Focus on Israel
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (FBW)—Worship services at Gaza Baptist Church now includes no more than 10 or 15 believers who are willing to risk publicly attending the only evangelical church in all of the Gaza Strip since October when a church leader was martyred.
The once thriving evangelical congregation with crowds numbering about 150 has lost 80 percent of its leadership, reported two Baptist workers who met Jan. 14 with three Baptist newspaper editors in Jerusalem.
"I want Baptists in America to remember that there is a tiny group of believers who are living out their faith. ... I want the people in America to pray for Gaza. I want them to pray every Wednesday night and every Sunday and any day in between that they can pray. ... When they see Gaza on the news to pray for the little, tiny Gaza Baptist Church," said one of the Baptist workers, neither of whom can be identified for security reasons.
The workers, who have lived in the region more than 20 years, including many years in Gaza, are deeply concerned for the evangelicals in Gaza and urge Baptists in America to send cards of encouragement to the church (GBC, P.O. Box 7364, Jerusalem, Israel 91072).
In August 2005, Israel pulled out of Gaza, turning over to the Palestinians control of the 25 mile long strip of land on the Mediterranean coast with a seven mile southern border with Egypt. Twenty-one Israeli settlements with about 9,000 residents were shuttered. Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization, won elections last June and now ruthlessly controls the 1.5 million residents.
Since Israel's pull-out, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets and mortars into southern Israeli cities. From time-to-time, including very recently, Israel has returned fire, striking what it claims are terrorist strongholds in Gaza responsible for the rocket attacks.
On Jan. 23 large sections of the barricade separating Gaza and Egypt were destroyed by gunmen believed to be acting under the authority of Hamas, according to western news agencies, sending thousands of Gazans streaming across the border seeking food and other basic necessities unavailable after Israel and Egypt began restricting travel and trade out of Gaza, which also suffers rampant unemployment. The next day, Egyptian security forces began to reassert control over the breached barriers.
In the midst of this calamity in which even longtime Gazans despair of any hope for a normal life, evangelical Christians remain largely underground, fearing they may suffer the same fate of Rami Ayyad, a 29-year-old Christian bookstore manager who was kidnapped and killed. Although no one claimed responsibility for his death, Ayyad had told his wife several days before his death he believed he was being followed, Baptist Press reported. Evangelicals in Gaza are convinced Ayyad was killed because of his Christian faith. (For more, see "Slain Baptist in Gaza had gentle but bold witness," Oct. 18 Florida Baptist Witness.
Last April the same bookstore, owned by the Palestinian Bible Society, was bombed. There is at least one account of a Christian woman in Gaza who was kidnapped and was forced to marry a Muslim.
"I'm very concerned for the believers who are left there now," the Baptist worker told Florida Baptist Witness. "They feel deserted. They have been deserted and isolated."
Their fear is not imagined, the worker emphasized.
"The danger is real," agreed the other worker.
Underground there may be as many as 200-300 evangelical believers in Gaza, the workers estimated. Less than one percent of the population are culturally Christian by family tradition, most being Greek Orthodox, a church with a long history in Gaza.
To those who would ask why threatened evangelicals don't simply leave Gaza, the Baptist workers say they can't.
Calling the Baptist Christians in Gaza an "inspiration" and "wonderful," the worker added, "It's a desperate situation. ... The church in Gaza needs to be remembered."
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