Brian Stiller Shares a Glimpse of Christianity in the Holy Land

Brian C. Stiller is global ambassador for The World Evangelical Alliance. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

I find it ironic that where Jesus was raised—in the backyard of his earthly life—Evangelical churches were disallowed status to marry, own buildings, and even have a bank account.

The good story is that which once was, no longer is.

The good news came in November by way of Pastor Munir Kakish at the WEA’s General Assembly in Indonesia. He told me the story and then opened a leather-bound folder. There, he proudly showed me, was the signature of President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

What I saw was what many Christians for 12 years had prayed for. This declaration gives legal status and governmental recognition to a national alliance called Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land.

And this is a very big deal.

For these churches, their pastors and members, this was such a sweet moment. For 12 years, Pastor Kakish—president of this newly formed alliance of Evangelical churches—knocked with regularity at the doors of government, gently but with determination and with a good dose of religious stubbornness.

His point to the government was that as Palestinians, we can better serve our community when you allow our churches to join together as an Evangelical Alliance. He also argued to the PA that not only does it allow Evangelical churches to speak with a single voice to government and the broader society, but it also gives government access to this community of Christians with just one call.

Forty years ago, among 50,000 self-identified Christians in a land of 4.5 million (mostly Muslims) Evangelical churches were planted. They started in small tents, moving eventually into homes and, in time, to small rented buildings. Living in the wide swings of Israeli/Palestinian attempts to craft national boundaries and identities, these small and fragile churches grew, serving people and their needs.

But they suffered under three issues which would discourage most pastors.

First, the area know as the West Bank is a Muslim world. Even though their homes are in the land of Jesus, Islam dominates in a relatively benevolent, but overpowering manner. The Christian community is dominated by historic churches: various Orthodox and Roman Catholic.

In 2018, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed down by the government because the churches which oversee it had not paid their taxes. To get a picture of this cultural reality, Google the groups which oversee the Holy Sepulchre Church and read of their fractious fights and debates.

The Holy Land is as complex a region as one can find. Crowded land. Relatively small populations. Yet the multiple layers of control, ownership, and historical memory, inter- and intra- religious hostilities so often becomes the ruling narrative.

In that world are small but visible and vocal Evangelical churches— Palestinian followers of Jesus. They are often caught between Christians who believe Israel has total land rights and those who defend Palestinians, these growing churches seek a place of influence, looking for ways to make known the gospel of the One raised in their neighborhood.

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Source: Christianity Today