Out of the Depths: Christians in Gaza pray and wait in the grip of war  - Radical

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Out of the Depths: Christians in Gaza pray and wait in the grip of war 

The week after Hamas launched a brutal strike on Israel, the Israeli military prepared for a ground siege of the Gaza Strip, and Pastor Munir Kakish prepared for a prayer meeting at his local church.

Kakish leads a congregation of Arab Christians in the West Bank city of Ramallah, about 15 miles north of Jerusalem. For years, he traveled to Gaza once a month to preach in a local church and help with ministry to local children.

These days, he’s worried about the people he knows in the Gaza Strip, including members of the enclave’s three churches. In the 25-mile ribbon of coastal land controlled by Hamas, a few hundred Christians are among the two million Gazans bracing for ground war.

A few hundred Christians are among the two million Gazans bracing for ground war.

A Deepening Darkness

On Oct. 7, the terrorist group Hamas launched raids on civilian communities in Israel, killing 1,400 people and taking nearly 200 hostages back into the Gaza Strip. Israeli counter attacks against Hamas have killed thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, according to Gaza health officials, and a million residents have fled their homes ahead of Israel’s planned ground siege. 

Kakish estimates about 700 to 1,000 Christians live in the Gaza Strip, though it’s hard to know exact figures. The numbers have dwindled in the last decade, as some Gazans have left in the wake of deteriorating conditions and dangers. 

In 2007, Rami Ayyad, a beloved member of Gaza Baptist Church, was kidnapped and murdered in Gaza City. Six months earlier, the Christian bookstore he managed for the Palestinian Bible Society had been destroyed in a bombing. 

But Christian ministry continued in Gaza, even as conditions for everyone living in the coastal strip worsened. That ministry has included the work of Gaza Baptist Church, the only evangelical church in the strip. 

It has also included the work of Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City—the hospital where a nearby explosion killed an estimated 100 to 300 people on Oct. 17. Palestinian officials quickly blamed Israel for the blast, but U.S. officials and security experts said evidence points to a misfired rocket from a separate militant group in Gaza.

The hospital has served Gaza since the 1880s, when it was started by Anglican missionaries. Southern Baptists ran the facility in the mid-20th century. Today, it operates under the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, and remains the only Christian hospital in Gaza.

An Urgent Prayer

Back in the West Bank, Pastor Kakish’s church includes a member who has spent recent days trying to stay in touch with Christian family still in the Gaza Strip, though an electricity blackout makes it difficult for its residents to keep cell phones charged and lines of communication open.

But one thing has come through: Church members in Gaza are pulling together to try to survive whatever comes over the next few weeks and months.

Christians in Gaza are pulling together to try to survive whatever comes over the next few weeks and months.

International Christian Concern reported some in the Christian community are sheltering together in the strip’s northern region. 

On Oct. 19, an explosion struck a building’s wall on the campus of the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza City. The Israeli military said it was targeting a Hamas control center nearby, not the church where displaced Palestinians were taking shelter on the grounds. Local officials said the blast killed more than a dozen people, but exact figures weren’t immediately clear. 

For now, Kakish is pulling his own church together to pray. On a Saturday morning, the pastor was preparing for an evening prayer service with other ministers in the Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land. He said the group would be praying for Palestinians, Israelis, and others affected by the worsening war.

In the middle of all of the current conflicts, Kakish says he wants to point people to Christ and remind them of the life to come.

And sometimes, Kakish finds himself taking moments to simply lament. “It’s heart-sickening,” he says. “This is the worst we’ve seen it.”

Christians have long prayed for the millions living in the Holy Land, with its ancient roots in biblical history and its ongoing need for the gospel of Christ. Only a small percentage of people in Israel, Gaza, or the West Bank identify as Christians.

That makes the church’s ministry even more urgent. In the middle of all of the current conflicts, Kakish says he wants to point people to Christ and remind them of the life to come: “Because there is eternity. There is life after death. We want to see people saved.” 

Jamie Dean is the Lead Writer for Radical. She has 20 years of experience in journalism and on-the-ground reporting.

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