AZERIYA, West Bank (BP)–Jesus wept in Bethany. Sam Gore did, too.
Gore, pastor of Collins Grove Baptist Church in Holly Springs, N.C., knows the meaning of deep grief. His 16-year-old son died seven years ago.
So he knew tears were sometimes the only appropriate response as he listened to the struggles of Palestinian families in Azeriya — the biblical town of Bethany, where Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead after weeping with his grieving family.
“In one home, the woman couldn’t even raise her head,” said Gore, part of a North Carolina volunteer team that delivered food coupons to needy families in Palestinian towns in early July.
“Her husband divorced her, and only her neighbors are keeping her alive. I couldn’t speak. It just broke my heart.”
In another home, a couple with seven children — including newborn twins with birth defects — face debts they cannot pay. Because of Israeli military curfews and travel restrictions, the father has worked barely 30 days since the beginning of the year.
“I go to the market, and they give me food and say, ‘Pay when you have money,'” the father explained. “But there is no work. We need to live like human beings. We don’t want trouble with anyone; we don’t care about the politics. We just want to live.”
Down the street, an elderly Christian widow sits alone in her house. Rejected by her son, she feels rejected by God. “I used to pray in church every day,” she said. But now she cannot reach her church, which lies beyond the military checkpoint. “I have stopped praying,” she said sadly.
But she prayed with Gore, and when he rose to depart she kissed him on both cheeks in gratitude.
In a nearby Palestinian town, a Muslim man admitted he regularly sneaks around Israeli military checkpoints to work at his long-time job in Jerusalem. He’s been caught five times, roughed up by Israeli soldiers and let go with a warning. But he continues to run the blockade; he doesn’t know how else to feed his children.
“I’m always afraid I’ll be caught and thrown into prison,” he said. “Then what will happen to my family?”
In a Gaza refugee camp, a woman cried “You are from God!” when a volunteer team arrived with food. She had nothing for her children except four tiny tomatoes.
In another camp, Mohammed Mughari, age 75, told visiting volunteers he had been a refugee for 54 years since being forced from his ancestral home in Ashkelon.
“I ask God that this will be over,” he said. “The news tells us we have no hope. The world has forgotten us.”
When a volunteer told him he has a future and a hope in God’s care, he smiled. “Inshallah,” he said — “as God wills.”
In community seminars around Gaza, Tennessee Baptist crisis counselors Dan and Barbara Clevenger met with many Palestinian parents. As violence goes on and on, their children exhibit classic post-traumatic stress symptoms — hyperactivity, sleeplessness, nightmares, irrational terror of being alone.
“One mother told us, ‘My daughter won’t go to bed alone. She’s frightened,'” Clevenger reported. When they questioned her further, the mother revealed that an Israeli rocket had exploded 20 meters from the girl’s room.
“We’re not terrorists,” said another woman, echoing many others. “We want peace. We want our children to live in security.”
These families, like the Israelis targeted daily by Palestinian terrorists and suicide bombers, are innocent bystanders — unwilling participants in a seemingly endless war beyond their control.
“Both the Palestinians and Israelis are victims,” said a Southern Baptist worker with close friends in both camps. “Let’s pray for the Jews, but also for Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Let’s pray for all peoples.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CITY OF THE BOOK, PRAY AND WEEP and O JERUSALEM.