the beginning,” and God will continue to expand His work in this community through this warm and faithful congregation.
On Sunday we attended a large suburban church, NorthRidge Church in Plymouth. We went with my nephew, and it seemed to be a good church. We had a good time of worship, but I’m not going to write much more about that today except to say that God used the message that morning to remind us that He is very funny.
Here’s what I mean. Mindy and I quit our jobs to take this year to visit a church in every state. We had some savings for this trip, but not exactly unlimited savings. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve fretted some about finances, and this is where God shows His sense of humor. In Ohio, we went to two worship services on Sunday. In the morning we went to a Lutheran church, and the message was on the Sermon on the Mount, with a focus on “give us our daily bread” and God’s faithful provision.
That evening, we went to the worship service at the Mosaic Mission. The message was on the Lord’s Prayer. Friday night at the Arabic Evangelical Alliance Church, the message was taken from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6: 25 - 34 where Jesus tells us that we are not to worry, because God provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. And He cares for us more than birds or flowers.
Before we went to church at NorthRidge, Mindy said, “If we get that same Scripture for the message…” But the guest speaker that morning didn’t use Matthew 6 as his text. The sermon was on fear, and the Scripture used was Luke 12: 22 - 34, the passage where Jesus tells us that we are not to we are not to worry, because God provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. And He cares for us more than birds or flowers. (Yes, the Gospels have reruns.)
So God was just giving us a friendly reminder that He does provide. He even provides the right message at the right time. And He doesn’t mind repeating HImself when we need it.
Arab Evangelical Alliance Church
Service Length: 1 hour 35 minutes
Sermon Length: 40 minutes
Visitor Treatment: By the time we entered the chapel (which is used for the Friday evening service; both the sanctuary and the chapel are used for Sunday morning worship), we had met several people. When they learned we didn't speak or understand Arabic, the assistant pastor arranged for translation. During the announcements, visitors were welcomed, and we were welcomed by name, since the pastor had met us before the worship service. After the worship service, we were encouraged to go to the fellowship room for baklava and coffee, and people made sure we were included in conversations.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 38
Probable Ushers' Count: 50
Snacks: baklava and coffee
Musicians: piano (woman)
vocal (man and woman)
Songs: although the lyrics were translated for us, we didn't learn any of the titles.
Miles to church: 24
Church website: http://arabs4jesus.com/
Service Length: 1 hour
Sermon Length: 36 minutes
Visitor Treatment: The welcome center is well staffed, but nobody greeted us when we went up (though they helped us when we asked questions). Ushers at the doors to the worship center gave everybody a flyer that included a connection card for visitors to fill out and for prayer requests, and it clearly indicated where to turn it in. We handed it in at the welcome center, but nobody tried to engage us in conversation.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: On Wednesday, we got an email from the church office saying they'd received our card and it was now being processed.
Our Rough Count: 2,000
Probable Ushers' Count: 2,300
Snacks: There is a coffee shop down a hallway from the worship center where regular and specialty coffee drinks and other things were available for purchase. In the overflow room (for when the worship center is full), just coffee and a few snacks were also available for purchase (the express service coffee shop). Refills (or, I guess, filling a cup I'd brought) were free.
Musicians: drums (man)
electric bass (man)
vocals (4 women, 1 man)
acoustic guitar (2 men -- on some songs I think one of them played electric guitar)
Songs: "Heart like Heaven"
"Spirit of the Living God"
"Good to me"
Miles to church: 21 miles
Miles from start: 36,289
Total 2016 Miles: 35,993
Church website: http://northridgechurch.com/