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 weapons from Egypt. More than 40 Palestinians died. Israel's government has announced plans to pull out of Gaza by the end of next year.
Massad said that Palestinians battle despair because of what they call Israel's "siege and repression," and this doesn't bode well for his efforts to work for peace.
"When there is no hope, no solution, people become more religious, and people become more violent," Massad said.
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Christianity Today's coverage of Israel and Palestine includes:
Roadblocks and Voting Blocs | Today's evangelicals are committed to peace—not just security—for Israel. A Christianity Today editorial (Aug. 01, 2003)
Ethnic Cleansing, Genocide, and Plain Old Murder | What Tony Campolo and the State Department mean in recent comments about Palestine and Sudan. (June 23, 2004)
O Jailed Town of Bethlehem | How eerily still we see thee lie. (May 11, 2004)
Uneasy Unity | Christians take different paths as "road map" hits impasse. (Sept. 11, 2003)
West, Meet East | Who Are the Christians in the Middle East? examines millions of forgotten believers. (Sept 11, 2003)
Hard Line on the Road Map | Can Rice put pressure on the nation she admires? (Aug. 22, 2003)
Speaking Out: Israel's Anti-Family Values | Christians should be outraged by a law thwarting Israeli-Palestinian marriages. (Aug. 04, 2003)
'U.S. Credibility Hangs on Whether It Can Do Justice for the Palestinians' | A Palestinian Christian and former PCUSA moderator talks about his faith and critiques Bush's road map to peace in the Middle East. (Aug. 01, 2003)
Opinion Roundup: The Evangelical View of Israel? | Evangelicals are more diverse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than we are led to believe. (June 11, 2003)
A Middle Way in the Middle East | A third theological path through the Israeli-Palestinian thicket. (April 11, 2003)
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