In Israel, 100 years of Baptist work is celebrated
ISRAEL (BP)--Hiba* used to pore over the Quran, trying to sort out life's problems.
Then she bumped into some Christians in her hometown a few years ago. She agonized for days about which was the real book, the Quran or the Bible. "And then God showed me," Hiba said.
Thanks to local Baptists discipling her, she said she now knows it's Jesus who changed her life. This lasting legacy of Baptist work was honored May 12-14 at the 100th anniversary of Baptists in Israel, celebrated in Nazareth where the nation's first Baptist church was planted.
Hiba was baptized in the Sea of Galilee to close the weekend celebration.
Before the first believers were baptized through Baptist work in Nazareth a century ago, Baptists "had nothing in the Middle East," said Drew Carson*, a Christian leader in the region.
In 1911, Shukri Mosa -- a Palestinian who came to follow Christ at First Baptist Church in Dallas -- brought his faith to Nazareth and led two people to faith and baptism. He faced persecution from the town around him, but eventually a church was planted in the 1920s.
The International Mission Board partnered with the work in Israel soon after it began, helping nurture the church. IMB workers continue to reach out among the different Jewish and Arab people groups in the nation.
"Shukri Mosa's connection with First Baptist Dallas provided a bridge for us to come over here and plant our lives and get deeper and deeper into this part of the world," Carson said. "We should never underestimate the first step of the journey. What happened here 100 years ago resulted in untold lives across the Arab and Jewish world being touched by the salvation of Jesus Christ."
The work in Nazareth sparked a flame of American-led Southern Baptist work in the region. And it produced many Arab believers who took the Gospel to other countries when war in Israel dispersed part of the nation's Palestinian population in 1948.
"Many believers scattered when war happened, but they were able to take the message with them where they went," said Dale Thorne, a Southern Baptist representative in Israel.
Baptist work in Israel dwindled nearly to extinction immediately after the war, but then new ministry doors opened, Thorne said.
"A large number of Arabs fled to Nazareth, which had surrendered to the Jews, and so the town boomed in population," he said.
A Baptist school was founded in the Arab community, and it's still going strong with 1,000 students, Thorne said. Roughly a couple hundred Baptist congregations, both Messianic Jewish and Arab, exist in Israel today.
"I hope that this time of celebrating 100 years is an encouragement to Baptists here not only to look back but also to accept the challenge of moving forward into the future," Thorne said.
Gordon Fort, vice president for overseas operations for the IMB, challenged Baptists to keep reaching out across their region and the world.
"Israel has a genuine faith living among its Baptists for 100 years. Years ago someone brought that genuine faith to you. It is your responsibility to share this faith with others," Fort said.
Baptists are striving to do this, showing Christ's love through unity across deep cultural divisions, said Bader Mansour, secretary of the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel.
"I am thankful for the Lord and what He's done in our lives. He's commanded us to be one in body, one in mind, one in spirit," Mansour said. "We are in a time of miracles."
*Names have been changed. Ava Thomas is an International Mission Board writer/editor based in Europe.