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Arson blamed in fire at Baptist center in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza (BP)–Arson has severely damaged a reading and ministry center operated by Southern Baptists in Gaza City.
The fire at the Center of Culture and Light destroyed 40 to 50 percent of its 11,964 books and all of its 274 videos, said Southern Baptist representative Paul Lawrence. Police are investigating the fire, which was started in two places in the center between noon and 2 p.m. Aug. 10.
“Most of the books are in Arabic, and many are irreplaceable because they are no longer in print,” Lawrence said.
A television, video cassette recorder and computer were stolen at the same time, leading police to believe theft was the motivation for the fire, Lawrence said.
Arson also was blamed in a 1992 fire that heavily damaged the center. Southern Baptist representatives opened the Center of Culture and Light in 1968 and since then it has remained the only general public library in the Gaza Strip.
In the first six months of 1997 the library had counted 12,300 visits from its more than 9,000 card-carrying members. “The library has had a wonderful opportunity to serve the people of Gaza,” Lawrence said. It already had added 464 new books to its collection this year.
But the reading center also has been a ministry center.
Clem and Linda Edwards and Shana Hall, workers assigned through Southern Baptists’ International Service Corps program, have taught English to 50 students this spring. They worked with several Southern Baptist career representatives and five workers serving through the Baptist Student Union summer missionary program to help operate an English-language camp for fifth and sixth graders at the library.
Former International Service Corps worker Glenn Glover returned to Gaza for seven weeks this summer to teach an intensive English course for 22 secondary school students at the center.
English classes provide an effective way for Southern Baptist workers to discuss the Christian faith with Muslim Palestinians. Learning English is a critical part of university education for many Muslims, who must pass an English comprehension test to qualify for some universities.
Southern Baptist workers in Gaza are determined that the fire will not be the death of the center. “Clean-up work has begun,” he said.

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