“The bridges of reconciliation have been knocked down,” claims an Arab Baptist pastor. “Both sides have darkened this opportunity with their satanic ways. We condemn the suicide bombers and the Israeli military!”
“We believe in the right of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Israel to exist, but this is not a time for nationalism and patriotism,” the pastor continues. “This is a time when evangelical Christians can call for a new patriotism that all can find in Jesus Christ!”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
I recently met with some Baptist leaders from Israel and talked with them about their history and traditions, the recent tragedies and their plans and strategies for the future.
Baptists in the Middle East often find themselves caught in the middle of a fight which is not theirs. Christians are a small minority of the overall population, and Baptists but a small minority of that minority.
The Baptist World Alliance has five members from the Middle East, with over 5,000 members in over 60 churches. Egypt claims 12 churches and 500 members; Jordan, 15 churches and 1,500 members; Lebanon, 19 churches and 1,600 members; Syria, 4 churches and 150 members; and Israel, 12 churches and 1,500 members. While most members are Arab, there are two Spanish churches, one Russian and also a Philippino church.
The Association of Baptist Churches in Israel (ABCI) has churches in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Nazareth, Cana, Touran, Jerusalem, Akko, Rama and Aylaboun. This is the largest group of evangelical churches in Israel, and its work includes an evangelical school of over 1,000 students in the center of Nazareth for 5–18 year olds. There are strong links with small Baptist communities in the West Bank and Gaza.
Living in a multi-faith and multi-cultural society can be tough, and Baptists often find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Wisdom and care are needed when sharing Jesus with family, friends and neighbors. Also, Western television and culture are challenging the Arabic believers’ strong moral and family values.
Baptists started work in Israel in the 1920s, through the work of Southern Baptist missionaries. There are now links with a number of Baptist groups around the world, and my recent conversations took place with leaders of a special twinning arrangement between some British churches and the ABCI.
This program will provide the opportunity for church-to-church partnerships; pastors scholarships; exchange of mission teams—Israel to the UK, and UK to Israel; and sponsorship of children at the Nazareth Baptist School.
Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, issued a pastoral letter to Baptists in Israel and the Middle East. He appealed to the governments of the Middle East, Europe and North America to use their influence “to call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied areas. Furthermore, we call upon our brothers and sisters in Palestine to condemn suicide bombers as an attack upon the dignity of humanity.”
Calling for prayer vigils for peace and justice among the worldwide Baptist family, Lotz also assured the believers there of the love and prayers of Baptists during this tragic war “which now engulfs the cities where our Lord Jesus Christ walked and where he called for peace, righteousness and reconciliation.”
Baptist World Aid is committed to working with Baptists in the Middle East to bring relief and assurance to those who have been, and are, suffering.
Paul Montacute has been director of Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance, since 1990.
For further information on Baptist World Aid, and on making a donation, visit www.bwanet.ord/bwaid.
For information on the British Baptist church-to-church twinning opportunities with Israel, contact Peter Eyre (email@example.com).