Sharing Christ’s Love in the Arab American Community
Lawrence Haddad longed to worship with other Arab Americans.
“I came to Christ when I was 27, and I really wanted to join a church with other Arabic people,” he says. “But the only ones available catered to Arabic speakers—first-generation immigrants. I couldn’t understand Arabic. So I realized there was a need for a church that could cater to the second generation, who are mostly Americanized and can’t read classical Arabic. There are thousands in that community living in the Chicago area. Where is their church?”
As an optometrist, Haddad didn’t think he would be the one to fill that gap. But God began to work in his heart, nurturing a passion for sharing the love of Christ with his community.
“Once I saw what life with the Lord had to offer, I could never go back from that. My heart was changed, and I wanted to share that with everyone,” Haddad says.
About ten years ago, his family noticed the change in him and suggested he start a Bible study. He did, and soon, somewhere between 30 and 40 people from the Arab American community were coming each week. Haddad had to rent a building to fit everyone.
Seeing how God worked through the Bible study, Haddad took a big step toward ministry. He enrolled in seminary. He didn’t know how yet, but he sensed that God was calling him to reach the Arab American community in the Chicago area.
“I felt that young people who grew up in the United States in an Arabic household would be much more willing to try coming to a church where there were other people with a similar cultural background,” he says. “They don’t speak Arabic, but their cultural background is still really important to who they are.”
Haddad also began to attend a church that several other members of the Bible study had joined: Calvary Reformed Church in Orland Park, Illinois. When he finished seminary, he reached out to Ron Citlau, the pastor of Calvary Reformed, about renting the church’s space. He was looking for a place to start his new ministry focused on reaching second-generation Arab Americans.
Citlau recognized Haddad’s pastoral gifts and the value of his vision for reaching his community, and Citlau wanted to do more to help than rent out space in the church.
“How about we do this together?” he said. “If we work together, this can be part of something bigger that’s organized.”
Citlau and Calvary Reformed offered to provide support and guidance throughout the process of organizing and growing the service. Haddad accepted Citlau’s help, and he appreciates the structure that Calvary Reformed has been able to provide.
“We’re learning a lot from the senior pastor and the church leaders about setting up a church community,” Haddad says. “It’s really lovely.”
The first Noor Service—noor means light in Arabic—took place on Easter Sunday, and it drew more than 150 people from across Chicago’s Arab American community. In the months since then, the Noor Service has continued to transform hearts through worship that includes both Arabic and English worship songs. Haddad delivers the message in English, and he plans to invite some Arabic speakers to speak in future services as well.
For now, the Noor Service is still part of Calvary Reformed. Ultimately, though, the goal is to launch a new church that shares the gospel across the Arab American community.
“There’s a huge Arab community that hasn’t been acquainted with how far and deep you can go in Christ,” Haddad says. “They haven’t experienced the depth of love in Christ. And we already know them. We come from the same background. We go to weddings together. So our relationships can help us welcome people into the church.”
While the Noor Service is still young, Haddad already sees signs of God’s impact.
“We’re getting people in the church that weren’t attending church before, and we’re gathering new leaders from the Arab community. We’re a baby church, and we’ve got a long way to go, but it’s really worthwhile work. … We’re building up a community of people who can step up and lead. And we’re always looking for people to join us. We want to keep expanding and reaching more people who haven’t experienced the love of Christ.”