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Life Church: Reaching Arabic Speakers in Richmond with the Gospel of Christ

Posted February 8, 2018 at 8:30 am. Story by Jennifer Law

When Rev. Agayby Shehata was a young man living in Egypt, he sensed God saying to him, “One day, you will leave your country and go to the United States.” Shehata, who was saved at age 13, was ordained as a minister by an Assemblies of God church at age 22. He served eight years in southern Egypt and another eight years in Cairo. “Each time God spoke to my heart,” he recalled, “saying ‘You’re here for just a time; then you will leave your country.’ God spoke to me through the Bible, through other people, and through a lot of dreams.”

Pastor Shehata.

Shehata currently serves as pastor of Life Church, an Arabic mission that resides at Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia—a congregation he has led since 2010 when they met at Ridge Baptist Church. In March 2016, they relocated to Second, and the move has afforded them a lot more space and facilities. The church has grown slowly but steadily since it began.

God led Shehata to his current ministry position via a journey that started years ago as he was learning to pastor while serving in Egypt. In 2006, he was invited to come to the U.S. for about a month. Four years later, he returned to the U.S. to be a pastor. After struggling for nine months, though, Shehata thought he would have to go back to Egypt. “We had no green cards for me or my family, no income, no jobs, no Social Security. But God spoke to my wife through scripture and said, ‘Don’t go back to Egypt.’ We didn’t understand how we could stay; it was so hard. But God said, ‘No, don’t go back.’”

In 2011, Shehata met Dr. Craig Sherouse, pastor of Second Baptist Church, through the church’s English as a Second Language (ESL) ministry. When Sherouse learned Shehata’s story and heard his testimony, he decided to support him and his family in getting their green cards so they could stay in the U.S. “He stood beside us,” Shehata recalled. “And once we started our process, we got our green cards in one month. The attorney said he’d never in his life seen that happen so fast.”

“God is good,” commented Shehata, “And God has always provided for my family.”

Shehata is also grateful for the three-year financial support the BGAV initially provided for their ministry, but he explained that they no longer receive that support. “We live by faith,” he commented. “God is good,” commented Shehata, “And God has always provided for my family.”

The congregation gives Second five percent of their offering receipts in exchange for the meeting and office space they provide. The Arabic mission, which began with seven people on their first Christmas together, had about 100 in attendance on Christmas Eve in 2017.

Life Church focuses on reaching the Arabic-speaking population in Richmond, particularly those who come to the U.S. from Egypt. One of Shehata’s many challenges as a pastor is the diversity of his various responsibilities; in addition to preaching at all their services, he also is on call around the clock to help newcomers settle into the Richmond area when they arrive. “They need help getting an apartment, getting furniture, getting jobs, and other things. I go with them to get whatever they need.” Shehata’s whole family is involved in the church: his son plays the music, his wife leads singing, and his young daughter is part of their ministry.

“We try to reach the Muslim community,” Shehata explained, “and it’s very hard.” There are over 40,000 Muslims in the Richmond area, and there is an apartment complex only a few miles from Second Baptist Church where many Muslims live. “When we do outreach, we bring bags with gifts for each apartment, and each bag has a Bible,” he said. “We preach and sing songs on the street, preaching in English, Spanish, and Arabic.”

They also go to flea markets and other open places to reach more people, especially in the Virginia Commonwealth University area, where they often distribute Arabic Bibles. “Muslims everywhere are very strong. They love their religion. It’s hard to start to communicate with them—very, very hard. But we just go. We invite them to just to come and have fun with us outside. You have to have a relationship first, so it takes a long time.”

Last year, Shehata invited the dean of the biggest Islamic college in Egypt, who has converted to Christianity, to speak at Life Church. The event drew many Muslims from the community. “When he started to preach, many became angry, but the rest enjoyed it. This is one of our goals—to reach many Muslims. We have a special declaration—a special work from God, so we must follow his vision.”

How You Can Help 
Rev. Shehata and Life Church are growing but facing many challenges. He asks that Virginia Baptists pray for his leadership, for financial support, and especially for their efforts to reach the Muslim community for Christ. “They are very restrictive, and sometimes some of them are dangerous,” he explained. “But just recently, I met with a Muslim from Sudan who is now ready to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. It’s very difficult. Please pray for him and for us.”