DANVERS, Mass. (BP) – For 38 years, hundreds of Middle Eastern Christians have come from nearby communities in New England and places far away to worship together for one weekend. Since 1984, the Arabic Baptist Church of Boston has hosted its annual conference around the July Fourth holiday. The event draws attendees and online viewers from around the world.
The first conference saw around 80 to 100 people, said Samy Ibrahim, one of the organizers. This year’s event drew more than 450 – attendance made up of Arabic Baptist’s local congregation as well as visitors from around the U.S., Canada and the Middle East, who gathered July 1-4 at the Doubletree Hotel in Danvers, Mass.
Joe Ghobrial, a pastor at Arabic Baptist, came to faith in Christ at the 2009 conference and said the annual event is an important marker for him and many of the regular attendees.
“It’s like when the people of Israel were about to cross the Jordan River, and Joshua made the river dry up, and God told them to take stones of remembrance and mark the spot of the miracle,” Ghobrial said. “The conference for me every year is that, being reminded of the stone of remembrance and God’s grace of saving this wretched soul.”
The Arabic Baptist Church of Boston, a part of the Baptist Churches of New England (BCNE) since its founding, takes the lead in hosting the conference, which is supported with grants from the BCNE.
Friday night’s opening session began with worship that got everyone on their feet. The event features three complete programs running simultaneously to serve the various generations in attendance – from infants to adults in their 90s.
On one side of the hotel, hundreds of Arabic-speaking adults gathered to worship and hear messages in Arabic led by renowned Middle Eastern Christian singers, musicians and pastors, The theme was “being built together … we grow” from Ephesians 2:20-22. Nizar Fares, a well-known Lebanese Christian singer, spoke during the Friday evening session.
“There are people who have been coming for years here – 20, 25 years,” Fares said. “Who’s happy to be here after what we’ve all been through the last couple of years?” (translated from Arabic). With a response of raised hands and cheers, it was apparent how eager people were to be back at the conference after the hardships of the past two years. The conference was online only in 2020, and though it met in person last year, the crowd was greatly reduced due to travel restrictions and the ongoing concerns of the pandemic.
English speakers wanting to participate in the Arabic-language sessions could do so with headsets for English translation. Sessions were also live-streamed across multiple online platforms, and thousands tuned in to watch on Facebook and on “Alkarma,” a free Arabic Christian satellite channel that broadcasts worldwide.
On the opposite end of the hotel, the English side of the ministry, called One Name Boston, was just as full of life and energy. High school and college students and career-age English speakers gathered to worship, pray, meet in small groups and take day trips to nearby attractions. Andy and Bethany Needham of Converge Northeast led worship backed by the Arabic Baptist Church worship team.
Fady Ghobrial, a pastor at Arabic Baptist, shared the opening message on the theme of God’s faithfulness from the Book of Lamentations.
“… [O]ne of our leaders pointed out that it seems like a lot of people we know are carrying a lot on their shoulders and feel a sense of heaviness,” Ghobrial said. “And what we want to do this weekend is remind people that God is faithful and that God is good and that He loves them.”
Ryan Wetherhead of Vox Church delivered the rest of the weekend’s messages and opened the Saturday morning message by saying, “My heart for us is that God would do something fresh … and I believe He has something for you this weekend.
“If you’re in your 20s or you’re an adult bringing your family here, year in and year out just to be a part of what God is doing around the country and in the Arabic Baptist Church – just to see what God is doing with you all is really awesome.”
Children were not left out, as the third program running throughout the weekend was Vacation Bible School for kids from nursery-age to eighth grade, with around 110 children enrolled. Arabic Baptist has a long-standing partnership with Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, which sends a large team each year to lead the VBS program for the conference.
Donna DeLaCruz is the team coordinator from Great Hills.
“The Arabic Baptist Church conference holds a very special place in our hearts,” DeLaCruz said. “We have developed lifelong friendships with families from another culture because of what we have in common … our love for Jesus Christ.
“Every year our team looks forward to teaching the children about Jesus through Vacation Bible School. For over 15 years, we have seen many of those children not only grow up, but also grow in their faith. Our team returns home to Texas encouraged and strengthened by the love of the families we went to serve and by the faith Arabic Baptist Church of Boston.”
Even with three programs running throughout the weekend, the overlap between generations and cultures was evident, with young people attending the Arabic sessions and older people checking out the English worship.
During the final session, Sinote Ibrahim, senior pastor at Arabic Baptist, closed the conference with a prayer, saying, “We thank God for being in our midst and giving us His blessings. His name was glorified in our midst.” (translated from Arabic)
Those blessings included 13 middle school children who decided to follow Christ, several high school, college and career-age attendees who chose to recommit their lives to the Lord and a few who sensed a call to vocational ministry.
Some attendees anonymously shared testimonies of how God spoke to them through the weekend:
- “God reached out to my heart during the messages, and I am encouraged to spend more time with Him after the conference. I am eager to tell my friends about God and pray with them.”
- “He gave me hope when I did not have any left and cured my depression.”
- “I have some residual church hurt/trauma and have a hard time engaging in worship sometimes, but I felt God telling me to leave it behind and not let it affect my relationship with Him and to engage and pursue Him as if I had never been hurt.”
- “He reminded me that he exists not only in the life of others, not only in theory, but in my life.”
“I was expecting to work and minister to others by simply running the sound and stuff and helping out for the conference,” said Mr. Cannistraci, who attended the conference for the first time. “I ended up being blessed myself as well as my wife and kids when they came.”
Next year’s conference will take place June 30-July 3 at the same location.