Life After Death
After a devastating tragedy prompted church planters in Missouri to relocate, it wasn't long before Gamal Gerges and his wife realized they were exactly where they were supposed to be.One of the toughest pastoral situations 57-year-old Gamal B. Gerges has faced took place in July. A woman asked if he would talk with her husband in hopes the pastor could reconcile their marriage.
Though initially resistant, the man finally agreed to meet with the pastor of Hope Arabic Church.
“During the trip to church I was wondering how that could be, but I prayed, ‘Lord, they have four children,’” Gerges says. “What is the future for their children without both of them? I can’t say what is going to happen, but You can do it.’”
The ensuing conversation between pastor and congregants lasted for five hours, punctuated by raised voices and tears. But at the end Gamal and his wife, Amal, watched as the couple forgave each other.
“Amazingly the Lord made it happen and they have a life together,” says Gerges, who started the mission of Harrisburg First AG in Pennsylvania in November of 2021.
Its first service saw a dozen people. Today more than 50 attend Sunday evening services, plus 30 children and youth. Another dozen come to Hope’s Wednesday night Bible studies at Christian Life Assembly in nearby Camp Hill.
Hope Arabic has recorded about 10 conversions and baptized two members in 2022. Last November, its first Thanksgiving dinner attracted more than 150 people and this summer the congregation hosted three picnics.
The church launched ESL classes last January. When the fall semester started in September, 59 students from 14 nationalities enrolled. Tutors come from Harrisburg First and other area churches.
This fall Gerges also started the Arabic School of Ministry through the PennDel District at Christian Assembly, with 16 students enrolled in person and online. In addition to attendees from several states, a missionary from Jordan is completing his final courses in Arabic.
It all adds up to a thriving ministry that is the latest example of Harrisburg First’s belief in missions, which includes supporting 100 missionaries and ministries worldwide.
“Missions is the heartbeat of our church,” says Terry L. Lamer, 66, senior pastor since 2007. “We look at it as part of that. A lot of the world is coming to Harrisburg. There is definitely a need for this work. It’s not a struggle for people here to have them in the building. They’re excited about it.”
Harrisburg First had the space for the mission after a Nepali congregation moved into its own quarters. But the full story of Hope Arabic Church spans a heartbreaking event: the death of a child.
It happened in June of 2021 when the Gergeses were spending two months back in Egypt after finishing itineration as U.S. missionaries -- Gamal with the Southern Missouri Ministry Network and Amal with the Northern Missouri AG. They have been in the U.S. since 2014, after Amal obtained a visa and they secured green cards to remain.
In the summer of 2021, oldest daughter Martina, 26, stayed behind for three weeks to finish her degree at Liberty University. When she flew into Cairo, her uncle volunteered to bring her back. An hour from the airport, they were hit by another car and died instantly.
While the couple had been working to start a new work in St. Louis after several years working with Heartland Christian Ministries in Bethel, staying in Missouri proved too painful.
“It was too hard to continue in the same place where Martina lived,” says Amal. “Our other two children decided they wanted to move too because there was too much grieving. We had a time of prayer and counseling with our missions and district leaders as we have a lot of contacts in Harrisburg from our country. We knew there are more than 12,000 Arabic speakers in the area who we can reach with the gospel.”
Gamal has a long history with the AG dating back to 1998. It includes leading the Middle East Evangelical Theological Seminary, the region’s largest Pentecostal Bible school. That required periodic return trips to Egypt for five years after their move to Missouri so Gerges could hire directors for its six branches.
Today, much of their financial support comes from Missouri. While they never imagined one day living in Pennsylvania, Gerges says PennDel leadership—Supt. Don Immel, Men’s Ministries Director Tom Rees, and presbyters and churches—have shown them overwhelming love and support. Gerges can see God’s process, which aligns with his ministry theme verse of Acts 20:24.
“It was a very hard time for us,” he says of their 2021 transition. “But every day we discover we are here because the Lord sent us. It is sometimes the way the Lord guides us. It’s hard for us, but He redirects and guides our lives. Maybe through tears and broken hearts, but He directed us here for such a time.”