Jerusalem church attacked by arsonists

JERUSALEM (BP)--Baptist House, home of the Narkis Street Baptist Church in Jerusalem, was attacked by arsonists in the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 24, but quick action from neighbors limited the damage to furnishings and windows.

The arsonists broke into the building and set fires in three places, Joe Broom, business services manager of the Baptist Convention in Israel, told the Israel Broadcast Authority. The stone floor was charred but not damaged. Chairs were burned and the building suffered smoke and water damage. To fight the fire, firefighters had to break various windows at the building.

The church was burned to the ground in 1982 by anti-missionary Orthodox Jewish militants and more recently a bookstore in the building was firebombed. No recent threats had been received, church leaders said.

In fact, although the church building is near ultra-Orthodox areas, relationships with neighbors have been very good, Broom said. Jewish neighbors called the fire department and their quick response minimized damage to the structure. The rabbi of a neighboring Reform Judaism congregation offered the use of their synagogue for services, according to the Associated Press.

Weekend services were cancelled at the building, which is home to Baptists, Russian Christians, foreign workers, students, Sudanese refugees and Messianic Jews, Broom told Israel Today. The congregations hope to hold services the following weekend, after the facility is cleaned and painted, Broom said.

Police have no suspects and the arson may have simply been the work of vandals, investigators said. It appeared trash had been brought in off the street, placed under chairs and set ablaze with an accelerant. Extremists bent on destroying the building likely would have caused more damage.

The Israeli office of the Anti-Defamation League, however, condemned the attack as an "apparent hate crime," the Jerusalem Post reported. "We urged authorities to do everything in their power to protect all religious sites and see that the perpetrators of the crime are brought to justice," the ADL said.

The attack certainly should not be an occasion for anti-Semitism, a former Southern Baptist representative to Israel said.

"This was not an act for which either the state of Israel or the Jewish people are to be judged," said Jim Sibley, now director of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies at Criswell College in Dallas. "This underscores the need for greater prayer for Christians who face opposition in the Middle East. Just last week, a Baptist brother who managed the Bible shop in Gaza was murdered by a Muslim extremist.

"There is real spiritual warfare going on in the Middle East. It's not just military and political."

While media reports often focus on problems of violence in the Middle East, there is good news to be found – and genuine religious freedom would open the door for more good news, Sibley said.

"The good news is that peace is breaking out," he said. "More and more, both Muslims and Jewish people are coming to know Jesus as their Savior.

"Christians need to pray more fervently for the spread of the Gospel among the Jewish people in Israel," he said. "We also need to pray for religious liberty there. There is religious toleration in Israel, but there is a big difference between toleration and liberty."

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