Gaza Christians praying: That is the image that the pastor of Gaza’s only Protestant church would want the world to see in answer to the question he receives frequently these days, “What are Gaza Christians doing during the present conflict in Gaza?”
“Our situation at this stage is basically like Romans 8:26-27,” says Hanna Massad, who spoke to Voice of the Martyrs CEO Pastor Eric Foley shortly after arriving in the United States from the Middle East. “It’s a time when you don’t know what to pray or how to pray, but the Holy Spirit is praying in you and through you as he takes the agony inside and lifts it before the heavenly Father. And he responds according to his will, and also according to our needs.”
Pastor Massad spoke to Pastor Foley via Zoom, the medium which has become the main form of connection for the members of his congregation, Gaza Baptist Church, which includes not only one hundred Christian families still in Gaza but also one hundred Christian families in the West Bank as well as 700 Iraqi Christian refugee families that Gaza Baptist has cared for in Jordan since the first Gulf War broke out in 1991.
“Last Saturday should not have happened,” Pastor Massad told Pastor Foley, referencing the October 7 Hamas attacks. “Our hearts go out to the Jewish families.”
Gaza Baptist Church Pastor Hanna Massad delivering food to families in Gaza.
Pastor Massad told Pastor Foley that he believes Christians in Gaza and Messianic Jews in Israel have a special role to play at this time. “I pray that God helps us as his followers on both sides, to shine light in the midst of darkness, to reflect his love, and to continue to carry his presence in these difficult circumstances.”
Pastor Massad told Pastor Foley that his congregation continues to believe Romans 8:28. “In spite of the pain and suffering, we believe that God is the only one who is able to turn something good out of the horrible things that are happening. As Christians, our hearts are not only for our people or for the Christian community in Gaza, but when you’re touched by the Lord, by his grace, he puts love in your heart, even as Palestinian Christians, for the Jewish people as well.”
Pastor Massad told Pastor Foley that prayer enables his congregation to carry out their mission in the midst of hostility from every side. “We live between three fires,” Pastor Massad said. “The fire of Muslim militants on one hand, Israel on the other, but also as evangelical Christians, the traditional churches”—Gaza’s Greek Orthodox and Catholic congregations—“are not always happy about who we are and what we do. And the question becomes, ‘How do you live your faith in the midst of these fires? How do you not let bitterness and hatred control your life?’”
A rare photo of Gaza Baptist Church in earlier times. Pastor Massad sits in the front row.
The church’s Sunday service held via Zoom on October 8, one day after the Hamas attacks, included not only an hour and a half of prayer for those on all sides of the conflict but also the annual time of remembrance for Rami Ayyad, one of the church leaders who worked as manager of the Christian bookstore run by the church until he was martyred in an execution-style killing by Islamic militants on October 7, 2007. “If we allow bitterness and hatred to control us, we lose effectiveness in the kingdom of God,” Pastor Massad told Pastor Foley. “What does God have for us? It is much better than anything in this world. We don’t want anything to affect this intimate relationship with God.”
Meeting by Zoom has its limits as a means of maintaining intimacy, so Pastor Massad continues to encourage the congregation to gather together whenever it can. 50 to 60 congregation members are usually able to gather together when he visits. “It is good for them to be together in a church building to encourage each other,” says Pastor Massad. “It is better than being isolated.” Now, however, some congregation members have been displaced from their homes and have had to move to the area near the Greek Orthodox church. Pastor Massad told Pastor Foley that these days meeting at the Gaza Baptist Church building is impractical. “It’s located next to a police station, so it’s not safe to meet,” he said, adding, “There is no safe place in Gaza.” He told Pastor Foley that damage to the church building has so far been minimal. “There is some broken glass, and the solar panel is broken,” he said. Damage may be worse now, he said; it has been too dangerous for church members to go check during the past several days.
With electricity among the many things in short supply in Gaza, Pastor Massad says some church members are having a harder time joining the Zoom calls. “Today we had a trauma counseling session on Zoom with a friend who is a counselor, but some members couldn’t connect because of no electricity,” Pastor Massad told Pastor Foley. “As we talk with people, mental health is a concern.”
Gaza Baptist Church front entrance (file photo)
Pastor Massad said that the church’s connection with Christians outside of Gaza helps. In addition to the hundred families who participate in the church from the West Bank, Pastor Massad told Pastor Foley that the 700 Iraqi refugee families living in Jordan are a regular encouragement. “The Lord connected us through pain and suffering,” he said.
“This is the beauty of the body of Christ, to see the family of God—how we are connected,” Pastor Massad told Pastor Foley. “This is really one of the main things that helps me personally and also maybe other Christians who feel lonely or isolated sometimes, to realize that you are a part of the bigger body, the body of Christ. And this continues to inspire us, how the Lord brings wonderful brothers and sisters into our life, to inspire us and encourage us with their sympathy and their care.”
Gaza Christian martyr Rami Ayyad, one of the leaders of the Gaza Baptist Church and also the manager of its Christian bookstore before he was killed in an execution-style death by Muslim militants on October 7, 2007.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea is preparing an emergency love offering for Gaza Baptist Church, in honor of the sixteenth anniversary of Rami Ayyad’s martyrdom and in recognition of the church’s special difficulties and opportunities during the present conflict. Pastor Foley says that those who are interested in contributing to the love offering can make their donation at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or give via electronic transfer to:
- 국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303 예금주 (Account holder): (사)순교자의소리 Please include the phrase “Middle East” on the donation.