Christmas in Bethlehem 2012 : Arab Christians Share Food Baskets

December 27, 2012

BETHLEHEM, West Bank - While Christian pilgrims and tourists were streaming here from all over the world to visit the birthplace of Jesus Christ and worship at the Church of the Nativity this Christmas season, local Arab Christians were once again quietly going door to door, sharing food baskets and toys with their most needy neighbors.

Similar scenes were repeated in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, where many public celebrations of the birth of Christ were canceled or more subdued, sober and downsized than in Bethlehem.

As tolerance for Christians and other minorities has faded in the wake of growing Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda violence, many of the Christmas pageants and children´s programs were cancelled. In many places the usual decorations were stowed away, as Christians hid for their safety.

Native missionary speaking at a banquet in Bethleham

Yet the week before Christmas over 1000 gathered from all over the West Bank in Shepherd´s Fields of Beit Sahoir, one mile south of Bethlehem, for a Christmas banquet sponsored with a grant from friends of Christian Aid Mission in Charlottesville, Virginia – and 200 came forward to receive Jesus Christ as Savior, when Arab evangelist Victor Hashweh gave an invitation.

"This is the very place where angels appeared, declaring peace on earth and good will toward men," said Alex Awad, organizer of the event, as young people gathered around the front stage, singing carols of praise and adoration to God in Arabic.

Publicly thanking Christian Aid and others for their help during the event, another of the Arab leaders said, "The current unrest presents an opportunity and obligation to help persecuted Arab Christians and others caught up in the crossfire of these Middle East wars. There are so many urgent needs right now, with almost a million refugees in Jordan alone. The whole Christian world needs to unite, to help stand with us and show God´s love to all the peoples of the Middle East."

Banquet of indigenous believers in Bethleham

The Christmas pageant and banquet in Bethlehem gives an insight into how lively and exciting an Arab Christmas celebration can be. The meeting went on for hours, beginning with local choirs leading a service of carols and readings from the New Testament.

The masters of ceremonies for the evening were Munir Kakish from the Evangelical Council of Churches and Jack Sara, new president of Bethlehem Bible College.

Victor Hashweh preached on the challenges the Arab world is facing this Christmas, and portrayed Jesus as God´s hope and promise to the nations. He led the 200 seekers in a public prayer of repentance and acceptance of Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

After the preaching, Arabic salads were served, followed by the main course and dessert. Nazareth vocalist, Anan Sallum, sang and youth groups challenged each other with a 100-question Bible Trivia Quiz.

An offering was collected for emergency aid to the poor by The Shepherd Society, a group that distributes aid and relief year round in the Bethlehem area.

Christian Aid is helping send aid to persecuted believers in nearby Egypt and the frontline states around Syria, as well – not only at Christmas, but year-round.

"If it weren´t for the gifts, like these, from Christians abroad," said the local leader of the relief effort, "we would have nothing to share with the refugees and the poor here and at the other main centers of need this Christmas – Gaza, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey."

Christian Aid Mission has established a special fund, Gift Code 400CPME, to send aid to church planters working in the Middle East. Contributions may be made by calling 1-800-977-5650.