The Forgotten Minority in Palestine

Gaza church thrives despite ambivalence, dangers

March 22, 2013

Although they face many hardships, Palestinian believers desire to be a light for Christ and draw strength from worshiping together.

During his visit to Israel this week, U.S. President Barack Obama called for the creation of a separate Palestinian state for Arabs to peacefully exist side-by-side the Jewish state of Israel. But one group was missing from the equation.

What about Arab Christians who live in Palestine?

The international media report when Hamas, the radical Muslim group who now holds power in the Gaza Strip, fires a rocket into Israel. Or when Israelis expand Jewish settlements deeper into the West Bank. But it is Christians who often get caught in the crossfire.

Longstanding hostilities between the two sides dramatically affect everyday life. Because of the constant threat of terrorism, travel is hampered by Israeli checkpoints. Sometimes roads are closed indefinitely and, regardless of whether they are Muslim or Christian, people are not permitted to return to their homes or to their places of employment.

Some 3,000 Christians live in Gaza, a very small minority compared to the 1.7 million Muslims who reside there.

Although Palestinian Christians face many struggles, the good news is they can gather for public worship. The physical presence of a church brings comfort to believers and provides an open door to seekers of the gospel.

One of these fellowships is an evangelical church in Gaza City. Christian Aid Mission has supported the work of this congregation and another area ministry for several years.

“There is an amazing commitment by these Christians to be a light for Jesus Christ within Gaza,” said a spokesman for Christian Aid Mission. “They have a great love for God and for their fellow Palestinians.”

“I really appreciate their boldness to be the body of Christ in such difficult circumstances. They are vulnerable but they stick it out. These are true heroes of the faith,” he said.

And the church is growing. In addition to regular worship services, they hold a children´s Sunday school session on Fridays, the day public schools are closed. Each week 20 to 30 children attend. A new youth ministry has caught fire and attracted 40 kids at the last gathering.

The congregation also operates a feeding program for the needy and runs a medical clinic supervised by a retired physician.

The most unique outreach, however, is the public library that the church has provided the community for the past 43 years. Known as the Center of Culture and Light, it was the first public library in the Gaza Strip. The facility is open to everyone, although one must be a member to check out books. The resources it offers are especially helpful to local university students. One ministry leader described the library as “a gentle form of outreach” and “a link with the Muslim community.”

The church has experienced a number of challenges, however. For the past several years, the congregation has been dependent on elders and members to run the church in the absence of a full-time pastor. The former pastor was denied a visa to live in Gaza.

At times Christians feel pressure from the religious majority. Militant extremists have targeted Christians in the past. In 2007, a Christian worker, Rami Ayyad, was abducted and killed. He left behind a wife and three children.

A ministry supported by Christian Aid provides food and medical care as part of an outreach to the Gaza community.

Members of the Gaza fellowship are not wealthy, and they have a hard time supporting the work of their church and providing for their new pastor. Christian Aid Mission is asking for believers in America to come alongside this congregation and help supply their needs.

Those who wish to sponsor the pastor with $50 or more per month will receive an introductory profile of the pastor and periodic reports as they become available. The church also seeks funding for the library, which costs approximately $13,000 a year to operate.

Above all, Christians in Gaza and throughout Palestine need prayer as they courageously shine God´s light in the midst of trying and turbulent circumstances.

“The believers in Palestine are part of the body of Christ and there should be a one-ness among Christians, whether they are in Gaza or Syria or America or anywhere else in the world,” said the Christian Aid Mission spokesman. “The least we can do is pray for them and their pastor. Their faith is an example to us all.”