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Escaping violence in Gaza, West Bank, IMB workers ask believers to pray

TEL AVIV, Israel (BP)–“I don’t feel in any danger, however our team has discussed evacuation procedures. I love my home here and the people, and at this point have no plans to leave … [I] hope I don’t have to.”

Kim Taylor* wrote that e-mail message on Oct. 8. Four days later, the International Mission Board representative was forced to leave the Gaza Strip to escape fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.

Two weeks of bloody clashes between Israeli and Palestinian forces had left the Middle East peace agreement in tatters. At least 118 people, most of them Palestinians, had been killed.

IMB representatives forced to evacuate the West Bank and Gaza Strip are deeply concerned for those they left behind — and plead with Southern Baptists to pray for peace in that troubled land.

About a dozen workers living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip took the advice of the United States embassy and left their homes Oct. 12 and 13 as violence intensified. Packing hastily, they drove along back roads toward heavily guarded border crossings.

Though they expressed relief at getting away from the violence, their hearts were torn over the plight of friends and fellow believers they left behind.

“Despite the headaches of packing and leaving in a rush, the worst of it all was making a select few phone calls to local friends — people I might never see again if this is protracted,” wrote Candace Mitchell, another IMB worker. “For them to hear that we were leaving shattered them. They knew, of course, we had to go … yet how disheartening to know that we could leave and they were hedged in more than ever before.”

The morning of Oct. 12 began calmly, despite mounting tensions between Palestinians and Israelis. Some of the IMB representatives were returning from the market when they first heard sirens and saw the crowds. Sarah Jackson, who lives in the Gaza Strip, said she could see Israeli helicopters hovering over the area.

“Without warning, there was a huge explosion. At first I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I stood in my bedroom thinking that sounded like an explosion, but surely it couldn’t have been.”

It was.

The helicopters fired more than 20 rockets, hitting the police station, the radio and television studios and Yassar Arafat’s headquarters. Expatriates were told to stay inside and not leave until the fighting eased. Finally, the U.S. embassy gave them three hours to pack and evacuate.

Jackson said she and two other workers left in a car with Palestinian plates, driving slowly on the back roads with the headlights off. Although the Palestinian police waved the car through, the officers said they would never make it through the Israeli checkpoint.

“We told them we were willing to try and then began our walk through no-man’s land between the Palestinian territories and the Israeli territories,” she said. “The whole way we were not sure what was around the bend, or behind the rocks. [We] simply depended on God’s protection.”

When Jackson reached the Israeli checkpoint without incident, she and the other two had no problems gaining entrance. The U.S. embassy had called in advance to alert the Israelis to their arrival.

After they crossed the border, Jackson saw the first rays of the morning sun peak over the hills, signaling “the beginning of a new day in a land of questionable tomorrows,” she said. The full moon also shone brightly in the sky.

“It reminded me that God was there, looking down on us, watching and protecting us the entire way,” Jones said.

Mitchell left the Gaza Strip with 10 American Christians early Thursday evening. When they reached the Palestinian border, the guards warned the group that the last vehicle to cross into Israeli territory had been hit with gunfire. Nevertheless, the group safely crossed the border.

Once out of the combat zone, the Americans turned to mobilizing prayer for the Palestinians and Israelis.

“Let’s agree that somehow [God] will bring a new and great harvest from this and that eventually there will be two peoples peacefully living in this land side by side,” Mitchell wrote.

Remembering Psalm 121, Jackson wrote, “May the same God who kept his eye on us and protected us watch over his land, and bring peace to all those who dwell there.”

Regardless of personal views about who is right or wrong in the conflict, Jackson pleads for everyone to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

“For as King Hussein of Jordan said just before he died, ‘There can be no peace, harmony and justice for any of God’s children, until there is peace, harmony and justice for all of God’s children,'” she said.
* All names have been changed to protect the individuals quoted.

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  • Brittany Jarvis