Pastor Reda Hanna will always remember the Sunday in New Orleans, over fifteen years ago, when he preached a forty-minute sermon to an empty church.
It wasn’t some grand premeditated expression, or a rehearsal for a later performance. His small congregation was taking part in a wedding across town, and, unknown to Hanna, they had forgotten to inform their pastor to cancel the service. “I was in tears,” remembers Hanna. “I said ‘Lord, you let me leave my career to preach to empty benches?’”
Still, encouraged by the Holy Spirit, he preached his prepared sermon to his wife Tahany, his two small daughters, and rows of empty chairs. That day, Hanna says, “God taught me it’s not about numbers … four people, ten people, hundred people it makes no difference with me because the core of my ministry is to obey God.”
Today Hanna pastors the Arabic Church in B.C., ministering to its two campuses in Abbotsford and Surrey. His congregants come from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, even Morocco, and have backgrounds in several ancient Christian traditions. Many come believing church is primarily a place to be ritually blessed; a perspective Hanna is trying to replace with the idea of being “the body of Christ.”
“We have a problem in the Middle East,” says Hanna. “We are very religious. Muslims are very religious. Jews are very religious. Everybody is very religious. The Middle East is the center of the major religions in the world! Always it is very easy to be religious, but moving people from being religious to Christ-like, that is my main goal.”
Both campuses are composed primarily of new immigrants, which is a great blessing for the church. Unfortunately, the chaotic challenges of adapting to Canadian life create high turnover rates among the Arabic Church’s congregations.
“It is a blessing and an obstacle at the same time,” says Hanna. “Instead of reaching our people in their countries [which is illegal in many Islamic countries], God has sent them to our backyard.” Yet as these new immigrants and their children learn English, they tend to be pulled towards English congregations or previous religious traditions.
Hanna and the Arabic Church request prayer for their continuing ministry and the stability of the two congregations. They pray that they will continue to reach the Arabic community in B.C., and change traditional perspectives on Christianity and religion.
Paul Esau was a communications intern with CCMBC and the MB Herald from May-August 2013.