As Gaza has erupted into a warzone over the past few weeks, the small Baptist community has decided to suspend church services for the time being, shared a Gaza Christian to Open Doors.
Hanna Maher is pastor of the Baptist church in Gaza city. The violence and danger throughout Gaza has made it impossible for him to visit all members of the church. He stays in touch via phone communication with the families he cannot visit. An Open Doors contact shares, “Last weekend, we had a phone call with Pastor Hanna. We considered having a worship service in our church on Sunday during the time of the cease fire. But since it became very clear that the cease fire was not kept, we decided it was irresponsible to meet together in the church.”
The Open Doors country coordinator for Israel and Palestinian Areas explains, “The Baptist church and the library of the church are right across the street from a police station. That police station has been attacked several times, so it is a potentially dangerous area. The authorities also requested to have the library closed for the time being.”
To encourage each other, the members of the church stay in touch with each other through organizing house meetings and by telephone, if phone services are working.
For some Christians, the threat is hitting very close to home. One family was instructed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to temporarily leave their apartment building, since they were preparing an attack on a house nearby.
And although attacks by the IDF are usually very precise, serious mistakes are sometimes made. On Sunday, July 27, a misdirected attack took the life of Jalila Ayyad, a Greek Orthodox Christian lady in her 60’s.
Because of the fighting, many people have lost their homes or been forced to leave their houses for the time being. “If one house in an apartment building is damaged because of an attack, then often the whole apartment building is closed for fear of collapsing,” says the Gaza believer. “Over 160,000 people have no houses these days. Many of them come to Gaza City to live with relatives. We see that it is even more crowded than before. This is a big burden for the families living here, but we do what we can to help. If it is necessary, then we have to welcome relatives who need help.”
Apart from the Baptist church, the only two other active churches in the entire Gaza strip are the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Both churches have welcomed refugees from areas throughout Gaza that have sustained heavy incoming artillery fire. Among the 1.7 million Muslims in Gaza, the community of about 1,500-2,000 Christians is a true minority.
Father, forgive us when we watch the news and see only numbers and statistics. Remind us of these fellow believers who are suffering in the conflict in Gaza. When we join freely with others for worship, remind us of these brothers and sisters who long to worship openly, but must snatch safe opportunities as they can. When we peacefully tuck our children into bed at night, remind us of those who wonder if this night might be their last on this earth. We long for peace to reign between Gaza and Israel, but even more, we long for millions of people to know the peace of hearts that are right with You; hearts depending not on their own righteousness, but on the righteousness of Christ. We pray for our brothers and sisters in Gaza; that their hearts would find rest and peace in the midst of conflict; that they would find shelter when their homes are lost; that they would have food to sustain them. In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Amen.