The Greater Sydney Conference (GSC) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia is reaching out to a people group that is often overlooked or misunderstood: Middle Eastern Australians.
The conference has appointed Edison Akrawi as director of Middle Eastern relationships, a volunteer role that sees him interacting with community leaders and migrants from Arabic-speaking communities. Akrawi is helping make connections, build relationships, and study the Bible with people. According to regional church leaders, baptisms are taking place.
“There are 322,000 Arabic-speaking people in Australia, with the vast majority living in Sydney,” GSC president Terry Johnson said.
“It’s the third-most spoken language in Australia, with about 2.8 percent of the population speaking it in their homes.
“Our missional movement centers on sharing the good news with every tongue and people, telling them that Jesus is coming home. Arabic people are seeing visions and dreams of Jesus, and we’ve baptized two people in Sydney in the past 12 months who came to us because of those visions. Edison has been instrumental in connecting with them culturally and linguistically.
“We are really excited about the work he’s been doing as a conference director developing Middle Eastern relations. There have been seven baptisms of Arabic-speaking people already, and we are looking forward to many more.”
Akrawi was an Adventist pastor and church ministries director in Iraq before moving to Australia 28 years ago with his wife after the first Gulf War.
“When I came to Australia, there was no opportunity to work for the church at the time, so I got a job in IT [information technology],” he said.
“About a year ago, we had a restructure at my work, and I received a redundancy. I said, ‘Lord, I leave it in Your hands. You know where my heart is,’ and about six months later I received a call from Terry [Johnson], who said, ‘Edison, would you be interested in some work with the Middle Eastern communities?’ and I told him, ‘Yes, that’s where my passion is.’ ”
While building relationships in the wider community is a key priority, Akrawi has also been focusing on those already in the church and who were at risk of becoming disengaged, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s important because in the past we have seen some of our people come to Australia, and when they don’t have a community they can talk to and socialize with, you see them, unfortunately, disconnecting from the Adventist Church,” he said.
“By using Zoom, we have been connecting Adventists from Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Toowoomba, and we have been studying the Sabbath school lesson in Arabic. Even people from Lebanon and Egypt, I have invited them to be part of the group or to teach the lesson. The last couple of times, we have had someone from Sweden joining us.”
On top of these activities, Akrawi is also a member of the Australian branch of Adventist Muslim Relations, a group started by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The group’s goal is to enhance relationships between the Adventist Church and the Muslim world.
“There are some Christians who speak against Muslims, but that’s not what Jesus would have us doing. We want to build friendships with our Muslim neighbors and share Jesus’ love with them,” Akrawi said.