Churches caught in the middle after more than a month of clashes between Hezbollah and the Israeli army. Christians pray for peace.
As missiles flew between the two Middle Eastern nations, church members on both sides of the border were trapped in their homes.
“People have been hiding for 26 days now,” Bishara Bishara told The Christian Chronicle in a recent interview from Nazareth, Israel, the biblical city that was Jesus’ hometown.
Air raid sirens sounded almost daily, and families huddled in the southernmost corners of their homes. The recent ceasefire did little to ease their concerns.
“We are praying for many things — not just for our safety,” said Bishara, a member of the Nazareth church. Church members see images of the devastation in Lebanon and mourn for the innocent lives lost, he said.
“We are afraid for the future. Nobody knows what will happen next.”
ISRAEL: ATTACKS HINDER CHURCH’S WORK
Before the attacks, the Nazareth church was enjoying one of the best years in its history, according to minister Maurice Jadon.
The congregation had grown to about 50 members, and visitors from the United States had energized the believers. Guests from Harding University Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tenn., had just returned home when Hezbollah fighters launched rockets into northern Israel and seized two Israeli soldiers, insisting on a prisoner exchange with the Israeli government. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert characterized the attack as an act of war.
In the weeks of violence that followed, Hezbollah missiles struck a village two miles from Elaboun, home of the church-run Galilee Christian High School. A 15-year-old girl died and at least 20 people were wounded, Jadon said. Another missile struck downtown Nazareth and killed two children. Bishara’s wife and daughter were a few blocks away.
The attacks have killed Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, said Bishara, retired principal of the Galilee school. The attacks also have hindered the congregation’s evangelism, Jadon said. The church continues to host worship and prayer meetings, but many of the members are staying home.
Church members are praying for their nation’s leaders to be peacemakers “so we can get back to our work for the Lord,” Jadon said.
Mitch Holman, a church member from Savannah, Ga., was evacuated from Tel Aviv, Israel, where he works for an airplane manufacturing company, as the attacks began. He and his family stayed up until 2 a.m. “closing up the house and packing for an indefinite stay ‘elsewhere,’” Holman said. The family has returned to Savannah and is waiting for clearance to return to Israel.
Small Churches of Christ meet throughout Israel. Some are entirely Arab. Others are composed of expatriates from African countries, including Ghana. Several U.S. churches support the work of Joseph Shulam, who ministers to a group of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
But there’s little interaction among the ethnic groups, said Greg Nance, minister for the Signal Mountain, Tenn., church, which supports Jadon. Nance, who has made several trips to the region, said Christians struggle with Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.”
“There is even distrust between the Jewish Christians and the Palestinian Christians,” Nance said. “It’s a tough place. If there ever is peace and love there, it will be an act of God on a par with the greatest miracles of Scripture.”
LEBANON: BURNING SKIES, SHATTERED LIVES
Missionary Carl Matheny and his family planted a church in Lebanon in 1961, and a few years later Bob Douglas launched the Middle East Training College there. Church members sent Bible correspondence courses to people in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
But political upheavals in the region forced the Americans to leave and scattered native church members. Today there are no known Churches of Christ in Lebanon, said Evertt Huffard, dean of the Harding Graduate School of Religion and a former missionary to the Middle East.
Jurdi, separated from her fiance by 6,900 miles, was baptized at the Hillcrest church while earning a degree at Abilene Christian University.
She first met Hinson when he was working as a checker at an Abilene grocery store. He dazzled her with the few Arabic phrases he had picked up working as a missionary in Malaysia. The couple plans to marry later this year.
Jurdi was scheduled to return to Texas in August, but was in the middle of the visa application process when the attacks started. Now the Beirut International Airport is in ruins, and Israel recently bombed the bridges between Lebanon and neighboring Syria.
Hinson posts updates from Jurdi on his Web site, http://caroline.curtishinson.com. Members of the South 11th and Willis church, where Jurdi attended while in Abilene, have added messages of support.
Words of thanks to the church members accompany Jurdi’s descriptions of smoke-filled skies and devastated families.
“I am deeply touched by all the sweet people — strangers and friends alike — who’ve expressed their concern for me and my family,” she said.
“My heart breaks for the innocently departed, and I thank the Lord for having protected my family so far.”
Sept. 1, 2006
(Photo caption: Bishara Bishara, center, EverttHuffard (right of Bishara) and the leaders of the Nazareth Church ofChrist in Israel, just before the month-long conflict between Hezbollahand the Israeli army. (Photo submitted by Evertt Huffard)