Israeli and Palestinian believers 'not void of hope' amid conflict
JERUSALEM (BP) -- In war-torn Gaza and Israel, Christians watch with anguish as violence ravages the innocent on both sides of the conflict. But this "season of weeping and mourning" is "not void of hope," said Yohanna Katanacho, academic dean of Bethlehem Bible College and an "on call" pastor of Nazareth Baptist Church.
"Our tears are the bridge between brutality and humanity," Katanacho, who describes himself as an Arab Christian living in Israel, said. "Pray with tears" in regard to the Gaza-Israel conflict, he challenged believers.
The latest clashes between Israel and Hamas in the past six weeks have seen more than 2,000 killed and 10,000 injured. But as deadly attacks continue, Christians from both sides of the conflict continue to pray for peace that some would contend can only be supernatural, and peace that the Bible says is beyond understanding.
"We feel strongly that our position is to enlist prayer for all the people on all sides of the conflict," Dale Thorne, director of the Jerusalem Prayer Center, said. The center, an entity of Southern Baptists, is a five-minute walk from the ancient walled city of Jerusalem.
"The real question for us is how are we to pray in this quagmire of pain, fear, destruction and confusion," Thorne said. "We can only depend on God's Word. There is no other source."
Prayer is "invaluable" in times like these, he said.
"When we replace worry with prayer and anxiety with thankfulness, we experience God's peace, which will control our emotions and thoughts and keep us centered in Jesus the Messiah," Thorne said.
One leader of the Baptist church in Gaza said, "We have peace in our hearts."
For people like Faten,* that peace is vital.
Faten, a Baptist who attends the Bethlehem Bible College extension in Gaza, is grieving the deaths of two students who attended the school where her sister works. The students were hit by Israeli rocket fire while playing on the roof of their apartment building.
When Katanacho, the academic dean of Bethlehem Bible College, learned that rockets were striking close to the building where Faten lives, he phoned her asking if there was an area where she could seek refuge. "She chuckled and said that the only refuge she has is God and He is enough for her," Katanacho said.
He expressed amazement at her trust in God's care. "She wholeheartedly believes that her life is in God's hands," Katanacho said. "God is her refuge in Gaza. God called her to serve Him in this difficult place, and she will honor her Lord."
Hanna Massad, former pastor of Gaza Baptist Church now living in Jordan, said, "It's a truly desperate situation ... many lives will never be the same again."
Massad told how Jalila Ayyad, a Christian woman in Gaza, lost her life in an Israeli bombing, her son left critically injured. "This is just one of so many tragedies that happen in Gaza on a daily basis," he said. "In the midst of this fear and devastation, people work together and do what they can to help."
He said churches of various denominations have opened their doors to those fleeing the attacks. He and the organization he leads, Christian Mission to Gaza, is in partnership with Baptist Global Response, the Palestinian Bible Society and other agencies to distribute food to those affected by the conflict.
One Christian worker in the Middle East who directs a Christian school in Gaza said, "There are believers on both sides of this conflict, Israelis and Palestinians, Messianic Jews and Arab Christians. What there are few of, and what is needed most to rebuild, are Christians who will 'stand in the gap.'
"For me that means praying and fasting and believing God for His kingdom to come and His will to be done -- for both the Israelis and the Palestinians," he said.
Audrey Martin,* a Southern Baptist representative in Israel, said one of her friends who is a Messianic Jew has seen on a personal level the needs on both sides.
Martin's friend's son is a Christian serving in the Israeli army. He told his mother that his heart broke for the Palestinians as he watched all that went on in Gaza.
"He said they would run to them as soldiers, begging for help," Martin's friend shared. "He said, 'Momma, they aren't afraid of us; they knew we were not there to hurt them.' He said they would have to tell them to stay back so they wouldn't be shot in crossfire -- so horrible.
"It blessed me to hear his compassion toward them, because his attitude toward Hamas is so harsh," she said. "I'm so glad he can separate the two."
Martin said Messianic Jewish congregations and groups all over Israel are praying daily for their Palestinian "brothers and sisters," as well as for Israelis who are dealing with the traumas of war, the loss of loved ones and the loss of peace and stability.
She asked for prayers that doors would open for believers to "reach into the heart of this crisis."
"Pray that they can bring peace to the storm through the love of Yeshua [Jesus]," Martin said.
Shmuel Aweida, pastor of a Messianic congregation in Israel, said, "The past days have been hard and heartbreaking for us as parents, as a congregation and as part of this amazing nation. We can only pray and keep lifting our eyes to the One who's our helper and shield!"
One Israeli soldier, Sergeant Shai Kushnir, was killed during the conflict. He was a believer from Haifa. He and four others suffered a direct hit from Hamas mortar fire while on reconnaissance. During Kushnir's funeral, which was televised across the nation, Kushnir's friends sang a hymn of hope in the Messiah.
"Pray that in the midst of such suffering and loss on both sides that we as believers would make much of the hope that Christ gives to all peoples of the earth," Don Alan,* a senior missions strategy leader for the Middle East, said.
"Pray that as we weep with those who have lost loved ones on both sides, we would be able to share the hope that we have within us," he said.
Baptist Global Response has a #MiddleEastCrisis page on Twitter for updates, prayer and donations. To learn more about how you can help, click here.
Southern Baptists' Global Hunger Relief will provide funds crucial for this effort. For more information, click here
*Name changed. Charles Braddix is an IMB writer based in London. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).