Hurrying through an alley in Gaza's infamously violent Jabaliya refugee camp, Hanna Massad, pastor of Gaza Baptist Church and the only evangelical Gazan with a doctoral degree, lugs groceries to a needy Muslim family on a chilly weekday morning.
Twenty feet away, a 20-year-old Palestinian carefully wraps his semiautomatic weapon in a prayer rug, puts it into his bicycle's milk-crate basket, and rides off. But Massad doesn't flinch. Concealed weapons in the Gaza Strip are not rare. Love of neighbor is.
The 9,600 Christians represent less than 1 percent of Gaza's 1.3 million residents. But Massad, who returned to the Gaza Strip from Fuller in 1999, sees his mission as not only to feed Gaza's hungry, but also to empower its embattled Christians to spread a table of God's grace in a land of enmity.
Leaky Roofs and Skin Welts
People have lived in this area, twice the size of Washington, D.C., for 34 centuries. The Gaza Strip in 2005 remains desperate and disputed ground between Israelis and Palestinians. It is without an acre of lasting peace. Terrorism, corruption, military rule, hunger, sickness, and mental illness all stew in the same pot. Earlier this year, Masaad invited Christianity Today to visit Gaza. Most Palestinians in Gaza, including its Christian minority, are descendants of refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
This summer, Israel expects to relocate 9,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza in a historic pullback, which many Zionists hotly resist.
Arriving at his destination, Massad steps over the wastewater flowing past his feet and knocks on the door. A smiling and bushy-bearded Abu Geni Abdullah welcomes the pastor, most likely his only Christian friend. Abu Geni rolls out mats on the floor. We sit as his veiled wife ...