When it comes to Muslim extremism and Israeli retaliation, some 2,500 Arab Palestinian Christians are literally caught in the crossfire. Four times in the past two years, Israeli army mortars have destroyed the ceiling of Gaza Baptist Church, the only evangelical congregation in the 140-square-mile area. The church sits near Palestinian Authority property.
Gaza Baptist's pastor, Hanna Massad, ministers amid the poverty and political desperation that most Palestinians experience. Forty percent of Gaza's 1.3 million people earn less than $2 a day. More than 900,000 are refugees. About 75 percent are jobless. Christian Gazans, including about 200 evangelicals such as Massad, cling to hope that their plight will improve.
While Massad, 40, earned his Ph.D. at Fuller Theological Seminary and pastored First Baptist Church of Azusa, California, he founded the Christian Mission to Gaza (CMG). Each month CMG helps provide 300 to 500 Gaza residents with otherwise scarce food and medicine. More than 99 percent of CMG's aid recipients are Muslim.
CMG works with other Christian groups in Gaza, including Samaritan's Purse, the United Bible Societies, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. World Vision's Gaza relief work includes a sponsorship program and educational projects.
But Gaza Christians say current conditions hinder outreach. Most Gaza residents aren't Israeli citizens, and crossing into Israel requires hard-to-get permits. Thus Massad, a native Palestinian with American citizenship, has been unable to teach at Bethlehem Bible College since the intifada began in 2000.
Violence in Gaza's southernmost town, Rafah, erupted in May when Israeli soldiers raided tunnels Palestinians dug to smuggle ...