EDITOR’S NOTE: The Southern Baptist Convention has designated April 26 as Cooperative Program Sunday.
EL CAJON, Calif. (BP)–At 29, Ibrahim Halabi* is an enthusiastic Southern Baptist who supports the Cooperative Program and hopes to become a missionary after finishing his seminary education.
Halabi was born in New York but raised in Jordan, where his parents were Christians in an Arab nation. In college, he attended a Christian camp for students and sensed the Holy Spirit working in his life.
“When I went back home, I was singing the songs that they were singing, and I found myself kneeling beside my bed and praying,” Halabi said, recounting his testimony to Baptist Press.
As he graduated from college in Jordan, Halabi wanted to study theology. Because of his U.S. citizenship, he decided to move to the United States to attend seminary. He ended up at Southern California Seminary, which is affiliated with Shadow Mountain Community Church, a San Diego-area Southern Baptist congregation.
It was there that he noticed an advertisement for Unlimited Partnerships, a ministry that trains future church leaders through mentoring and networking. Halabi was accepted into the program and was matched with Rolland Slade, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church, a multiethnic congregation in El Cajon, Calif.
“I’ve never really asked him how he felt that first day,” Slade said, “but I’m African American and I don’t know if he thought, ‘Where am I going?’ in terms of where this church was going to be.”
Halabi serves as Meridian Baptist’s minister of education, with his salary paid by a sponsoring congregation, Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark. In addition to his studies, he meets regularly with Slade to strategize for the church.
Since Halabi’s arrival through the Unlimited Partnerships program, Meridian has seen a steady growth in overall attendance and Sunday School as well as Cooperative Program giving.
“Currently we are running 85-90 in Sunday School. When he started we were running 65-70,” Slade said. “As you can see just from the numbers, our Sunday School is growing. What you cannot see is the enthusiasm that has developed.”
To supplement his training, Halabi was one of about 10 Unlimited Partnerships students to make a trip to Nashville, Tenn., and metro Atlanta in March to learn more about the Southern Baptist Convention. They toured offices and met with leaders from the Executive Committee, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, LifeWay Christian Resources and the North American Mission Board.
“Overall I really was impressed with the information,” Halabi said. “My appreciation for Southern Baptists grew from that trip.”
Because he hopes to be a missionary someday, Halabi said he especially was touched by what he heard at NAMB about church planting. But what stood out most from the trip, he said, was what he learned about the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified giving plan for national and international missions and ministries.
Before the trip, Halabi knew little about CP — only that his church gave money to it. He thought the money probably was being used mostly for SBC administrative costs. He learned, though, that only a small amount of CP gifts are used for administration and most of it supports missions and seminaries.
“Also, financially it’s supported by many churches. It’s not one church or a small group of churches,” he said. “It’s many churches that give, so it’s reliable.”
Halabi was impressed with the fact that smaller Southern Baptist churches can partner to support thousands of missionaries when otherwise they couldn’t afford to send even one.
“With the Cooperative Program they are able to send as many as they want,” he said.
Slade said Halabi came back from the trip “completely sold on the idea of being a Southern Baptist.”
“You can explain it to a degree to people, and I think I did a good job of explaining it and showing him where he could find more information to read, but when he actually went there and sat down with Dr. [Johnny] Hunt and Dr. [Morris H.] Chapman, he came back saying, ‘Wow, this is so much bigger than I ever thought it was.’ I told him, ‘I could explain it to you, but you really had to see it.'”
Halabi plans to graduate from Southern California Seminary in May with a master of divinity degree, and then he hopes to pursue a doctorate in education before venturing back to the Middle East to share his faith.
“Our missionaries are being supported without worrying about how they are going to make it out on the field and if their sponsors will continue to support them or not,” Halabi said. “This is being taken care of by the Cooperative Program.”
Since learning more about the Cooperative Program, Halabi said he has increased his personal giving to missions.
“I just needed to be reminded of the importance and the impact that CP is having in North America and also in the world,” he said.
*Name changed. Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.