Baptist work started in Palestine around 1954 with Southern Baptist Convention missionaries. Among the first ministries established were the Gaza Baptist Church, a hospital and a school for nursing, which has since gained widespread reputation in Gaza. The concept was to provide ministry to the whole person – body, soul and spirit.
In 1968, a Christian public library was opened. Three years ago, the Lighthouse School was founded in partnership with other Christian organizations. Its current enrollment is 185 students, from kindergarten upward.
A health clinic for women has been temporarily closed due to the fact that several Baptist families, including my own, were evacuated from Gaza due to the persecution faced by Christians. We hope to restart the clinic upon my return to Gaza in the summer. However, relief work continues, such as food distribution to help those who are in great need.
I’ve spent almost my entire life in Gaza. For most of those years, we lived side by side in love and respect with our Muslim neighbors. However, things started deteriorating six years ago and now the situation has become both difficult and dangerous for Baptists and other Christians. Much of this danger comes from small militant Muslim groups in Gaza.
We live between two fires – the fire of Israeli occupation and the fire of militant Muslims. We are in the same boat as our Muslim neighbors whenever Israel attacks Gaza. Several members of the Christian community have died because of the Israeli aggression on Gaza.
The recent war that ended in January was the darkest and the bloodiest I have ever seen in Gaza. Since 1967, more than 1,375 Gazans have been killed and more than 5,000 injured due to Israeli actions; almost half were women and children.
In the most recent war, many persons could not find a safe place as there are no shelters in Gaza. One of our relatives, a 15-year-old girl, Kristine, died as a result of the Israeli bombing. Her father, a medical doctor, could not help her. People were traumatized by the intensity of the bombing. The innocent people of Gaza are the ones who pay the price.
The Gaza Baptist Church building was not spared as it suffered damage when Israel bombed the nearby police station, which is within 10 meters of our church building. A number of windows and frames were blown out.
On the other side, we suffer from attacks by militants. Rami Ayyad, a member of the Gaza Baptist Church, was executed by militant Muslims in October 2007 because of his Christian faith.
The major news organizations report mainly on the killing by Jews and Palestinians of each other. However, they are only reporting the symptom, not the problem. The root problem is the continued control of the life of the Palestinian people by Israel. The root problem is the occupation. We need to get rid of the Israeli occupation and at the same time find security for Israel.
There is also need to find ways to protect the minority Christian population in Palestine. In the wake of the execution of our dear brother Rami Ayyad, the Gaza secret police told us that they are not able to protect us. The people who murdered Rami are still free. What should we do as Christians living in Gaza?
Through the Lighthouse School and other ministries by Baptists, good seeds have been planted in the hearts of many people in Gaza. Even though we are always at risk, I believe the church will survive the persecution that it faces. The Gaza Baptist Church continues to meet in small groups on Sundays at around 5 p.m.
We encourage your prayers. Stand with us. We want to be in Gaza because God calls us to reflect his love to our neighbor. We continue to be inspired by Rami’s testimony and faithfulness.
We believe God’s word and his promises that we will never be alone. We also know that we belong to a bigger family – the family of God around the world – the body of Christ. Your standing with us will inspire us to keep going forward in the fulfillment of God’s call on our lives.
Hanna Massad is pastor of Gaza Baptist Church in Palestine. He is currently on sabbatical in the United States. This column appeared previously in the April-June 2009 issue of Baptist World, a quarterly publication of the Baptist World Alliance. Click here to subscribe.