Phoenix Arabic Bible Church, Peoria, Arizona, USA.


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Phoenix Arabic Bible Church
Location: Peoria, Arizona, USA.
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 August 2018, 10:00am

The building

A plain but pleasing looking building painted light brown. Until recently it was occupied by the Jesus Church, which apparently has moved elsewhere. One enters a lobby furnished with leather sofas and tables holding assorted literature. The worship space is through a door to the right and is a rectangular room, painted white, with a wood plank wall in front of which is a lectern, several microphones, and a drum set enclosed behind a plexiglas shield.

The church

They minister to the Arabic speaking community in the Phoenix metropolitan area. There are services in English and Arabic each Sunday, plus a Friday evening prayer service. There are several youth ministries, programs for the homeless and refugees, a street ministry, international TV broadcasts, and leadership development courses. They also offer classes in English as a second language.

The neighborhood

Peoria is one of Phoenix’s western suburbs. Founded in 1886 by migrants from Illinois, it was named after its namesake city in that state. The Peoria Sports Complex is spring training home to the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners baseball teams. The church is located on Peoria Avenue, a major east-west thoroughfare, very near the ring road known as the Loop 101. There is nothing really remarkable about the area – some strip malls, apartment complexes, an elementary school, and assorted businesses. Nearby churches include St Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church, the Antioch Church of God in Christ, and the Church of God of the Union Assembly.

The cast

The pastor, resplendent in a cocoa brown suit, white shirt and pale yellow tie, preached. A young man in informal attire led the singing.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Service in English.

How full was the building?

I counted 75 chairs. There were three of us at the start of the service; this number increased to eleven by the time the music portion was over. Mostly young people, evenly divided between boys and girls. One woman appeared to be the mother of several of the girls.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Once I was seated, the pastor shook my hand and introduced himself. One young man did likewise. As the service began, the pastor welcomed me by name. No one else said anything to me.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a conference room style chair with upholstered seat; it was comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

As I approached the entrance about ten minutes before service time, I noticed several signs reading “Security camera in use,” “No trespassing,” “Private property. No hunting, fishing or trapping.” I decided to risk arrest by the game warden and enter anyway, but I found the door locked. Someone opened it from the inside for me but said nothing. Several young people were sitting in the lobby but no one said anything to me. “Is there a service here at 10.00?” I finally asked. A girl replied, “Yes, through there,” indicating the door to the worship area. As mentioned, there were only three people sitting in the worship area, so there’s really no atmosphere to report on. A young man tuned his guitar and checked his microphone, but that’s about it.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

“Good morning, everyone.” I found “everyone” a strange way to address three people, but there it was.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. Words to the songs were projected.

What musical instruments were played?

Acoustic guitar. The drum set behind the plexiglas shield remained mercifully silent.

Did anything distract you?

Among the young people present, the girls seemed more interested in chatting amongst themselves and playing with their hair than with paying attention. There was quite a bit of in-and-out traffic throughout the service, both among the boys as well as the girls.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Tending more toward the happy clappy side, I’d say, but decidedly subdued. The music was of the Christian feel-good folk-song type. I found the opening song quite interesting – the Hillsong number “This I believe,” which is a creed of sorts and includes words such as “I believe in life eternal, I believe in the virgin birth, I believe in the saints' communion, and in your holy Church.” The guitarist, who also sang, spoke a brief meditation on the words of each song. People clapped along to one of the songs, but it was a lackluster sort of clapping, as if they were thinking, “We’re supposed to clap to this song, so I guess we have to clap.” The musical portion ended with a prayer, and then the pastor delivered his sermon.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

35 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 — The pastor spoke with an Arabic accent but was easy to understand even so. He appeared to establish good rapport with the young people but I thought he got a little shouty toward the end of his talk.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He spoke of the character of Gideon as found in the Book of Judges. The theme of Judges repeats itself several times: the people sin, they repent, God chastens and delivers. Gideon’s qualities included fear, faith, humility, courage. We need humility – we are helpless and hopeless without God. We need courage to destroy idols as Gideon did. And idols don’t just include statues and altars – what about iPhones? God knows what we allow our eyes to see. Surrender to God – it’s all about him, not about us. Gideon’s weapons were a trumpet, an empty vessel, and a lamp. The trumpet is the Word of God; the empty vessel ourselves; and the lamp the light of the Holy Spirit within us. A clay vessel can be broken at any time. We must be willing to be broken so that our light may shine. Don’t ever say that God cannot use you. We have nothing to offer but our lives. Offer them to God!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

During the music portion of the service, the pastor came over to me and told me that this service was meant primarily for young people but that I was welcome to stay for the later main service. “But I don’t know Arabic,” I protested. “That’s OK; translation is provided through headphones,” the pastor replied. I thought that the pastor’s going all out to make me feel welcome and comfortable was heavenly.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The distractions were the only thing I found hellish – and perhaps the lack of adults in the congregation. This service was not advertised as a youth service, either on the church’s notice board or on their website. Everyone seemed to understand that it was, however.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The service concluded with a prayer. The pastor again thanked me by name for coming, and said I was welcome to come any time. Then everyone just sort of broke up into conversational groups, shaking hands and visiting. No one paid me any attention.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none. I hung around the lobby for a few minutes and looked at the literature set out on tables, but it was all in Arabic. As no one was paying any attention to me, I went home and made lunch for myself.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 — It’s not my worship style, but I’m intrigued by the pastor’s invitation to attend the main service and listen in English via headphones. I’m curious about it, and may stop in again soon. I’ll promise not to hunt, fish or trap, though.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

“No trespassing,” “Private property. No hunting, fishing or trapping.”

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