Gaza’s only Protestant church, damaged in latest Israel/Hamas conflict, carries on

The building of Gaza’s only Protestant church sustained minor damage in the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, but the one dozen remaining congregation members are continuing the church’s sizeable outreach ministries despite the risk.

The Lord is miraculously preserving a witness for himself in Gaza—that is the only possible explanation for the continued survival of Gaza Baptist Church. There are now fewer than 1,100 Christians living in Gaza amidst 2 million Muslim Palestinians. There is one Catholic church, one Orthodox church, and one Protestant Church: Gaza Baptist.

The church was founded in 1954 by Southern Baptist missionaries. Hanna Massad, who converted from Greek Orthodoxy to the Baptist faith in his youth, became the church’s first Gazan-born pastor, in 1987. The church grew to around 200 members by the early 2000’s and were meeting in a six-story building, which they still use. But in 2007, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, and Christians became subject to the severe religious restrictions of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Christians began to flee the territory. Pastor Massad himself was forced to relocate to the United States due to a series of violent attacks on the church’s building and members. A church-related bookstore, the only Christian bookstore in Gaza, was firebombed. Rami Ayyad, one of the church leaders, who also served as the bookstore’s manager, was martyred in an execution-style killing.

Today only about a dozen church members have been able to remain in Gaza, but Pastor Massad leads a weekly worship service via Zoom Conference call that brings together the local Gaza group with Gazan Christians who have been forced to flee from the territory. Each week the Zoom call strengthens the remaining local believers by keeping them connected in worship with the church’s ‘diaspora’ population in Australia, Europe, America, and across the Middle East.

The local church members continue to have an impact on Gaza that is far larger than their number. The church operates a school called the Lighthouse School, through which they make a tremendous Christian witness to the community. In 2006 they opened a library for the community, containing many Christian books. They distribute food and other aid to families in need, both Christian and Muslim. They help widows and orphans. There is even a support group for widows, which is run by the widow of martyr Rami Ayyad.

Voice of the Martyrs organizations worldwide have supported the church and its various ministries since 2007, when persecution intensified. Persecution of Christians in Gaza goes back to the time of the Roman empire, yet the Lord has never in history left himself without a witness in that region. But the fewer the believers that have been able to remain and survive, the more important it is for us to care for them. Most recently, Voice of the Martyrs Korea provided funding for the widows’ support group led by Pauline Ayyad. Now, as the church repairs its building from the latest round of conflict and as it continues its outreaches in these difficult times, we are inviting Christians around the world to join us in standing with them once again. So Voice of the Martyrs Korea is designating the donations to our Families and Martyrs and Prisoners fund on through the end of June for Gaza Baptist Church and all of its associated outreach ministries.

Those who are interested in helping the Christians in Gaza can make their donation at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or give via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303

예금주 (Account holder): (사)순교자의소리

Please include the phrase “FOM” on the donation (for “Families of Martyrs”).

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A Chinese pastor teaches the benefits of persecution to his congregation in the midst of their suffering

The administrative detention of two ministers of Beijing’s Zion Church by Chinese authorities earlier this month has prompted a response from Zion’s pastor: A letter to his congregation teaching the spiritual benefits of persecution.

“Those in chains for Christ will be completely free in Christ,” wrote Pastor “Ezra” Jin Mingri, in an open letter to Zion Church members on May 1, co-signed by the church’s elders and other pastors. The letter describes the April 28 arrest of Zion Church minister Qie Jiafu and his sentencing two days later to 10-day detention. The detention of another Zion Church minister, Huang Chunzi, who was detained until May 9, was later discovered after the church released the letter.

Pastor Ezra’s letter is extraordinary by modern standards, but in fact it is a good example of what was very common in the early days of the church, including the letters we see in the Bible: Pastors writing to their congregations, often from prison, helping them understand and rejoice in persecution and not be afraid.

We regularly receive letters at VOM Korea from persecuted pastors asking for our help with legal or political intervention in their cases. Such requests are important, but they can also overlook the pastor’s role to teach the congregation that persecution is an unavoidable part of the Christian life and that it is often God’s catalyst for individual and congregational growth.

In his letter, Pastor Ezra directs the congregation to pray that God uses the detention of Minister Qie Jiafu to bring revival to Zion Church. He assures the congregation that Minister Qie Jiafu himself is certainly being spiritually revived by God through his detention. And he says that persecution raises a question for believers: “What cost [price] does our faith deserve?”

It is a good question not only for Zion Church members but also for us.

Zion Church was one of Beijing’s largest megachurches, gathering more than 1,500 in attendance on Sundays until September 2018, at which point the building was shut down by authorities. Since then, the church has met outdoors and in small groups in believer’s homes, with authorities periodically detaining church leaders for various alleged offenses.

But Pastor Ezra’s letter shows something that we are seeing across China today in the churches where the Communist authorities are cracking down the hardest; namely, those persecuted churches are become much stronger spiritually. As Pastor Ezra says in his letter, quoting the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:58, they are becoming “steadfast and immovable”. Church members are learning to worship indoors, outdoors, in their homes, in the streets, with ministers, without ministers, with their family members, and even in prison. It’s certainly not the outcome the authorities were expecting or hoping for. But it’s an outcome that we Christians should have been able to predict from reading the Bible.

The full congregational letter from Pastor Jin to Zion Church follows.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Greetings from your grateful pastors,

The persecution which began in 2018 seems to have reemerged in Spring 2021. We have learned that many churches and Christians across the country have been raided. So grateful that God uses us—a small vessel and lets us have share in the hardship.

On the evening of April 28, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) security agents seized Minister Qie Jiafu. During the early morning of April 30, officials announced that he would be administratively detained for 10 days. Today marks the first day of his custody at the detention center. Many faithful stewards and maids of God in China have walked this path before Qie, and their path was tougher than today’s. We will witness that people who tread the path [of persecution] will bear good changes, for instance, God will refine their hearts, and build their characters. He will increase their love for Christ and hope for His kingdom.

We believe that our Lord is shaping our beloved Brother in this way.

Not only that, we with our detained Brothers and their families in Christ, pray. May the Lord answer our prayers to encourage them, comfort them, and accompany them. We look forward to the great joy of reuniting with them.

Please intercede with us for the following three prayer requests:

Pray that we may meet with Brother Qie soon. We went to the designated detention center, but officials couldn’t find Brother Qie’s information in their system. Detention center staff said that no visits nor phone calls are allowed during custody. Also, guards will not allow anyone to deliver anything to him nor deposit money (a small amount of money for the use at the detention center) on his account. We are making efforts in the hope that we will see Brother Qie soon.

Thank God for the protection over Brother Qie’s family, particularly the peace God has granted to his wife. His family has cancelled some of their big plans because of detention. At this time, Brother Qie cannot fulfill his responsibilities to his family. May the Lord give his family wisdom and stamina. Also, pray that the Lord dispatch many angels to help them.

Pray that God uses this recent turmoil to revive us. The event as such reminds us that spiritual warfare is fiercely taking place throughout this land. God compels each of us to think: What on Earth do we believe? What cost [price] does our faith deserve?

As long as we can breathe, we must preach the gospel, pastor flocks of sheep, and serve the world. Let us not forget the reminder from the disciples: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” [1 Cor 15:58]

Jin Mingri, lead pastor of Zion Church
Pastors, Elders, and Committee of Zion Church

The release of Minister Huang Chunzi on May 9 and Minister Qie Jiafu on May 10 was confirmed by contacts in China.

Individuals interested in donating to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work in partnership with the house church Christians of China can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or give via electronic transfer to:

KB Bank: 463501-01-243303

Account Holder: (사)순교자의소리

Please note “China” on the transfer.

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As Russia-Ukraine tensions soar, VOMK joins major emergency Bible distribution in the region

The long-simmering conflict between Russia and Ukraine saw tensions reach their highest levels since 2014 this week, as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops amassed on the Ukraine border in what Russia described as a “snap inspection” of its military readiness in the region. The action drew calls of concern from the United States and the European Union until Russia ordered the troops to return to their home bases.

But the action has drawn a different response from Voice of the Martyrs Korea. We have joined an international coalition of ministries committed to an emergency distribution of 100,000 children’s New Testaments throughout Eastern Ukraine as soon as possible.

Too often we Christians have a wrong thinking that Bible distribution must wait or be postponed until a conflict or war is over, as if political peace is necessary to first make an area “safe” for the Bible. In truth, the Word of God is always our only hope for true peace, and it is God’s word that makes an area “safe” for peace.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea sees Bible distribution in major zones of conflict as one of the ministry’s core competencies and most important responsibilities. We are not a mission organization but instead a partner with local Christians living under persecution or pressure. Any time a major conflict threatens an area, that’s when people in that area instinctively turn to God and become open to the Bible. They’re looking for hope. Sometimes missionary organizations evacuate their personnel in such times, or they urge their missionaries to be cautious. But local Christians have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. They still have to go to work and to the market and to church. God then seems to give these ordinary local Christians a special boldness to preach the gospel and share the Bible with their neighbors.

The present situation in Eastern Ukraine is one such opportunity. Since fighting broke out in 2014, evangelical Christians in the area have faced sporadic raids, arrests, worship bans, seizure of church property, and kidnappings of pastors. That means that for children who are elementary school age or younger, all they have known in their lives is fear and conflict. This month that international tension reached its worst levels since 2014. We believe that, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, these kids have “studied war” long enough. It’s time for them to be able to study Jesus.

The emergency Bible distribution project has set the goal of distributing 100,000 “Action Bible” New Testaments to children in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions through a coalition including Voice of the Martyrs Canada, Mission Eurasia, and School Without Walls. The distribution, to be undertaken on a continual basis throughout the summer and early fall as funds come in, will utilize existing field networks and workers specially trained in reaching youth in the area. The Action Bible uses a graphic novel format to portray scripture in a popularized comic book-type format.

The cost for distributing each Action Bible New Testament in this emergency campaign is 1,500 KRW (roughly $1.35 USD). Individuals interested in donating to help the distribution effort can give at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303

예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리

Please include the word “Bibles” on the donation.

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