The effects of the Persian Gulf conflict will be felt by Christians and Western missions in the Middle East for years to come.

The Muslim memory is long. It readily recalls the eleventh-, twelfth-, and thirteenth-century Crusaders who conquered the Middle East for territory, wealth, and the “holy cause” of liberating Jerusalem. It remembers how the Muslim hero Saladin defeated the Europeans and retook Jerusalem in 1187. And it is not slow to connect that history with the Persian Gulf War of today.

The presence of a vast non-Muslim military presence in the homeland of Islam and Saddam Hussein’s posturing as a modern Saladin have inflamed Christian-Muslim tensions (see “A Crossfire of Loyalties,” p. 56). And Christian missionary leaders fear the Gulf War will hamper their work in the Middle East for years, perhaps decades, to come.

Close to the war zone, in Jordan and Israel’s West Bank and Gaza Strip, parachurch organizations and denominations have withdrawn most of their missionaries. Almost all of the approximately 55 workers from the Southern Baptist Convention had left their posts in several Middle Eastern countries before the war began on January 16.

Baptist missionaries Marsha and David Smith reluctantly left Tel Aviv, where they had worked for eight years, and joined the growing community of missionaries who wait in Larnaca, Cyprus, for the fighting to stop. Most want to return. But they recognize things will not be the same.

Members of the Smiths’ congregation told them they “were abandoning them at a time when … we needed to show them support,” Marsha told Religious News Service. “They were quite disappointed.”

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Anti-Western sentiment in ...

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