Teaching Elder James Hakim is an ethnic Egyptian (Coptic) from Detroit, Mich., who went to seminary in Mississippi but is now serving as a minister in the rural, ethnic Dutch enclave of Orange City, Iowa. He has been serving as the first pastor of Harvest PCA for the past two years.
James’ family is actually no stranger to the Presbyterian Church. He is a third generation Presbyterian elder.
James’ grandfather was a ruling elder in a Presbyterian Church near Cairo, Egypt. His father went on mission trips to nominal Coptic communities in Egypt. It was much safer than going to nominal Muslim communities.
James is not ethnically Arab. He is Coptic, descended from the original inhabitants of Egypt. His paternal grandmother used to say to him, “You are descended from the Pharaohs.” James says that he is more proud to be descended from his grandmother. He noted, “She was one of the godliest women I have ever known. She was evangelism waiting to happen.” Her New Year’s resolution was always that she wanted to tell more people about Jesus.
James’ father came to the U.S. in 1969 to attend WayneStateUniversity in Detroit on a full-ride scholarship for engineering. He married James mother in 1972. She obtained her Master’s in civil engineering at the age of 20 from WayneStateUniversity.
James was raised in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Coptic Church. He was actually ordained as a deacon at the age of six in the Coptic Church in Detroit. As a deacon, he was able to carry the incense behind the priest during worship service. All children also took communion in that church. He notes, however, that in spite of giving communion to the children, they did send them out to “Children’s Church” for the sermon.
The EPC that James attended was Ward Presbyterian Church, one of the two flagship Churches of the EPC. His Pastor there was Jimmy McGuire, who had attended RTS in Jackson and was instrumental in James’ decision to attend that school.
Originally, James had hoped to go into medicine and so had gone to the University of Michigan. A year later he transferred to SpringArborCollege and changed his major to philosophy. By the end of his college career, he had decided on a career path and a wife. He graduated from Spring Arbor in May, married Heather Turner in August, and went to RTS Jackson the next day.
During his time at Jackson, James grew uneasy with the EPC. “The devices of men and the ideas of men became far more important than simple means of grace ministry.” He said, “We didn’t really believe the God of grace would do anything if all we did was obey Him.” He joined the PCA that he was serving as a licentiate, Bethesda PCA in a rural area outside of Jackson, MS.
He spent five years at RTS in Jackson, graduating in 2003. While James ministered at Bethesda, they lived in the manse, and Heather worked, since the church was too small to support a pastor full-time. Then, they had Kessedi (now 7), then Emmet (now 5), and then another Carissa (2). Then, James began to work full time.
At this point, James’ father told him that he would help him financially and that he should just pour his life into the ministry at Bethesda. After a rebuke from a friend, James began to be uncomfortable with that situation and filled out an Ministerial Data Form.
Almost immediately, HarvestCommunityChurch in OrangeCity became interested in him. He liked the situation but did not want to go there for carnal reasons. Over time, he became convinced that God was calling him to Harvest.
James arrived in OrangeCity in January of 2008. The unique challenge to ministering in this context is that you are “saved by being born here.” People are leaning “on broken reeds of a staff” and “yet can rattle off the gospel about the Christ upon whom they are not resting.” Thus, he wants to challenge the people in his church and community to rest on Christ alone for their salvation.
He has seen the Spirit use him for that very purpose, and this has been very humbling to him. He believes that people really should look at him and say, “You’re just a hypocrite.” Nonetheless, he gave thanks to God especially for His mercy when things like the following happen:
I don’t deserve to hear a 13-year-old at the prayer meeting asking God to hear him only because of what Christ has done, because as far as he (the child) was concerned, all he had to offer God was his sin – and to do so in confidence that God who loved him enough to give him Christ would hear such a prayer.
He went on to say, “The juxtaposition of my sin and God’s success is the most humiliating, exhilarating experience of my life.”
James lists on Facebook that his favorite type of music is “à cappella Scripture songs,” though he is not opposed to the use of instruments in worship. He loves the beauty of the simplicity of confessional Presbyterian worship. He finds it ironic that some consider this to be simply “Northern European worship.” He responded to this by saying, “I think the argument of Hebrews and 1 Corinthians and John 4 is that Christ Himself contextualizes worship in a transcultural or even supracultural way, because He contextualizes worship toward God, not man.”
In Orange City, Iowa, God has established a PCA in an ethnically Dutch rural community. James said that he was always interested in cross cultural missions, but he did not necessarily have this in mind. However, he is convinced that the message that he has is one that transcends cultures. It is a message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and that alone is what James Hakim desires to know amongst the people of OrangeCity.
Wes White is pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Spearfish, S.D. He writes a regular blog.