Baptists proclaim Gospel in Bethlehem's Manger Square

JERUSALEM (BP)--A group of believers from Jerusalem Baptist Church proclaimed the Gospel in Manger Square on Christmas Eve, explaining the reason for Christ's birth just days before new violence erupted in the region.

About 50 people from Jerusalem Baptist and another 30 believers from The Baptist Village in Petach Tikva gathered at Manger Square in Bethlehem in the afternoon to sing Christmas songs, pass out tracts and talk with people about the true meaning of the nativity.

The group had been scheduled to have a presence on the stage set up in the square where various groups take turns singing and presenting a message. But for an unknown reason that was rumored to involve unrest between Muslims and Christians, many of the stage performances were canceled and the Baptist group ended up at another location.

"We had a trumpeter with us, so we set up and sang Christmas tunes and other tunes and did some evangelism," Al Nucciarone, pastor of Jerusalem Baptist, told Baptist Press Dec. 29.

" ... An hour after we did that, we all went into the Peace Center, and I got permission to set up in the coffee shop so that we would be inside," Nucciarone said, referring to a building constructed by Swedes which sits between the Church of the Nativity and a mosque in Manger Square.

The pastor said another 50 or 60 people showed up in the large coffee shop to listen to the singing and sharing of the Gospel.

"There was a lot of interest in what we were doing," he said.

In addition to Christmas songs, the group sang hymns such as "Soon and Very Soon" to emphasize not only the first coming of Jesus as a child in the manger but His future second coming as a conquering King. Between songs, Nucciarone spoke to the people about Jesus, noting that He died to save people from punishment for their sins and that He wants to have a personal relationship with them.

"There were a number of nonbelievers there, both Arab Muslims and some nominal Christians," he told BP. "Some of our people had talked with some of the professing Christians who really didn't know what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus and didn't have assurance of salvation."

One couple had prayed before arriving at Manger Square that God would send them someone who was seeking the truth. It turned out that a Muslim man expressed interest in the message they were sharing, and after hearing why Jesus was born, he professed faith in Christ and thanked them for telling him the Good News, Nucciarone said.

In addition to Bethlehem being the birthplace of Jesus, there is significance in celebrating Christmas Eve at Manger Square because evangelicals are called not only to believe in Jesus but to share what they believe, the pastor said.

"It presents a very good opportunity because there are people who are probably seekers surrounded by all these symbols of Christianity and they're probably wondering what it all means," he said. "Perhaps nobody has ever told them what it really means to become a believer in Jesus and a follower of Him.

"I think it's important for us to go because we may have been the only group there sharing the Gospel," Nucciarone said. "Other people are there to see the sights, to enjoy the music or whatever, but we were there mainly to share the Gospel of Christ with people."

Also during the coffee shop service, Nucciarone read a proclamation from Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, which said Southern Baptists joined the Jerusalem believers in celebrating "the greatest birth in the history of the world."

"On this joyful occasion we join with you and believers from every nation on the face of the globe proclaiming, 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests,'" the statement said.

Jerusalem Baptist Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and Nucciarone is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a former pastor in Milan, Italy, and Vienna, Austria.

Nucciarone said although Christmas celebrations were abundant in Bethlehem, there were few Christmas decorations in Jerusalem and the city was "very quiet" on Christmas Day.

On Saturday following Christmas, the pastor received a call from a friend alerting him to the Israeli air strikes on Hamas military installations in Gaza. Hamas had been launching rocket attacks on southern Israel for a while, and the Israelis were attempting to stop those attacks. By Monday, violence continued and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the conflict "an all-out war against Hamas and its branches."

Nucciarone said some Arab taxi cab drivers in Jerusalem went on strike following the attacks, and that an Iraqi preacher who attends Jerusalem Baptist Church was unable to travel by taxi to the church in West Jerusalem on Sunday. That evening, Nucciarone attended a Bible study in the home of a Palestinian believer in Bethlehem and was unable to attend a Christian concert afterward because Palestinian authorities essentially had imposed a curfew. The pastor described Bethlehem as "very calm" Sunday night, "almost like a ghost town."

"Every shop was closed, all the restaurants were closed, everything," he said, adding that he and others in the region "are much in prayer and much concerned about what's going to happen."

"We know something like this can escalate," he said. "More rockets could be sent from Gaza into Israel and also this could unleash a new wave of suicide bombers."

Nucciarone asked that Southern Baptists continue to pray for peace in Israel, a peace that only comes through people knowing Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.


Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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