Sharing The Gospel in the Gaza Strip
Hanna Massad (Ph.D., 2000) ministers in one of the most difficult areas on earth. The 42-year-old pastor leads Gaza Baptist Church, the only evangelical church in the 224-square-mile Gaza Strip -- the most densely populated piece of real estate in the world with more than 1.2 million Palestinians and 5,000 Jewish settlers. This human pressure cooker is more crowded than Singapore or Hong Kong or even Manhattan.
Gaza is an area from six to 10 miles wide and 30 miles long surrounded by the Mediterranean Ocean on one side and Israel on the other. Yet 42 percent of this land is off-limits to the Palestinians because of Israeli-controlled settlements, buffer zones, and roads.
Life is a struggle for most. Few roads are paved and untreated refuse and rotting food line most streets. Unemployment in Gaza has reached 75 percent. Many of these have lost their jobs due to roadblocks, checkpoints and travel restrictions. More than 60 percent of the people live in squalid, overcrowded refugee camps filled with persons whose homes were destroyed as a result of Israeli retaliation strikes and bulldozers.
The impoverished Palestinians who live in Gaza are never sure when the next bombs will strike or what the intended targets will be. Massad's church is located just 150 yards from the Palestinian Authority Police Station and has suffered damage from several attacks on the station.
"In some of the homes around my church you cannot prevent yourself from crying. More than 10 people sleep in one room, the father is sick and not working, living in another refuge camp," Massad says. "The general feeling among all of us Gazans today is utter fatigue and exhaustion with the horrible siege we still live under, and because of our abysmal economic situation."
Yet over the past year, hardship increased for Massad. In the fall of 2001, three months after his wedding to Kuwaiti-born Suhad Salsa, Suhad went to Amman, Jordan, to visit family. When she tried to return to Gaza she could not get her visa renewed.
Massad hired an attorney, who filed a petition in the Israeli courts to let his wife return. A year later, the situation looked so hopeless that Massad seriously considered abandoning his church in Gaza and moving to Amman. But last August, Massad's lawyer successfully appealed his case to the Israeli Supreme Court, which finally ruled that Suhad could return to Gaza, and she rejoined her husband in September.
Today Massad and his wife continue their active ministry in the difficult Gaza Strip. "Our church's activities and ministry continue every day in spite of the difficult situation we live in every day from Sunday to Saturday," he says.
His church feeds about 100 families per month, including both Christian and Muslim families. In addition, Massad teaches about 10 young men called to full-time Christian service, he teaches two nights a week at the Gaza extension campus of the Bethlehem Bible College, and he is teaching leadership principles to Palestinian Authority personnel on Saturday mornings.
This fall, Massad partnered with Christian Mission to Gaza and other Christian organizations in Gaza, which distributed food to about 145 Christian families, and also provided medical treatment and other necessities to poor families.
The fruits of Massad's labor is starting to pay off. On October 20, Massad says his church baptized three people and up to 15 more people are waiting to be baptized.