The West Bank and Gaza Strip are adjacent to the State of Israel and are inhabited by around 4.5 million Palestinians.
The governing power is the Palestinian Authority. The major religion is Islam, and the official language is Arabic. There is also a small Christian minority, including evangelical Baptists.
The Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land was formed in 1994. It has 22 members, including the churches and parachurch organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The organization is represented by Munir Kakish, president and pastor of the Ramallah Local Church. A member of the council is also Bethlehem Bible College represented by its president Jack Sara.
The major goals of the council are to address the Palestinian people from the evangelical perspective, to build bridges between the evangelicals and the rest of the society, and to represent the evangelicals in front of the government.
Important activities include regular meetings of the minister conferences and leadership training to enhance the service of churches, efforts with Israeli officials about travel permits (to cross the security wall) and contacts with the Palestinian authorities for legal recognition of churches.
The council cooperates with the Synod of Churches in Israel composed of five evangelical church groups, including the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel; it hopes to gain official recognition by the Palestinian and Israeli authorities.
The council, together with the European Baptist Federation (EBF), is currently involved in facilitating two church plants in the West Bank: one in Beit Jalah and the other in Beit Sahour.
The new group in Beit Jalah, neighboring Bethlehem, is led by Khader, a graduate of Bethlehem Bible College.
Khader is originally from Gaza, where he had ministered and assisted in the Baptist church for two years. The number of inhabitants of Beit Jalah is about 16,000, and there is only one evangelical church.
The vision of ministry is to serve the people holistically so that they may become disciples of Jesus and thus expand the Kingdom of God. The main pillars of ministry are discipleship, worship, fellowship and outreach.
Around 25 persons regularly visit weekly meetings held on Fridays in a local school.
The group recently decided to move the meetings from private homes to a public building in Beit Jalah so that more people may attend. Ten people were baptized last August.
The group started two-and-a-half years ago and is growing well. The mission team comprises five people, who are responsible for prayer ministry, home visitations, Bible study groups, worship and social work.
The goal is to continue weekly meetings and organize special events that will draw up to 200 persons. The church regularly gathers items that later are distributed among the needy.
The other new group is in Beit Sahour – a village next to Bethlehem where, according to the tradition, angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Christ.
Beit Sahour is inhabited by 15,000 people, and the new church plant is led by pastor Mazin Nasrawi from the Alliance Church in Jerusalem and another man named Osama.
About 20 adults and several children gather weekly in a rented private flat. The group is very lively as they worship and pray fervently and listen attentively to sermons while the children meet in another room with their teachers.
The people in West Bank are confined within the security wall and can’t travel freely.
They say that contacts with Christians from Europe are the important source of encouragement. These interactions are like “a breeze of spiritual fresh air.”
It is crucial that Christians around the world pray for the people who are deprived of much freedom being restricted by walls and checkpoints, and whose everyday lives are marked by uncertainly and anxiety.
Daniel Trusiewicz is mission partnerships coordinator at the European Baptist Federation. A version of this article first appeared on the EBF’s mission partnerships February 2016 e-newsletter and is used with permission. You can follow EBF on Twitter @EBFNews.
Daniel Trusiewicz is mission partnerships coordinator at the European Baptist Federation.