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'It's about God among us': relationships a priority for Arabic-speaking ministries.

"WE'RE not developing followers for mission, we're developing leaders. That's a huge difference," said Rev. Sameh Hanna of the Arabic Outreach Ministry. "Planting a church used to mean holding a service every week. That's not true anymore. We must build bridges first--start with relationships, express love and care. A worship service will follow naturally."

The presbytery of East Toronto approved the AOM in November 2007. Since then Egyptian-born Hanna has worked :to make his group useful to individuals, families and institutions in the Arabic-speaking community. The group has held conferences, retreats and services, often with members of Coptic and Syrian Orthodox churches. Two members are licensed councilors and donate five per cent of their time to cases received by the mission.

Personal visits are common, as are private services in homes or hospital rooms. For instance, Hanna and members of his group held a communion service for a pharmacist and his wife, who was dying of liver cancer. The couple had no previous contact with the mission.

"We're involved in the Arabic community. Worship service isn't only about sacraments, it's about God among us and this is happening," Hanna said.

A weekly discipleship group of 16 core members includes study, singing, praying and preaching. Beginning in April, the mission will host two public meetings each month: one for women, led by a team of women, and a prayer meeting for members of the Arabic-speaking world.

West of Toronto, in Mississauga, Almanarah, an Arabic-speaking congregation, are hoping to start construction on a church building this spring. The multi-phase project will begin with a 7,500 square foot building containing a gym and classrooms, but no sanctuary.

"We thought, if we start with the sanctuary, what about the children?" said Rev. Sherif Garas, minister at Almanarah. "In our culture, usually church is open 24/7. So I'm praying that when we move next year, we'll be able to reach out through sports and camps." The sanctuary will be part of phase two and may begin in two or three years.

The children are also excited about the building. "Imagine, each Sunday the children will ask me 'how much money do we need?' And they save up in their piggy banks."

The congregation currently meets at the Living Arts Centre for weekly services, prayer meetings, and "family meetings" in which children study the Bible in small groups and couples meet to talk about communication, romance and relationships.

"We're trying to do something completely different," Garas said. "We want to put people in open settings where they can relax."

Members hail from various backgrounds including Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi, Lebanese, and even a Jamaican youth leader.

"I dream one day for the church to be truly multicultural," Garas Said. "Yes, we started with the first generation, but we don't want to be behind a gate. We want to create a true community."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Almanarah began with a small group meeting in Oakville in 2003. It moved to Mississauga the following year and has grown steadily. Although the group bought land in 2005, they needed funds before construction could begin.

A satellite ministry of Almanarah, led by William Khalil in London, Ont., began in June 2004 and is seeking status as an independent congregation. The group has been meeting at St. George's Since November 2008.
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Author:Purvis, Connie
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2009
Words:551
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