SANTA ANA, Calif. (ABP) – The last remaining evangelical church in Gaza is functioning but in danger of dying, famed Bible smuggler Brother Andrew said after a recent visit to Gaza Baptist Church.
“Christians in the west are surprised to learn that there is a church [in Gaza], a functioning church, a suffering church, a restricted church, but there is a church in Gaza… and I think its dying," the founder of Open Doors, an organization dedicated to support of Christian minorities who are persecuted because of their faith, said in a video clip.
“Today only one active evangelical church remains, Gaza Baptist Church,” the video says, “a church that has suffered the effects of perpetual war, the murder of a prominent member and a devastating drop in attendance from 100-plus to less than 12.”
An unidentified pastor says Christians number fewer than 2,000 in a tiny strip of land populated by 1.6 million Muslims, and evangelicals are a small minority even among Christians. Oppressed by both Israel’s economic blockade and Islamic militancy, many Christians have opted to leave.
Hanna Massad, the pastor of Gaza Baptist Church who fled to Jordan after a church member who managed Gaza’s only Christian bookstore was murdered execution-style in 2007, recently traveled to Gaza from Amman through Egypt.
“You cannot imagine the relentless stress suffered by church leaders in a small, crowded area like Gaza (140 square miles),” Massad wrote supporters in a letter Nov. 9. “They are isolated from the rest of the world, surrounded by [non Christians], ruled by Hamas and oppressed by the extremists and the even more radical Salafists. Every day, they battle depression and hopelessness.”
Massad said his visit on Thursday was with a couple of his former students at Bethlehem Bible College, who lead a home Bible study. “For hours, we talked about the unique ministry challenges they face and sought God together to find ways to serve better and to reach out to the territory’s tiny Christian community,” he said.
He then counseled a pastor and other discouraged church leaders and visited a family that recently lost its father to cancer. “There is much sickness in Gaza,” he said, “a lot of it caused by the stress of daily life in addition to the diseases and infirmities that we all face.”
But Massad said the “number one disease” in the Gaza Strip is worry, so that was his main topic when he led home Bible studies, spoke to school teachers and preached and taught two Sundays in church.
“One day, I walked into a pharmacy and my heart nearly broke as the owner, who is a good friend, broke down crying uncontrollably the moment she saw me,” Massad said. “She could not believe that I was actually there. She was able to share the oppression and pain she is suffering and later told me how the Lord used my visit to comfort and strengthen her.”
Massad said poverty is great in Gaza and unemployment high, but through his Christian Mission to Gaza he managed to help 27 families – Christian and non-Christian – with food and medicine. Most live in the Deir El Balah refugee camp, where nearly 20,000 people are packed into 39 acres.
Food packages included olive oil, corn oil, different kinds of beans, rice, sugar and other supplies, worth about $60, with food purchased locally.
Massad, who spoke at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta in 2007, said he hopes to visit Gaza again in January and while there to teach a course on the Gospel of John through the Gaza extension of Bethlehem Bible College.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.