Around 200 people gathered on a Saturday morning in Richmond, Virginia for a memorial service for Maurice Gerges. I myself drove for 2 hours on a windy day, in spite of not knowing the man or any of his family members. In truth, I met him only twice in my life, and it was a very long time ago.
When I arrived for the service, construction workers were working outside of a beautiful church, most likely not stopping their work for even a minute to inquire about the man who died. I couldn't help but think that if this memorial service had been held in Lebanon or Upper Egypt, it would have gathered thousands of people and commerce would stop in order to make a fitting tribute.
Who Was This Man?
“Brother Maurice” as he liked to be called was the most influential evangelist in the Arab world for the last 60 years and was even referred to by some as "the Billy Graham of the Middle East". In Egypt, God used "the beloved of the Egyptian people" in a powerful way as he preached in many cities and towns. In fact, he preached all around the Arabic speaking world, even after moving to the USA in 1978 following the civil war in Lebanon. He continued to preach among the Arab churches in the USA and Canada as well as making numerous evangelistic trips to the Middle East, including unforgettable services in Nazareth and the surrounding area.
But as the memorial began, it was clear that there was more to the story of Maurice.
The service was opened with a reading from Psalm 116 by a handsome 10 year old young man, Maurice Spurgeon D'Alessandro, whose name partly is from his grandfather and partly that of his grandfather’s hero, the famous British preacher Charles Spurgeon. Maurice Jr. is the son of Karen, Maurice's youngest daughter, and Ben D'Alessandro, Maurice's "son in love" as he used to call him. Brother Maurice lived close to Ben and Karen in Charlottesville during his last years.
The word of God was shared first by Pastor Keith Smith, a friend of the family and pastor of University Baptist Church in Charlottesville where Maurice's daughters studied and attended church. Smith shared from the Word of God and while he came to pray tribute to Maurice, admitted he did not really know just how famous a preacher this man was until recently. Another speaker, a local Coptic priest, also asked the question: how could such a great man live in our midst and we did not hear about him and all he had accomplished for the Kingdom of God until after he died? Who was this man?
Wrestling for the Lord
As a young man, Maurice was a successful wrestler--a talent he gave up when he was saved to become an evangelist who would “wrestle for the Lord”. His wrestling background was always successful, however, for attracting people to his revival meetings. Legend has it that over the course of his long ministry, while preaching one of his frequently powerful sermons, he broke more than a few podiums. Wrestling for the Lord indeed!
Maurice traveled the world and often preached about the ugliness of sin, about hell and how horrible it is; one of his most famous sermons was “Lo-ruhamah”, the daughter of Hosea and Gomer. Lo-ruhamah's name (which means "not having obtained mercy") was a prophetic statement of God's displeasure with his people because of their sin and a warning that He would destroy them (Josea 1:6, 8). When Brother Maurice would preach “Lo-ruhamah”, typically on the last day of his revival week, it was a last attempt to win people to Christ whose hearts were hardened. Inevitably, people who heard this message would surrender their lives to Jesus in tears.
Maurice said about himself that his own style turned from being like John the Baptist as a young preacher, to John the Beloved as a seasoned preacher. By the time I heard him preach in San Francisco in 1996, his message was full of the beauty of Jesus rather than the ugliness of sin. Who was this man who could speak so passionately about the pitfalls of sin and yet so eloquently about the love of Christ?
A Good Name
Another speaker at the memorial service was Pastor Esper Ajaj from the Arabic Baptist Church in Washington DC. He spoke about Maurice's good name as a committed preacher of the Gospel, a humble man who sought nothing for himself. He quoted from Ecclesiastes 7:1, which says that a "good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth".
The last person to share introduced himself as "Maurice's last disciple"; he was Pastor Fakhri Yacoub, from the Arabic Evangelical Church in Richmond. He shared a memory of a time when his church had a revival meeting several years before, and the preacher did not show up. The church was in panic. Then, someone mentioned there was an old preacher living in the area, that he had previously tried to convince Brother Maurice to preach at his revival meetings but Maurice had always been hesitant because of his old age and sickness. On this occasion, though, he finally agreed.
Maurice gave a message and at the end invited people to stand up if they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Fakhri said he was planning to stand up himself if no one else did, to save the embarrassment for this kind old man.
To his surprise, however, 27 people stood and accepted Jesus that evening.
Fakhri then directed the audience in the memorial service to the big screen for a short video of this sermon, where the old preacher stood on the pulpit, hands shaking at times, but in his powerful and unforgettable voice speaking about sin, and how they keep changing its name, yet it still stays sin. Who was this man? Watching that video, hearing his message, it was as if the verse in Hebrews 11: 4 came to life: "And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks".
For me, attending the memorial service was a source of great encouragement; the atmosphere of this service was more like a revival meeting than a funeral. Fares Abu Farha led some beautiful songs that are commonly sung in Arabic churches, both in the Middle East and in the diaspora. Spending the last year in American churches, I've grown to miss the Arabic songs; I had tears in my eyes while we sang these beautiful old hymns that were very popular in the 1980's when I first came to faith in Christ. Veteran hymn singer Najeeb Labib, who is from Egypt, was a partner to Maurice in a lot of revivals and would lead worship while Maurice would preach the Gospel. He told us all that the songs were all "chosen by our deceased brother Maurice".
The humble Maurice may have died in the land that is home to many modern preachers, but not many people knew him. His ministry was mainly in a land far way, in the Middle East, where there are not many preachers and where we may not hear much good news about the church. But in spite of tremendous challenges, God continues to bring souls to Him through servants like Maurice Gerges.
Many people date their re-birth in Christ to a revival meeting of this great preacher. I myself came to faith in Christ at one of his revival meetings in Nazareth Baptist Church in 1983. That is why I traveled 2 hours on a windy day to the memorial service for a man whose name not many surrounding him knew.
Who was this man? I am proud to say, he was my spiritual father.
Bader Mansour is a native of Nazareth. He currently lives in Harrisonburg, VA