In the wake of a war zone
From the roof, we had a 360-degree panoramic view of the area. Across the street, on an empty dirt lot strewn with several weeks of uncollected garbage, boys were playing a lively game of soccer. Bishara pointed across the Jerusalem-Hebron Road to a seven-story building no more than 100 yards away. It was only a shell—every window was gone.
“That was where the Israeli soldiers were shooting from—right over our heads,” he explained.
I turned and stared at the steel door that opened into the stairway we’d just climbed. Three bullet holes had penetrated the door, leaving sharp extrusions, like flower petals, on the other side. The actual bullets were buried in mattresses being stored on the top landing.
We walked around to the other side of the roof, stepping over some pipes so we could see the solar panels that provided heat for the college. They were shattered, gazing uselessly up at the sun. Behind them were new water tanks—the old ones had been riddled with holes. “Almost every home and business lost their water tanks,” Bishara explained. “It seemed like the soldiers wanted to shoot the tanks for target practice.”
We understood the implications. Bethlehem shared water with the Jewish settlements in the area. In recent months, the flow of water had become more and more infrequent. Often, the water service was shut off for one or two weeks. We were conscious of how precious this water was when we stood under the trickle of the shower in the guest house, determined not to waste a drop.
As we walked downstairs to Bishara’s car parked in the back, we passed a huge mural depicting the announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. That glorious event occurred less than five miles away from this spot. Several bullets had gouged holes in the painting. One had pierced the head of a lamb, which seemed symbolic.
“The lamb that was slain,” Brother Andrew softly uttered, referencing Revelation 5:6.
Bishara drove us over the cobblestone streets of Beit Jala to the easternmost edge of town where the hillside drops into the valley, supposedly where David fought Goliath. Perched on another hill about half a mile away was the Jewish community of Gilo. We passed homes riddled with bullet holes. Many of the walls were simply gone, allowing us to gaze into rooms where families had eaten, talked, studied, and relaxed.
“More than 450 homes have been destroyed,” Bishara said softly. He pointed to one where an entire floor was blown away. “Four Christian families lived in that house. One of our students lived there.”
“Where are they now?” Andrew asked.
“They have family in the area, but the homes are very crowded. It’s a tremendous burden on the families.” Bishara explained that this neighborhood was mostly Christian. “Muslims think they can force the Christians who live here to be on their side. But the people living in these homes are angry at the Palestinian militias.” It had been reported that members of the Islamic terrorist group Hamas had shot at Gilo from behind the Christian homes, then fled the scene. Their guns could barely reach Gilo. But that was enough provocation for Israeli tanks to rumble across the valley, firing at the places where they believed the militias hid.
Brother Andrew and I were sobered by this tour of a war zone. This wasn’t actually persecution because they were Christians. Everyone living here suffered. But Christians had the added burden of being a minority in the midst of a Muslim majority that was growing more militant. These images helped me understand the dynamics of suffering and persecution in other parts of the world.
So how should Christians respond? Join the rebellion? Passively stay neutral and pray? “Better a Bible than a bomb!” Brother Andrew concluded. Which is why he so fervently supported Bethlehem Bible College. He believed students at BBC were the future hope for Palestinians. They were learning how to be peacemakers.
For nearly 20 years Al Janssen worked closely with Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors. Together they traveled to Muslim countries, wrote six books, met with political leaders and spoke to ministry donors. This blog tells the story of their friendship and some of the many lessons Al learned from this beloved mission leader.
Each week, Al Janssen shares about his journey with Brother Andrew. Read all of his posts in this series here.