It is difficult to live here as Christians. It is dangerous and there is no freedom,” said a Christian young man in Gaza City.
The reality that Gaza is a kind of prison was clear as Open Doors visitors entered the Gaza strip from Israel. “Even as a visitor, I got the impression I was entering a prisoner camp. The security measures are strict and I had to walk for one kilometer through a cage-like corridor in no-man’s land to get to the final border checks with the Palestinian Authority,” reported one observer.
Young Palestinian Christians have an especially hard life in Gaza where they are literally imprisoned. Until they reach 35 years old, Israel will usually not allow them to cross the border. Also if a Christian girl wants to go to university, she has to agree to dress in accordance with Islamic requirements. “When you don’t use the headscarf, you attract attention,” one of the young women said. “Hamas doesn’t like Christians.”
Even in the midst of these pressures, believers are finding ways to share their faith. One day, a young Christian man met someone who asked a lot of questions about being a Christian. The other man expressed the widespread Muslim conviction that the Bible is a corrupted book. The Christian had a good conversation about this with the seeker. The man then went to a sheikh and asked what he thought about the Bible. “Later he came back,” the Christian said, “and asked me, ‘Do you have the Book?’ He wanted to have a Bible, so I gave him one.”
Such conversations are often fraught with danger for believers who feel that people who question them are setting a trap to accuse them of trying to convert a Muslim to Christianity. They need a lot of discernment to know what to say and when to speak. Despite the challenges, Christian youth are involved in Christian ministry.
Believers however report that the situation in Gaza has grown steadily worse in recent years. Gradually they have seen changes since Hamas took over from Fatah in 2006. They say that when Fatah was in power, life was better for Christians. One of the young women shared that children now sometimes throw stones at her. Almost daily people call her names because of being a Christian.
“Living in Gaza feels like living in a prison,” one of the Christians said. “It is like living with handcuffs on your hands. We can’t leave Gaza; only a small number of people are allowed to travel out.” As life has become harder in Gaza, many Christians have migrated to safer places. Especially after the 2007 killing of Rami Ayyad, manager of the Christian bookshop in Gaza, several families fled. The Christian added, “Five years ago there were about 2,500 in Gaza, now we estimate the number much lower.”
“Recently a friend of ours received a permission from Israel to travel to the West Bank for a family visit,” a young man shared. “We were happy for him, but it also made us sad, because we also would like to see and meet our families and friends who don’t live in Gaza anymore. We also want to live outside Gaza. There we can have a better and simple life, we can have better education. There will be no shooting, no rumors of war. Here in Gaza you see all the time bad things happen.”
Father, we pray for the Christians who remain in Gaza, trapped in the hostility that is there home. Encourage them, Lord, help them to share Your gospel with Muslim neighbors. And through lives that glorify You, give them opportunities to share Your Word. Give them wisdom and discernment as they learn how to live in Your truth, when to be wary and when to openly share, when to reach out in compassion and when to withdraw to safety. We pray for the pastors as they serve the dwindling church in Gaza, Father encourage them today. And we pray for Your guidance for young Christians who feel imprisoned in Gaza and dream of leaving for another country. As they near the age they can apply to cross the border, show them by Your Spirit when to stay and when to leave. In the name of Jesus our constant presence, Amen.