By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Scenic Drive Baptist gives facility, belongings to Arabic congregation in Murfreesboro
MURFREESBORO — On what could have been the saddest day in its history, the final service of Scenic Drive Baptist Church was actually an answer to prayer.
“This was His (God’s) way of filling that parking lot that we have been praying for,” said Belvin Cox, pastor of the congregation which held its last regular worship service May 3.
The next Sunday, about 15 members of Scenic Drive Baptist worshiped with about 30 members of the Arabic Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, the new recipients of the facility.
Some words of Arabic were heard in conversation and prayers though most of the service was in English. Also in consideration of the great gift and the emotions of Scenic Drive members, a portion of the service was allocated for sharing of memories by them. Several people stood and shared.
Despite the different nationalities represented that day, “it was like-believers closing the chapter on one congregation and opening the chapter on another,” said Cox.
The transfer was “for missions,” explained Cox, who has served the church as pastor and interim pastor for a total of about three years.
Scenic Drive members had many options to consider after they decided to close the church, including giving the facility and its belongings to another church, but it chose the congregation “that really needed it,” explained Cox.
The Arabic Baptist Church is the only Arabic language congregation in the Tennessee Baptist Convention. The church will, of course, be targeting the many Arabic-speaking residents of middle Tennessee, which has become an immigration mecca. They also will be reaching out to residents of the church community which are nearly all English-speaking, but Cox believes members of the church are more able to reach them than the small, elderly congregation of Scenic Drive.
Arabic Baptist is still determining if it will offer English-language as well as Arabic-language worship services. It certainly has the translators and equipment to do so, said Raouf Ghattas, founder of the church and pastor. Formerly Ghattas was a Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary for 22 years. His wife is the former Carol Brown of First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro.
Some Scenic Drive Baptist members are attending the new church so services currently are being held in English and, using equipment, translated into Arabic for those most comfortable with that language.
Amazingly, “there was no lapse in worship services being held,” noted Cox.
Instead of dying, “Scenic Drive is good and growing with us,” said Ghattas.
The timing of all of this is what amazed Kevin Minchey, director of missions, Concord Baptist Association. He brought the two congregations together, but never imagined that while he was on a missions trip in Guatemala, the deal would be basically completed. In about five days the two churches had agreed.
“These kinds of things can take a year or at least six months. … They can take forever and then fall apart,” he noted.
Another great outcome is that the church is still a part of the Concord Association, the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention, said Minchey.
Scenic Drive Baptist gave Arabic Baptist a facility including a 200-seat sanctuary and land worth about $800,000. In addition it gave the Arabic church contents of the facility, two vehicles, and even its lawn mowers.
In turn, the Arabic church, to thank a church for letting it meet there for about three years, quickly gave Grace Baptist, Murfreesboro, one bus. Recently the small congregation of Arabic Baptist had been meeting at the association office.
“There are a lot of good turns in this story of how the churches have worked together and tried to help each other,” said Minchey.
The media has been interested in the story including the Washington Post which published a report. As Minchey worked with the reporter, she learned that instead of the Southern Baptist church generally being in a state of decline, “it is really just changing,” reported Minchey.
Ghattas, a native of Egypt, said he doesn’t see the transition as a miracle but it is an answer to prayer including three days of prayer and fasting by most of his congregation.
“The miracle is when someone accepts the Lord. The miracle is in a man’s heart. …
“This is how really God answered prayers,” said Ghattas, a former nuclear engineer who grew up as a Presbyterian in Egypt but met Christ “in a very personal way here (in America).
“We wanted a church of ours. We don’t want to go to a temporary place.”
Another answer to prayer occurred when the Arabic church accepted the debt of Scenic Drive but, with help from some friends, does not have to pay a monthly mortgage.
Ghattas said his hope is that the congregation will continue to become multi-cultural.
Americans “need to embrace different people.”
Since leading the church, which has met for about four years, Ghattas has baptized six people from a Muslim background.
American churches can learn from Arabic churches, he said. They can learn about the effectiveness of praying and fasting. They also can learn to prepare for persecution, which he predicts is coming. For instance, churches should be more frugal because of coming persecution, said Ghattas.
For Cox, the bottom line to this story is that “God will continue to have a church there.”
“This is a win-win story for everyone,” added Minchey.