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"God still works amid the hopelessness of this nation"

A thriving Baptist church in Gaza, why Christians are called to speak out against injustice in Israel-Palestine, and an issue that isn’t black and white.... an interview with Jack Sara.


Palestinian Christian the Revd Dr Jack Sara is President of Bethlehem Bible College. He was born and raised in Jerusalem, addressed delegates at this year’s Baptist Assembly, and spoke to BMS World Mission about Israel-Palestine, life for his people and the Christian call to stand against injustice. The interview is reproduced with permission.

What should people know about the Israelis and the Palestinians?

There are people who always interpret life as the good people and the bad people: that these are the good people, the Israelis, and these are the bad people, the Arabs and Muslims. Yet, when you come on the ground you see a different fact. You see Muslims who are seeking peace, Muslims who are willing to really build bridges and move on, even with all the loss and compromise.

What about Palestinian believers?

There are Palestinian Christians. Even in Gaza there is a Baptist church, which has been in existence for over 50 years amidst all the hardships. It’s the hardest place you could be in. 1.7 million people live there, 99.9 per cent Muslim, only about 2,000 Christians. And in the hardest of circumstances you see a small church thriving – 70 or 80 people, coming together every Sunday, worshiping the Lord and trying every initiative possible to help their people. You find a zeal; we want to reach our people for Christ.

What’s life like for them?

It’s not the easiest context. It’s like there is an illogical border that was built by Israel, all across the West Bank. It just locks in the Palestinians. And the major thing that defines the details of the lives of the Palestinians is the checkpoint. Some of the checkpoints are between Palestinians and Palestinians, not only Palestinians and Israelis.

You add to this the control of water, the control of electricity, the control of food, because the checkpoint is not just about the movement of humans, but the movement of everything you need. For example, in the area where Bethlehem Bible College is, the water comes once a month because of a political decision. We are sitting on a big reservoir of water. Water is not scarce, but Israel decides when the water should come and when the water should be off. It’s the unpredictability of life, the fear for safety for your children and for the future, and as a result the economy always deteriorating.

I’m not trying to pain a bleak, hopeless situation, because God still works amidst the hopelessness of this nation. Our lives and the existence of Bethlehem Bible College, for example – and the several churches that I can see – are a sign of God really moving into this hopelessness with hope.

Why do you think it’s important to speak out about the injustices occurring in Israel-Palestine?

The prophets never stopped talking prophetically, even to the kings about the injustices they committed. I would say, biblically speaking, we have a mandate as Christians across all borders to speak against any injustice. If the Palestinians commit injustices I cannot stay silent. It’s not an Israeli-Palestinian issue, it’s a global thing.

As Christians, can we stay silent about the injustices that are being committed against the Palestinians? Can we stay silent about all the suffering of people, people who are being harassed for nothing, little children who are being shot at for nothing? Christians really need to have a different outlook on the world and see the world through God’s eyes. If they could forget all the politics, they’d see people as people: as Israelis, Jews, Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, all through one lens, without saying this is black and this is white, this is good and this is bad. See them all as in need of God’s grace, and ask, how can I, as a Christian, participate in bringing the best for these people?

We shouldn’t let the world silence us from speaking the truth. We shouldn’t let the pressures or the consequences silence us from standing for the truth. And of course our highest aim is to see people ushered into the kingdom of God. More important for me than accomplishing a political purpose is impacting my nation for Christ. However, sometimes when people’s stomachs are empty it’s hard for them to listen to you.

Lots of Christians come to visit Israel-Palestine to walk where Jesus walked. What would your message be to them?

My invitation is that they don’t just come as tourists but, more than just seeing the dead stones of the Holy Land, they need to connect with the living stones. There are all sorts of churches that are working there to advance the gospel. Connect with them. It’s easy to find them, google them. Come and meet Christians, meet Messianic believers, meet Palestinian Christians.

Do you think that would encourage Palestinian Christians?

A lot. We do feel isolated a lot of the time because of the political viewpoint that a lot of Christians have taken, basically siding with Israel. It seems like, if I love one people I don’t like the others; if I side with one side, I don’t want to associate with the other. This is wrong. If people are really concerned about the work of the gospel they should connect with both peoples. I think that’s important.

What can we pray for?

Pray for the Palestinian Christians, that God will give them the wisdom to be voices of peace, and at the same time to work diligently to bring the gospel to people who are in need of it. Pray that the Lord will use the church to be a vessel of change in the whole nation.

This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission

BMS World Mission, 23/06/2014
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