As the news networks continue to report the latest bloody clashes between the Israel Defence Forces and Hamas-backed Palestinian protesters in the wake of the U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem, there is an important factor to consider: there are evangelical Christians in the West Bank.
Despite the fact that the majority of those residing in the Palestinian territories are staunch adherents to the Islamic faith, there are pockets of Christian community who are witnessing the love of Christ in one of the most heavily-contested pieces of land on earth.
One of these Jesus-followers is Pastor Danny Awad of The Baraka Bible Presbyterian Church, which is just down the road from Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Messiah. And what of Awad’s Church? Well, it is distinctly evangelical. The small congregation hammers out hymns, declares timeless Biblical truths and lifts high the name of Jesus in their worship services. The one difference? “The Palestinian flag that hangs prominently from the pulpit,” writes Dan Rabb at Religion News Service.
With that being said, there are a few Americans who venture to the contested territories to minister alongside Awad and his congregation. Pastor Marty Duren of Nashville visited Baraka Church and was taken aback by the fervent nature of their faith, and their willingness to allow him free reign in the pulpit. Indeed, despite the church being innately similar to his congregation back in the U.S., Pastor Duren told Religion News Service that Palestinian Christians are often far from the minds of American evangelicals – something he finds very bizarre.
“Palestinian Christians are just totally absent from American evangelical thought,” he said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but in my experience, I think most don’t think about or know that there are Christians in the West Bank at all.”
Awad himself is baffled by the fact that despite the incredible tide of evangelical support enjoyed by the State of Israel, the Christians worshipping in the West Bank continue to go largely unnoticed. What is even more bemusing to this local pastor is the penchant that many American Christians harbor for visiting the hallowed religious sites of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
“They go there to worship at the dead stones of the Jews,” he said. “But they ignore us: the living stone, the living body of Christ.”
“I ask people: Do you think Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania?” he quipped.
Of course, for many evangelical Christians, the developing role of Israel in the context of the wider geopolitical landscape is exceptionally important for their interpretation of the “End Times.” In short, for many Christians, the mass repatriation of Jews to the Holy Land is an essential prerequisite for an impending Armageddon and the culmination of all things in Christ – i.e. the Second Coming of Jesus.
But for Pastor Kevin Brown of the Perfecting Church in Sewell, New Jersey, visiting Awad’s church and immersing himself in this community of faith caused him to fundamentally reassess his theological outlook on the role of Israel in the End Times.
“Jesus is returning,” he said. “Other than that, I let go of the speculative theology that was dictating to me how I saw this part of the world.”
For Awad, however, it is less about shifting eschatology or even changing American evangelical attitudes toward Israel – it is all about being recognized as fellow followers of Christ. Indeed, it is clear that when evangelical preachers come to visit his church, they are amazed by the gracious, compassionate and loving people that make up the congregation.
“That preacher now knows that they exist,” noted Rabb of the visiting pastors; it is enough that they know they have “brothers and sisters in Christ — invisible behind the wall.”