Israel Today Magazine

July, 2007

by Nicole Jansezian

Caught amid the infighting between Hamas and Fatah and Israel’s retaliation for rockets launched at its southern cities is an easily overlooked segment of the population: Christians number only 2,000 among 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip—less than 1 percent of the population.

And if you break it down even further, evangelical Christians number far less than that.

“We are a minority of minorities,” Hanna Massad, pastor of Gaza Baptist Church, told Israel Today. “It is really difficult. The Christian community here is 2,000 including Catholic, Greek Orthodox and evangelical Christians.”

Gaza Baptist Church, the only evangelical church in the Gaza Strip, ministers to 150 to 200 people.

In the latest round of fighting, an Israeli bomb landed on a Hamas office just 300 feet from Massad’s home shattering all of the windows. No one was injured, but the consequences of a war they are not involved in are continually getting closer to home.

Frequently, one Palestinian faction or the other commandeers the church’s buildings to use as a lookout point. Once, a library worker was literally caught in the crossfire and shot in the back. He has since recovered.

The church driver wasn’t as fortunate. The 22-year-old newlywed was shot and killed in a Hamas-Fatah shootout, an innocent bystander.

Not long ago, militants carried through on a threat to bomb the Gaza Bible Society where Massad’s wife is a director. Now the church itself has been threatened.

“There is a small militant group that hates everything western and Christian and in their minds, they are trying to clean up the city,” Massad said. “They are a narrow-minded group and the government is unable to control it.”

But the Gaza church isn’t playing victim to the circumstances. Instead the Christians are running clinics, libraries, bringing humanitarian aid to the needy and carrying on meeting. They meet openly at the church.

“One thing that strikes me is that you don’t hear negative language from them,” Labib Madanat, director of the Bible Society in Israel and Palestinian territories, told us. “Their language is positive, a language of mission: ‘What is my role as a believer; what can I do in this situation?’”

“I’m not saying it is not hard, that they don’t have fears,” he said. “There are troubles, threats, danger and sometimes they are down. But the overall sum is they are a group of people who are resilient, totally dependent on the Lord and positively thinking of what God wants them to be in the Gaza Strip.”

Madanat said the church worldwide needs to encourage believers in Gaza. Compared to believers in the West Bank, the believers in Gaza are more “focused on what God wants them to do in this situation. Gaza is much more difficult. The sense of need of total dependency on the Lord is much stronger.”

The American Consulate has been warning all Americans to get out of Gaza because of the constant dangers. Massad, who also holds American citizenship, was asked by the consulate if they want to leave.

“Without any hesitation I said no,” he explained. “This is where we feel God wants us to be at this time and it is a privilege to be in the midst of God’s will.”