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Christian Arabs gripped with fear of attacks, church planter says

LOS ANGELES (BP)–Christians need to show Christ’s love to Arab-Americans gripped with fear in the wake of escalating backlash by some U.S. citizens outraged by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, says a Southern Baptist missionary to Middle Easterners in California.

Egyptian-born Khalil “Charlie” Hanna, with the North American Mission Board, has served for the past 21 years in California helping start churches throughout the state for immigrants from the Middle East. California is home to more than 1 million Middle Easterners. In the Los Angeles area, where Hanna lives, more than 15,000 Muslims practice Islam.

“I think this is the time Christian Arabs and Southern Baptists alike can extend their loving hand to Muslim Arabs,” Hanna said. He said many Muslims are questioning the authenticity of their Islamic faith that advocates initiating “Holy War” on those who do not recognize Allah as the one true god.

Now, more than ever, Hanna said, the Christian Arab community needs Southern Baptists’ love, prayers and support. “We need to supply the Christian Arab churches basic evangelism materials such as New Testaments and gospel tracts,” he said.

He also called for Southern Baptist churches to offer their buildings as safe havens to house Christian Arab congregations meeting in homes or other locations that might be vulnerable to retaliatory acts by Americans incensed over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 against New York City and Washington, D.C.

Many Christian Arab families in California are locking themselves in their homes, afraid to be seen in public, Hanna said. “Some of the churches may not have weekend or middle of the week worship services,” he said.

The Southern Baptist Convention currently numbers 58 congregations of Middle Eastern descent, said Russell Begaye, manager of the North American Mission Board’s multiethnic church multiplication group.

Begaye encouraged Southern Baptists, in the days ahead, to be more intentional about developing relationships with their Middle Eastern neighbors.

“When Middle Easterners become followers of Christ, they are ostracized from their family members and homeland,” Begaye said. “We have many Arabs in this nation who were driven from their homeland because of religious persecution.”

Meanwhile, police and authorities, Hanna said, have become increasingly suspicious of Arabs who gather in groups. “Any Arab gathering is under the eye of the American people,” he said.

Islamic and Arab-American leaders have warned the United States’ nearly 7 million citizens of the Muslim faith and 3 million of Arab descent to maintain a low profile in public.

President George W. Bush, in an address Sept. 20 to a joint session of Congress, assured Muslims across the country and throughout the world of America’s respect for their religion.

“The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends,” Bush said. “It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them. … We’re in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.”

Nevertheless, some Americans have already unleashed their rage on those who resemble the ethnicity of the terrorists.

Last weekend, a gas station operator from India was shot dead in Phoenix, along with a Pakistani Muslim grocer was shot to death in Dallas and an Egyptian-born grocer, who was a Christian, was killed at his San Gabriel, Calif., market.

The three incidents are among at least 40 cases under investigation following the terrorist attacks.

Mosques and Arab-owned business throughout the country have reported vandalism, including gunshots and firebombs. In a Cleveland suburb, a car crashed into the entrance of a mosque.

“We as Southern Baptists need to come alongside our Arab brothers at this time because we are beginning to see a turning to the Lord Jesus by Muslims,” Begaye said. “I believe we are going to see a great movement of God among the Middle Eastern people as we’ve never seen before.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: KHALIL “CHARLIE” HANNA.

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  • Lee Weeks