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Lone Baptist church in Gaza hard hit in war, future uncertain

The building of Gaza Baptist Church has sustained major damage in the Israel-Hamas war. Photo from Hanna Massad

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (BP) – Gaza Baptist Church, established by Southern Baptists in 1954 and the lone Baptist church in Gaza, has been heavily damaged in the Israel-Hamas War, former pastor Hanna Massad told Baptist Press.

“There’s lots of damage in the church. God willing, we will wait until the war is over and then … repair the damage,” Massad said, but it is uncertain how many of the church’s 60 members will remain in Gaza. “There are many Christian families in the Christian community in Gaza who already have visas to travel abroad. But I’m sure … still some Christian people (will) stay in Gaza.”

U.S.-based Christian Mission to Gaza has been distributing food, clothing and other necessities to Gazans amid the ongoing conflict.

No one is believed to have been inside the church when the damage occurred. About 70 people tried sheltering at the church – perhaps during the Israeli ceasefire in November 2023 – but evacuated when war again intensified in the area. The exact date of the damage is uncertain, but it likely occurred before Christmas, Massad said.

As frequently as the war allows, Massad continues to minister to Baptists and other Christians sheltered at St. Porphyrios Greek Orthodox Church and the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, delivering hot meals, clothing, groceries and direct financial assistance to families through the U.S.-based Christian Mission to Gaza he founded.

“I keep in touch with the people almost (on a) daily basis,” Massad told Baptist Press, noting the more than 1,700 hot meals delivered in the span of two weeks in January. “We are able to help with winter clothes and groceries and other necessities as much as we able to, under these difficult circumstances, in the time of the war.”

As the war speeds into its fifth month, the Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry (PHM) reported more than 26,000 deaths in Gaza through mid-January. More than 64,400 have been injured, thousands more missing and presumed dead, the PHM has reported. About 240 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive, Israel’s military has reported.

Southern Baptists continue to minister to survivors.

Texas Baptist Men (TBM) in particular has served 750,000 hot meals through its main partner the Emergency Volunteer Project in Israel, TBM Associate Executive Director John-Travis Smith told Baptist Press.

A dozen TBM volunteers are preparing to return to the West Bank Feb. 17 for a week, Smith said, with TBM planning for teams to minister onsite monthly as the war continues. A secure compound on the West Bank can house up to 20 TBM volunteers, Smith said.

“We were certainly one of the only groups that had actual Americans on the ground, feeding survivors and people that need help – face to face,” Smith said of TBM, which had a team in place days after the war began. “Because of our partnership, we already had all the resources and the apparatus to get help where it was needed and exactly when it was needed. We literally were feeding the next day, right after the attacks happened. Our (TBM) team followed up; they were in just a day or two right after.”

Volunteers prepared meals that mobile kitchen units delivered to evacuees closer to Gaza while allowing for safety.

“The military would not let us get into Gaza proper, but they would truck in the food for us if that’s what we wanted to do,” Smith said. “But we always want to guarantee where that’s going and where that’s going to get. There were so many people in shelters across the country, so we were kind of in the north and in the south.

“We take the security and the safety of our people very seriously.”

Send Relief, the humanitarian ministry administered through the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, continues to provide humanitarian aid to Israel-Hamas War refugees, said Jason Cox, vice president of Send Relief International.

“The Christian community in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank continues to be a light in the darkness,” Cox said, “and Send Relief’s work through long-term partnerships and churches in the region is crucial to not only providing much-needed support for them, but also allowing them to show the love of Christ to their neighbors who are suffering, too.

“Please pray for believers in Jesus who – amid this conflict – are finding ways to bring help and hope to those around them.”

Gaza Baptist Church continues to hold online Sunday worship services, but Baptists sheltering in Gaza aren’t able to access the services because of infrastructure challenges. Church supporters outside the war zone tune in, Hassad said.

Southern Baptists may support ministry in the region through donations to Send Relief, Texas Baptist Men, and Christian Mission to Gaza.