By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
SILVER SPRING, Md.—Michael Mattar, senior pastor of Hope Fellowship Church, is passionate about ministry to immigrants. Mattar emphatically stresses that churches have a phenomenal opportunity—a huge open door in front of them and they need to walk through that door. Offering English as Second Language and civics classes are simple but hugely effective means of providing needed services to immigrants.
“These ministries based in Southern Baptist churches throughout our metro area provide a natural setting for sharing the gospel,” he says.
“Ministries build relationships and often result in students receiving Christ as their Savior.
“The number of people who want and need to learn English in the metro area is increasing rapidly. Non-English speakers come into this area for many different reasons. They may be refugees, migrant workers, or international students…spouses of military personnel, families of diplomatic personnel and international business people. It does not matter why they are here. God has commanded us to love them as our neighbors,” Mattar said.
Mattar knows how effective these ministries can be. He’s seen many people struggling through the immigration process. In fact, he was one of those people many years ago.
Michael Mattar came to the United States as a lonely 18-year-old Liberian wrestling with the immigration process and attempting acclimation and experiencing culture shock. In the midst of it all, he found Jesus. Now, he pastors Hope Fellowship Church, he’s the lead director of Embrace Silver Spring, language church planting missionary with the Montgomery Baptist Association and the president of the African American Advisory Fellowship.
He was born in Liberia. His mother, a native Liberian, died when he was two years old. His father and grandfather moved to Liberia from Lebanon when his father was at a very early age. They moved to Liberia for potential business opportunities. The elder Mattar did well and became wealthy. Michael became used to a pampered lifestyle and lived at several boarding schools. Michael’s grand aunt suggested he relocate to the United States and he came to join her in Reston, Va., in 1980, at a time of great instability in Liberia.
After arriving in the States, the young man’s money disappeared quickly. He had to walk two hours to and from Northern Virginia Community College, and in the midst of the challenges, Mattar had to complete the confusing paperwork to transition from a B-1 Visitor Visa to an F-1 Student Visa. Mattar said he had no help completing the forms.
Rather than assist, the immigration office pointed out his errors. When he finally completed the application and submitted it, he was rejected because it was two days late.
In the midst of his frustrations, Mattar was working as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. He felt helpless as he had all the material wealth in Liberia, lost it all and came to another country, only to wash dishes. “I was crying for help to a God I didn’t know,” Mattar said. “It was very stressful.”
Though Mattar didn’t know God, God knew Michael Mattar and had a plan for him. Part of that plan was meeting Richard Howard. Howard served in the United States Military in Liberia, married and brought his Liberian wife home to Maryland. Concerned about the many Liberian immigrants, Howard, with the help of the Montgomery Baptist Association, began Liberian Christian Baptist Mission. He heard Mattar venting at the Liberian Embassy one day about his struggles with immigration and asked Mattar to help him with the church.
“I told him, ‘I’m not a Christian,’” Mattar said. “But the older man said, ‘you’re the kind of person I’m looking for.’”
Howard visited Mattar and asked him what his needs were, how he could pray for him. Under Howard’s ministry, Mattar surrendered his life to Jesus.
Mattar drove an hour for church services, and was growing in Jesus, but immigration issues still plagued him. He was faced with the choice of leaving voluntarily or being deported. His aunt couldn’t help and neither could the church. A kind uncle came to the rescue, providing a way for Mattar to go to Liberia for a period of time and return to the States.
In the early Nineties, Howard left for Sierra Leone and Mattar was left at the church with several women who were continuing to meet for Bible study and prayer.
Through the encouragement of the women and the support of the MBA, Mattar said he began to sense the call of God on his life. He left his economic studies at George Mason University and began attending Washington Bible College.
“It was difficult,” Mattar admits. He didn’t know the Bible. His wife, Lucretia, who he met at a family gathering, knew Scripture well. She grew up in a Christian home and gave her life to Jesus when she was 11 years old. She stayed up with him until the wee hours of the morning studying.
Mattar also credits Bernard Fuller, pastor of New Song Bible Fellowship Church and a professor at Washington Bible College for supporting and mentoring him.
In 1997, Mattar was ordained and began pastoring the Liberian Christian Baptist Church. He changed the name of the church to Christian Baptist Church, desiring to reach all people, not just the Liberians. The church grew to over 200, drawing people from a variety of ethnic groups. They purchased land in Silver Spring, Md., with the hope of building a church facility.
He resigned in 2008. “My season had come to an end,” he said. Mattar felt God calling him to a new challenge. He started Hope Fellowship Church in Sterling, Va.
Mattar is thankful to God for bringing him on this journey and he’s thankful to the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and the Montgomery Baptist Association for their support.