Baptist World Aid (BWAid) the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) has sent $10,000 to assist in food distribution in the West Bank and Gaza.
BWAid is working with and through the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel (ABCI), who already have programs to assist those most in need.
BWAid Director Paul Montacute recently met with some Baptist leaders from Israel, and talked with them about their history and traditions, the recent tragedies that have taken place, and their plans and strategies for the future.
Baptists in the Middle East often find themselves caught in the middle of a fight which is not theirs. That is one reason why names cannot be mentioned here. Christians are a small minority of the overall population, and Baptists are but a small minority of that minority.
BWA has five members from the Middle East, with over 5,000 members in over 60 churches. Egypt claims 12 churches and 500 members; Jordan 15 churches and 1500 members; Lebanon 19 churches and 1600 members; Syria 4 churches and 150 members; and in Israel 12 churches and 1500 members. While most members are Arab, there are two Spanish churches, one Russian and also a Pilipino church.
The ABCI has churches in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Nazareth, Cana, Touran, Jerusalem, Akko, Rama and Aylaboun. This is the largest single group of evangelical churches in Israel, and the work includes an evangelical school of over 1,000 students in the center of Nazareth for 5-18-year-olds. There are strong links with small Baptist communities in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The bridges of reconciliation have been knocked down,” claims an Arab Baptist pastor. “Both sides have darkened this opportunity with their satanic ways. We condemn the suicide bombers and the Israeli military!”
“We believe in the right of Israel to exist, but this is not a time for nationalism and patriotism. This is a time when evangelical Christians can call for a new patriotism that all can find in Jesus Christ!”
Baptists started work in Israel in the 1920s, through the work of Southern Baptist missionaries, and there are now links with a number of Baptist groups around the world. One such link is a special twinning arrangement between some British churches and the ABCI. This program will provide the opportunity for church-to-church partnerships; Pastors scholarships; exchange of mission teams–Israel to the UK, and UK to Israel; and sponsorship of children at the Nazareth Baptist School.
In a June 8, 2002 pastoral letter to Baptists in Israel and the Middle East, Denton Lotz, general secretary of BWA said that “The forces of the Israeli government should withdraw from the occupied Palestinian areas and the suicide bombers be condemned. Lotz appealed to the governments of the Middle East, Europe and North America to use their influence “to call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied areas.
Furthermore, we call upon our brothers and sisters in Palestine to condemn suicide bombers as an attack upon the dignity of humanity.”
Calling for prayer vigils for peace and justice among the worldwide Baptist family, Lotz also assured the believers there of the love and prayers of Baptists during this tragic war “which now engulfs the cities where our Lord Jesus Christ walked and where he called for peace, righteousness and reconciliation.” Lotz has also taken action to secure permission for Suhad Misaad, the wife of the Baptist pastor in Gaza, to return home to Gaza.
BWA is committed to working with Baptist in the Middle East to bring relief and assurance to those who have been, and are suffering. Baptists in Israel have already been purchasing essential supplies for distribution in some of the refugee camps to those in need, both Christian and Moslem, and feel called to do more.
Donations are being received which will be channeled through the ABCI and other Baptist groups in the Middle East. Funds are also being received for the support of the Nazareth Baptist School.
For further information on Baptist World Aid, and on making a donation, check out www.bwanet.org/bwaid.