Amid Israel & Gaza's bloody faceoff, prayer rises for 'bold' faith among Christians
ISRAEL (BP) -- The smoke trails of rockets make jagged cuts through the cloudless sky over Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Stephen Johnson*, a Christian worker among Palestinians, said he feels just as rough around the edges.
After arriving in the West Bank on Nov. 16, he fell asleep but was awakened when a rocket hit near the house where he is staying. "We are fine -- a little jittery, but OK," he said.
He's not the only one who's jittery -- phone calls to friends who are believers in Gaza Strip confirmed that.
"They are all OK but very frightened," Johnson said. "They've been here many times before."
The long history of conflict between Gaza and Israel has been marked in recent years by militants in Gaza firing hundreds of rockets into Israeli populations -- triggering severe retaliation by Israel.
With the current fighting, it's dangerous to be in the street, and there's little movement outside. Grocery stores are empty.
"People have bought up supplies in case the situation gets worse," Johnson said.
And they pray that "worse" won't mean "closer." The Palestinian Ministry of Interior office, for example -- about 200 yards from where some of Johnson's friends live -- was hit by Israeli rockets.
U.S. President Barack Obama said he supports Israel's right to defend itself and has called for Gaza to stop firing on Israel and work toward peace.
"There's no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders," Obama said at a press conference in Thailand during a Southeast Asian tour.
Israel's "Iron Dome" defense shield intercepted some 250 rockets fired from Gaza in a three-day period, according to the Israeli army. Nearly 800 rockets have been fired since the beginning of the conflict. Tel Aviv has repeatedly been the target.
Netanyahu said Israel is ready to expand its operation. News outlets report the strong possibility of a ground offensive.
In Israel where Ben Martin* lives, people aren't as worried about rockets as they are about the possibility of others getting involved, such as Egypt or Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim group based in Lebanon. Egypt's president stated early in the conflict that it would not leave Gaza on its own.
"The main concern is the secondary threat," said Martin, a Christian worker among Jews. "In these days, what do we do? We're told to be sober-minded so that we may be able to pray.
"What we need is people who will pray for the believers in Israel and for the believers in Gaza to be bold to share in the midst of hard times," Martin said.
One believer in Israel whom Martin knows has already had the chance to share with a family while he was taking cover with them as rockets approached. "We don't just sit with our hands folded -- we look for opportunities."
Martin, Johnson and others in the region say there is a ready harvest among the Middle Eastern peoples.
"Pray for safety" for believers caught in the crossfire, Johnson said, "but also that they would have opportunities to share the hope that they have.
"As you watch the news, write down the names and places, then turn the TV off and pray the news," Johnson added. "It's not a political statement or a stand, but asking the God of heaven to invoke His will in the situation and to bring true and lasting peace. With that, He is well pleased."
*Names changed. Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).