An innovative ministry reaches immigrants with a practical demonstation of the gospel.
Imagine a church where services are translated into seven languages, including Arabic, Bhutanese, French, Laotian, Spanish, and Swahili. No, it’s not heaven, but it is Paradise.
For several years the Paradise Valley Church, near San Diego, California, has been serving immigrant populations in several ways. The ministries include a food pantry, classes in English as a second language, a thrift store, and a community garden. It’s no wonder that in the last five years more than 250 people have been baptized, and that without a single evangelistic meeting.
The latest innovation, started under the leadership of Will James, senior pastor, is a ministry to Muslim immigrants. Tawfik Abdalla, a native of Egypt, and Butros Jaberu (who goes by the name Peter Thomas), born in Iraq, are Arabic Ministry coordinators for the Paradise Valley Church, specializing in ministry to about 35 Muslim families. They practice a ministry of presence to people uprooted by political instability and sectarian warfare in various parts of the world.
Abdalla and Thomas have developed relationships with a handful of mosques in the area and are often present when families observe milestone events such as births, weddings, and deaths.
Life changed dramatically for Abbas Alazzawi and his family when the Iraq War began in 2003. He and his Sunni Muslim family had lived peacefully in a Shiite area of Baghdad until hostile militia appeared. After Alazzawi’s nephew was shot and killed only a few meters from home, Alazzawi and his wife, Zinah, fled to a safer section of Baghdad, then to Turkey.
In December 2011, the United Nations flew Alazzawi’s family to San Diego, where a local relief agency settled them into an apartment on Delta Street, a few blocks from Paradise Valley (PV) Church.
Abbas and Zina learned about Paradise Valley Church’s food distribution and English classes from their Delta Street neighbors. Soon Peter Thomas, the church’s Arabic-speaking Arabic Ministries director, took food to their home and invited Alazzawi to attend its language school. Zinah remained at home, taking care of their sons, Diyar and Aslan.
Alazzawi, with a degree from a technical school in Baghdad, had been self-employed as a welder and electrician. But his fluency in English was limited. “I knew that I could get a good job if I knew English,” he said, so he attended advanced English classes provided by PV Church’s Refugee Assimilation Project. Then he transferred to Southwestern College, where he is studying toward a degree that will enable him to do what he loves: working with his hands. Meanwhile, in addition to studying, he works full-time for the Alamo car rental agency at the San Diego airport.
Abbas is thankful for what PV Church has done for his family, which now includes a baby daughter. “First is food,” he said, “then education. You gave us a good foundation. If we have a strong foundation, we can have a great house.”
Jocelyn Fay contributed to this article. More information about the Paradise Valley Church’s Refugee Assimilation Project, Friendships for Hope, is available at FriendshipsForHope.org.