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Middle-Eastern conference: from worship to ‘reunion’

LA MIRADA, Calif. (BP)–For some 1,700 Arab-speakers from throughout the nation, the annual Middle-Eastern Baptist Conference sponsored by the California Southern Baptist Convention provides an opportunity for worship, training, evangelism and “reunion.”

This year’s June 29-July 4 conference was the 27th annual gathering coordinated by retired California convention missionary Khalil “Charlie” Hanna, who served as a CSBC language church-starting strategist 26 years before retiring in 2005.

Egyptian native Mary Zumut finds it hard to believe that such a conference is happening in her lifetime.

“I never thought I would see it,” said Zumut, who is a career missionary with her husband Ray in Upland, Calif., seeking to reach the large group of Arabic-speakers in their area.

“I’ve been coming to this conference for 20 years and can’t believe how God is working. He really is doing a work in the Arabic community.”

Seventy-five individuals made first-time professions of faith in Christ during this year’s event, including 35 teens at a separate youth conference held at the same location, Biola University in La Mirada. A children’s Bible school program also was provided, led by volunteers from California churches.

Featured speakers included Magdy Samuel, an Egyptian mental health consultant and youth program coordinator for Caritas Egypt; Samy Ghobrial, an evangelist from Egypt; and Robert Helou, pastor of San Diego Arabic Baptist Church in El Cajon.

“The anointing of the Holy Spirit was on each speaker,” Ray Zumut said. “People were blessed by the Word.”

As well as those from among California’s more than 1 million Middle-Easterners, attendees came from Arizona, Washington, Texas, Virginia, Nevada, Indiana and Washington D.C., as well as Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, along with two pastors from France. Their cultural backgrounds included Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian.

“It brings tears to my eyes every year to see so many people stand to receive Jesus as their Lord,” said Laila Benjamin, who has been in charge of the conference registration the past 26 years. “Each year the committee asks the Lord who to invite for speakers and He answers us. They are always very good and filled with the Holy Spirit.”

For Benjamin and many others, the Middle-Eastern conference is much like a family reunion.

“We get to see people we normally don’t get to see throughout the year and it’s wonderful,” said Benjamin, an Egyptian who lives in Santa Monica, Calif. “We make new friends each year and get to know them.”

But the conference, with its emphasis on evangelism and revival, is not just attended by believers.

Dalia Samak, an Egyptian living in Seattle, brought her unsaved 67-year-old mother two years ago for the first time.

“My mom always thought we [kids] were crazy for being Christians,” said Samak, who has attended the conference with her husband and two children the past three years. “But when we brought her she raised her hand to accept Christ as Lord. I was so happy.”

Because there are only three Arabic churches in Washington state, Samak said she enjoys being around other Arabic believers and getting “revived.”

Pauline Aessa, an Assyrian from Iraq, saw an ad in an Arab magazine for the conference and decided to attend for the first time with five of her fellow church members from Eskogee, Ill., along with her mother who was not a believer.

“God blessed us so much,” Aessa said. “My mother surprised us when she stood up to make Jesus Lord of her life. It was great. I was crying. We received resources and materials to help us as believers. It was wonderful. We are sad to leave.”

Aessa and her mother, Rosa Nona, made many new friends during the conference and decided to keep in touch through e-mail and phone calls, she said.

“We need each other,” Aessa noted. “It was great to hear other people’s testimonies.”

Nona ordered all the speakers’ CDs to take home with her.

Hanna Arnita, another first-time attendee and native of Jerusalem who lives in San Mateo, Calif., said, “I was blessed with the people singing and the Spirit of the Lord was here. This helps me minister better to the Muslim community. I feel stronger now.”

Arnita, who was baptized in the Jordan River, said he has a heart to reach Middle-Easterners for Christ in the San Francisco Bay Area because of the freedom he experiences in this country.

For the first time the conference speakers were recorded by ALKarma TV, a U.S.-based Arab Christian television station that can be viewed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on the Web at www.AlKarmaTV.com.
Kelli Cottrell initially wrote this story for the California Southern Baptist newsjournal.

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  • Kelli Cottrell