It started as a meeting in a seventh-floor Cairo apartment but – thanks to SAT-7 – the weekly Freedom Meeting now brings life-changing Bible teaching to Christians around the Arab world. SAT-7 Egypt reporter, Mary Joseph, spoke to Nabila Hanna, the meeting’s co-founder, about its 35 years of ministry
Since 1985, the non-denominational Freedom Meetings have welcomed respected Bible teachers from across Egypt’s churches and attracted Christians of all backgrounds to learn and grow in faith.
Nabila and her late husband, Ibrahim Sabry, began them after studying together at Cairo’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. There they had found the teaching of renowned preachers like Father Makary Younan “an inspiration”. But after getting their degrees, they realised how much they had learnt and longed that others could benefit in a similar way.
“It was a pity that many people didn’t know or learn the essentials of the Christian faith,” she said. “We felt it was our duty and responsibility to share the biblical truth with others.”
So Nabila and Ibrahim – “older than me but always supportive and full of the Spirit” – went ahead, arranging the first meeting in an apartment belonging to Nabila’s sister.
Their plan quickly hit the buffers. “Security officers came and told us we were not allowed to hold meetings in homes,” Nabila remembered, “but they kindly offered a solution. They suggested we hold our meeting in the hall of a hotel in Heliopolis called The Freedom Hotel.”
The hotel owners, in this relatively affluent district of Cairo, agreed. All went well for several months. But, as the meetings drew increasing numbers, hotel managers became nervous. Worried about the security of the meeting, they cancelled their agreement and the gatherings – already known as “The Freedom Meeting” had to look for new premises.
The one venue that offered to host them was the Heliopolis Brethren Church. Nabila and her husband weren’t sure. “We didn’t want our meetings to be associated with any one denomination,” she explained.
But they went ahead and the move proved to be no barrier. Some of the elders at the church became great encouragers of the ministry and numbers grew quickly. So much so that the couple had to open an adjacent hall to the church. When that also filled, they arranged overflow seating outside the church where attendees could watch via closed circuit television.
Faithful biblical teaching and simple Christ-centred worship have been the keynotes of the meetings since they began. They are open to all and attract both regular attenders and many who join them when they can or when they are visiting Cairo. The Freedom Meeting welcomes speakers from many churches, although its two main speakers – biblical apologist Dr Maher Samuel and Bible teacher, Youssef Riad – have been regulars since its beginnings.
An annual Freedom Conference, organised away from Cairo, offers an extended time for Christians to withdraw from everyday responsibilities and grow closer to God through a more concentrated time of biblical teaching, worship and fellowship. In addition to this spin-off event, Nabila said that many who have attended the meetings – “my spiritual children” – have started their own meetings, especially in other countries where they have emigrated.
Since 2010, both the weekly Freedom Meeting and its conferences have been filmed and broadcast live to many thousands of viewers on SAT-7. Nabila says this was thanks to the persistence of SAT-7 producer John Adly.
“He asked me to film the Freedom Meeting live on SAT-7 ARABIC,” Nabila explained. “But I refused at first because I was worried the cutaway shots of the audiences would distract viewers at home from the service. He persisted until I agreed!”
As a result, far more people benefit from the weekly teaching, although numbers attending in person have fallen, partly because SAT-7 has made them more easily accessible.
Michael Helmy, the Director of SAT-7 ARABIC Channels, says the broadcasts play an important role in the station’s goal of “Sharing the Word of God and the truth of the Bible to as many viewers as possible. The teachings of speakers like Maher Samuel and Youssef Riad are special because they are very experienced Christian leaders. The [Freedom Meetings] are part of our overall non-denominational approach to serve Christians across the Middle East”.
One remarkable aspect of the Freedom Meeting and its conference is that it never asks attendees for money. “We don’t collect money in the meeting or hold fundraising events,” Nabila said. “The Lord provides through His children who attend. The costs of the spiritual conferences are in the thousands, but the Lord always provides.”
For 35 years, Nabila has had only one goal for the meetings, and nothing has changed. “We don’t seek anything but the glory of God,” she smiled. “The target of our meeting is that people see the glory of God, know the Bible and learn about Jesus Christ and His salvation”.
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