Thankful for All Things
Gamal and Amal Gerges are planning for Thanksgiving dinner with 150 of their closest friends. That’s how many came to the first-ever holiday meal last year at Hope Arabic Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“It was a good opportunity to expand the message of the gospel,” says Gamal, founding pastor of the mission of Harrisburg First Assembly of God (AG). “Some Muslims passed by and asked for food. We had Arabic materials to distribute, like evangelical and salvation tracts. We also had Arabic-English Bibles.”
This story begins with pain: the death of the Gerges’s 26-year-old daughter, Martina, in June of 2021.
She died in Egypt, where Gamal and Amal were visiting relatives after raising funds for a new mission in St. Louis. Martina had stayed behind to complete her degree in web design at Liberty University.
When she flew in to Cairo to join the family, Gamal’s brother-in-law (Amal’s brother) offered to pick his niece up at the airport. An hour from Cairo, both were hit by another car and died instantly.
The Gergeses, who had been in the U.S. since 2014, found it too painful to stay in Missouri. They had numerous memories there as their three children settled into school and they worked with a church a couple hours north of St. Louis.
“It was too hard to continue in the place where she lived,” says Amal, who is also a missionary with the AG’s U.S. Missions program. “Our children decided to move too because there was too much grieving.”
It’s what the couple did with their grief that is so notable. Instead of giving up, they relocated to central Pennsylvania to start an Arabic-speaking church. Some 12,000 Middle Easterners live in the area, making it a fertile ground for evangelism.
The lead pastor came with impressive credentials. For five years after moving to the U.S., Gamal made periodic return trips to Egypt. He was director of the Middle East Evangelical Theological Seminary, the region’s largest Pentecostal Bible school.
Gamal had to appoint directors for each of its six branches. He also helped connect it to Global University, the Springfield, Missouri-based educational arm of the AG.
Fortuitously, Harrisburg First AG had space to accommodate Hope Arabic since a Nepali congregation that had been meeting there had grown large enough to move to its own facility.
When Hope Arabic held its first service two years ago, a dozen people showed up. Today more than 50 attend Sunday evening services, with another 30 children and youth at separate events.
The church has seen what many American congregations do: people making decisions to follow Christ, getting baptized, or seeing their marriages restored.
However, none of this would have happened without the tragedy that set the wheels in motion. Many things had to take place for the Gergeses to migrate, including selling a house in Missouri so they could buy one in Pennsylvania.
“It’s not possible for people to do this under pressure,” Gamal says. “Every day we discover we are here because the Lord sent us. This is the way the Lord re-directs us. It is sometimes the way God guides us.
“It may be through tears and broken hearts, but He directed us here for such a time. We are so grateful for our team of supporters from different states. Without their prayers and help, we could not do what God calls us to do.”
No matter what you are facing during this season, the Gergeses show that is possible to be thankful in all things.