GRAPEVINE—Many Texans have a general understanding they live in one of the most diverse states in the nation. What they may be less aware of is how many Arabic-speaking Southern Baptist churches exist in the Lone Star State.
Suffice to say, an even smaller number understand the difficulties Southern Baptist Arab pastors and their families face: disconnect from their native communities, adjusting to a new culture, the struggles inherent to a minority immigrant population—not to mention the burden of shepherding their churches and finding opportunities to share the gospel with the half-million Muslims who call Texas home.
Lack of a support system to face those challenges is what drove Ra’id Al Safadi, pastor of Arabic Baptist Church in San Antonio, to form the Arab Pastors Network, which held its third-annual conference in April at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s offices.
Al Safadi said the purpose of the conference was multi-faceted: to help build community among Arab pastors who often struggle to connect, to provide training and resources to equip and encourage them to focus on their calling as they face countless challenges, and, simply, to give them time to rest. One pastor and wife at this year’s conference, Al Safadi said, had not had a vacation in 15 years.
“The idea is really just to be together with like-minded pastors, to hug each other, and to tell each other we understand each other’s challenges,” Al Safadi said. “It’s a big deal because they’ve never had anything like this before.”
The conference drew 19 pastors and their wives (a total of 36 people) who came not only from across Texas, but from 10 states and Canada. Six countries were represented: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, and Lebanon.
Bruno Molina, SBTC language and interfaith evangelism associate, delivered a message from John 17 on the opening day of the three-day conference. The theme of his message, he said, was that “the prosperity of our unity is for the purpose of partnership to the glory of God.” He explained that Christ is the basis of our unity and that the purpose of that unity is fruitfulness that leads to personal transformation as believers grow into the likeness of Christ. Those factors combine to lead followers of Jesus to partner with one another to share the gospel with those who are lost—bringing glory to God.
Molina noted that all coins manufactured for monetary use in the U.S. have inscribed on them the Latin phrase, “E pluribus unum,” which means, “Out of many, one.”
“Though many countries are represented here today, we are one in Christ,” Molina said. “No matter what our ethnicity, no matter what our language … our culture should express the love and character of Christ.”
Echoing the theme of unity, SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick encouraged the pastors and their wives and said he prayed they would experience the presence of God at the conference so they could continue to have gospel influence in the places the Lord has called them.
“Here at the SBTC, we live by the phrase: ‘Reaching Texas and Impacting the World Together,’” Lorick said. “You being here is an extension of reaching the world together from your cities and communities all around the globe.”