Baptists at the heart of the Israel-Hamas war have been sharing their anguish and grief at the situation unfolding before them, how they are helping support those affected - and their prayers for a brighter future
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Bader Mansour, Development Officer of the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel (ABC), said the past few weeks 'have been incredibly challenging' in his latest email. He thanked people for their unwavering support in prayer, describing how 'these messages from distant lands have been like cold water to a weary soul.'
Baptist churches in Israel have been holding continuous prayer meetings and in the midst of sorrow and anxiety, he continued, 'we are spreading the message of God’s love to those who are hurting.' ABC has established a relief fund to assist those affected by the war. These funds are distributed through its ministries and member churches, and in collaboration with partner ministries operating in restricted areas.
'We continue to affirm that God is sovereign over the entire universe and holds the power to change the current situation,' Bader added. 'We earnestly pray for a miracle to stop the ongoing conflict, coupled with a cry of hope for a brighter future for all residents of Israel and the Palestinian territories.' Munir Kakish is president of the Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land, a European Baptist Federation partner which represents 13 churches in the Palestinian Territories, including Gaza Baptist Church. He is founding director of RCO Ministries, formerly Ramallah Christian Outreach. RCO established the Home of New Life, a ministry to vulnerable children from the West Bank and Gaza, and supports Ramallah Local Church, a Baptist church Munir serves. In his latest RCO email update, Munir wrote, 'Amid this fog of war, this very dark cloud of news of enmity, hatred, fear, and death looming in our area, where it is very hard to distinguish truths from lies, we just want to send you a testimony of God's goodness towards us and God's faithfulness in shielding us. 'We do NOT ever want to take God's protection and providence for granted. We are SO THANKFUL for every new morning that brings about new mercies. We are thankful for partners such as you who allow themselves to be a member in the Lord's body extending grace and providence in a real way.' Munir added that supporters' help 'allows our facilities to continue to be open through this very tough time, providing a place for the people of God to continue to gather in His Name to pray and worship; a place where the Word of God is being preached and where we can tangibly show Christ's love by extending your aid to needy families.' Nevertheless, he is acutely aware that 'much greater needs lie just a few miles away from us (in Gaza), where NONE but the hands of the Lord can reach in to save and sustain that which is perishing right now, because of the war situation. 'We trust, however, that He is more than able to reach and do any necessary work of healing / resurrection in human hearts!'
Gaza Baptist Church is one of just three churches in Gaza, and the only Protestant church. It is based in Gaza City in the north of the country, and is vulnerable due to its proximity to the main police station which can be a potential target. Gaza Christian families were forced to evacuate their homes, and have sought refuge in St. Porphyrius (the Greek Orthodox Church) and the Holy Family Catholic Church. Christianity Today documents the anguish of Hanna Maher, who pastored the Baptist church from 2012-2020, and his wife and three children. He is stuck in Egypt having travelled there to seek denominational partnerships prior to the war and is now unable to return; wife Janet and their children are trapped in Gaza existing on one meal a day and sheltering at the St. Porphyrius Orthodox Church alongside several hundred others. On 19 October an Israeli air strike, targeting a Hamas command centre nearby, resulted in the deaths of 20 people taking shelter there, including 18 Christians. Among them were Janet's cousin, one of her close friends, the sister of an elder in the Baptist church, the Baptist librarian, his wife and granddaughter, and three children who regularly attended the Baptist Sunday school. Before the bombing, Janet had been reading the Bible and praying with many. 'She was encouraging others in the shelter,' Hanna Maher said. 'Now she needs someone to encourage her.' The Christianity Today piece ends with Hanna Maher sharing a message to remember with empathy all children killed in the conflict so far. The piece states:
'But in general, he is angry—at Hamas, at Israel, and at the Western perspective on this war. As the world debates the legitimacy of Israel’s bombing campaign to root out the terrorism embedded in one of the world’s most densely populated urban enclosures, his wife and children represent the flesh-and-blood collateral damage many overlook in their political positions. 'As they represent also the body of Christ. 'Mindful of his audience, Maher chooses his words carefully. But he has a message that goes beyond his prayer request for safety and peace that includes mourning his relatives and former flock. “Be human,” he said. “Remember the children killed in this war, and have empathy.”
Another former pastor of Gaza Baptist Church, Hanna Massad, lost his aunt Elaine Tarazi in the same blast on 19 October. In a message shared with EBF, he said, 'It is a painful and heart-wrenching time for all of us.' Hanna Massad leads Christian Mission to Gaza, which provides practical and spiritual support to persecuted Christians, refugees, orphans, and widows in Gaza. He added, 'During these trying times, we request your prayers for several critical matters:
Comfort for those who have lost loved ones.
Overcoming fear and experiencing peace.
Aid: We pray for the ability to send aid to those who are suffering in our community. The needs are great, and any assistance would be a ray of hope in these dark times.
Swift resolution to the conflict: Our ultimate prayer is for an end to the ongoing war, so that the people of Gaza can begin the process of healing and rebuilding their lives.
'Please pray for the safety of everyone involved.' Elsewhere Nazareth Evangelical College President Azar Ajaj highlighted the rising social and economic tensions. 'The whole country and area are going through an extremely difficult time,' he wrote. 'Not only is the political situation very painful, but the social situation is incredibly tense as well. 'The economic situation is getting worse and worse. The value of the Shekel is dropping as the price of essentials is becoming more and more expensive. Some of our students lost their jobs. It is difficult for them to pay their tuition, choosing instead to use their money for bills and basic needs. 'In such dark and painful times, we need to have Christian leaders who seek to share the hope of the Gospel. We need men and women who are peacemakers, followers of Christ who will build bridges of love with others.' In a separate mailing in October, the College - which was founded by the Association of Baptist Churches, Bethlehem Bible College, and the Convention of Evangelical Churches in Israel - highlighted its role in training peacemakers, and requested prayer. The message stated, 'During the past few days our country has been going through a very difficult time: hundreds of people were killed, thousands were injured, and many more were displaced from their homes. 'The people in Gaza and Israel continue to suffer, hate, and seek revenge. In this atmosphere we at Nazareth Evangelical College insist on the Gospel and on teaching our students to create a better future for both Palestinians and Jews. A future that is marked with dignity, mercy, justice, peace, and love. 'Although this message sounds acceptable to many, it is in fact a radically prophetic message during this season. 'Therefore, we ask you to pray for us in the following way:
May God grant us the courage to love even if it hurts.
May God protect our community and help us to be peace makers.
May God grant wisdom to our leaders to preserve life and dignity for all people.
May we continue to train and empower both men and women to be peace makers and followers of the King of Peace despite all the challenges.
For all of those who are suffering and those who have lost their loved ones.
'Thank you for your continued love and support in spreading God’s Kingdom in this land.'
First published in Baptist Times, 15/11/2023, and used with permission.