ONTARIO, Canada, (BRN) – An annual conference was held at the Ottawa Valley Pentecostal Camp in Ontario, Canada, for the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church in Ottawa from May 18-20.  A group of seven individuals from North East, Maryland, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, attended the conference to help teach the young adults and children Bible lessons and preach to the adults.  

Pastor Steve Hokuf of First Baptist Church of North East has been friends with Pastor Walid Bitar, who created the first Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church in Ottawa, for the last 25 years. Hokuf has been attending this conference with Bitar for just as long, and brings in a new team of people every year. 

The entrance to the Ottawa Valley Pentecostal Camp in Ontario, Canada, on May 19, 2024. Photo Credit: Julianna Musser

This year’s team included Hokuf’s wife, Janet, their son, Doug, and their grandson, Brandon, all from North East, Maryland. Along with them, Brian Musser, Baptist Campus Minister at Drexel University, and his daughter, Julianna, came up from Philadelphia with Drexel graduate Jon Rice.  

This, again, is a long-term relationship. Brian grew up in the First Baptist Church of North East, where Pastor Hokuf led him to Christ as a child, over 40 years ago.  

For the last 19 years, this church has prayerfully and financially supported the nearby campus ministry in Philadelphia. Three physical generations of Hokufs and two generations of Mussers were on the trip.  

Additionally, three spiritual generations were present on the trip as Hokuf led Musser to Christ, and Musser led Rice to Christ during his time at Drexel. 

These seven individuals prepared lessons for the people they were assigned at the Arabic Evangelical Conference and met with them nearly five times over the course of the trip. Pastor Hokuf preached to the adults on Sunday evening and the service was translated into Arabic. 

For the young adults and children, all of their services were in English. The young adult services were run by Pastor Musser and Doug Hokuf, while Jon, Julianna, Janet, Brandon and Hokuf were in charge of the children’s lesson. 

Games such as capture the flag and soccer were set up for the children to get some time outdoors while their parents were listening to the sermons inside. They also learned various Bible stories and attempted experiments to enhance their learning.  

Rice split time with Hokuf as the primary teacher of the children’s group. His experience leading Sunday School at his church in Philadelphia and an online Bible study for his family, helped him to be able to lead the Arabic-Canadian children.  

At the end of the conference, all of the children got up in front of the adults and performed a dance to the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”

The young adult lessons focused more on opening up conversation and asking questions about how following Christ impacts our everyday lives. Pastor Musser used, Knock, Knock, Who’s There? Know Your Neighbor in Light of the Gospel, as the material for his part of the conference. This book was part of the first year of the Baptist Resource Network’s (BRN) Love PA/SJ Initiative 

At the end of the conference, they got to wind down by playing games like Mafia and Fishbowl, but, for the most part, they were learning about the gospel. 

They were shown PowerPoint presentations for their lessons and were encouraged to stay afterward if they had any other questions or comments. Many of the young adults had meaningful conversations with both Pastor Musser and Doug Hokuf about their spiritual life throughout the conference, inside and out of the classroom.   

A group of young adults at the Ottawa Valley Pentecostal Camp attending the annual conference in Ontario, Canada, on May 19, 2024. Photo Credit: Julianna Musser

Musser was surprised by the depth of the conversations outside of the classroom. He had theological conversations around the definition of forgiveness, practical conversations about how to navigate workplace conflicts, relational conversations about dating and evangelistic conversations about how to share your faith with Muslim friends.  

“I never expected to meet a group of youth and young adults that were so quick to see me as a spiritual advisor. It really spoke to their willingness and desire to apply the gospel directly to their lives,” said Musser.  

The openness of the young adults paired with Musser’s 19 years of experience working with students and the BRN’s Bible study material produced a meaningful experience for all who participated. 

During downtime, the attendees would eat meals together, have bonfires, play games, listen to music and so much more. The Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church is a very tight knit community, including many immigrants from Lebanon, but despite a diversity of backgrounds, everyone treated each other as family. 

A group from the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church in Ottawa and a team from the United States attended the annual conference at the Ottawa Valley Pentecostal Camp in Ontario, Canada, May 18-20. Photo Credit: Julianna Musser

Although the conference ended on Monday morning, many individuals stayed back until late Monday afternoon to hang out and clean up the area. Before leaving, Pastors Bitar and Hokuf had the privilege of baptizing an individual visiting from Lebanon, who wanted to publicly proclaim his commitment to follow Jesus. Everyone from the camp gathered around the lake, watched and cheered as he was baptized.  

The group from the U.S. stayed an extra day to tour Ottawa. They were led all around the city by Pastor Bitar. They were even able to connect with and encourage an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary serving at the University of Ottawa.  

Overall, many would agree that the conference was an incredibly heartwarming and enlightening experience, with most attendees already excited for next year.