As the Israel-Hamas war continues, multiple Christian church buildings and facilities have been damaged. Rev. Hanna Massad of Christian Mission to Gaza shared an update on Wednesday (Oct. 18) about the war’s impact on the small Christian community on the day after the “devastating explosion” at the only Christian hospital in the besieged territory.
“We have never before witnessed such a tragedy,” Massad wrote after the explosion at the al-Ahli Arab Hospital. “We are still struggling to come to terms with the enormity of what has happened, and it is a challenge to comprehend the depth of this tragedy.”
“Tragically, those affected by the recent bombing sought refuge in the hospital, believing it to be a safe haven due to its Christian affiliation,” he added.
Massad worked at the hospital as a lab technician four decades ago. At the time, Gaza Baptist Church also held worship there but later moved when it “became too dangerous” during a period of fighting between Palestinians and Israel. He left his role at the hospital to lead the church.
The large explosion at the hospital’s complex on Tuesday reportedly killed hundreds of Palestinians who had taken refuge there. Both sides accuse the other of launching the deadly strike, but U.S. officials are backing Israeli claims it was a terrorist rocket that misfired. The hospital had previously been damaged by an Israeli rocket three days earlier and was hit by an Israeli strike in 2003.
Massad mentioned that the blast’s impact extended beyond the hospital and those who were there. He said “sharp particles from the explosion” reached the Anglican chapel on the hospital compound and the nearby Orthodox church that is housing hundreds of people. But, he added, “the people in these churches are safe for now.”
The other Christian congregations in Gaza are the Catholic and Baptist ones farther from the hospital. But Massad reported that the Baptist building suffered minor damage from a different blast. The church has been damaged multiple times during previous conflicts since it sits near a police station that has been targeted. That is apparently the case again this week, with minor damage to the only public Christian library in Gaza, which is inside the church.
The building of the Near East Council of Churches was also severely damaged by an airstrike last week.
Although the al-Ahli hospital is run by Anglicans, many news reports since the deadly explosion have called it a Baptist hospital. That’s because some people still refer to it that way since it was run by Southern Baptist missionaries from 1954-1982. Founded in 1882 by British Anglicans, Southern Baptists took over its management just six years after the creation of the nation of Israel — and at a time when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians found themselves refugees in the area. Three decades later, the hospital was turned over to the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
“The name ‘Baptist Hospital’ was used in many news reports, even though the hospital is currently owned and managed by the Episcopal Church,” Bader Mansour, an Israeli Baptist leader, wrote at Come and See. “But it seems that some in Gaza still remember the old name and the contribution of the Baptists in serving the people of Gaza, which continues to this day through the Baptist church in Gaza.”
Christian Mission to Gaza is working to provide humanitarian relief once the borders are opened. And Massad urged Christians to pray for an end to the conflict, that the humanitarian relief would be allowed in, for the safety of the Christian community and other civilians, and for peacemakers on both sides.