He wrapped it back up in the cloth, put it carefully back in the hole in the wall, and covered it up with a brick. No one would ever guess it was there. Ali (not his real name) was fascinated by the Bible. He had downloaded a Bible app to his phone, but an uncle had seen it. The questioning began. It’s not acceptable to be seen with a Bible in Gaza.
“What are you doing with a Bible app? Why are you reading that? It’s not good for you!”
Ali responded to his agitated uncle that he’d been curious to compare passages with the Quran, to understand it better. He made his excuses as well as he could on the spot and seemed to have dodged the bullet. But he soon deleted the app.
Later someone brought that precious hard copy of the Bible to him. This is not easy to do in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. It was by decidedly clandestine means that Ali eventually received that Bible. He treasures that book greatly, pours over it, and draws life from its pages. But he has to keep it hidden at all costs.
There are a number Muslims in Gaza who have come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. They have been born again and we will embrace them in eternity as brothers and sisters.
They found our materials on social media in the Arabic language, broadcast out of Israel, and have seen the hope offered by the life-giving Gospel of Jesus. While they are effectively locked up in Gaza, Jesus brings true freedom.
Discipleship happens over the internet, and several have indicated that they want to be baptized. Some have been surreptitiously baptized in the sea. A friend who is able to enter the Gaza Strip headed to the home of one brother to meet and encourage him personally, and baptize him in a water barrel on the roof. However, he gradually realized he was being followed as he made his way there. The plan was suddenly aborted. There was no way he could lead Hamas officials to the house of a new believer. We had to think of another way to do it.
Being discovered as a Muslim background believer, someone who left Islam to follow Jesus, carries the death penalty. It can even be dangerous if members of your own family find out about your faith, as another man named Muhammed found out (again, not his real name). Muhammed lived in his brother’s house, and due to the close contact, his brother heard Muhammed talking about his faith in Jesus with his wife. The brother laid into him with fury—first with words, and then came the physical blows. Muhammed was violently attacked by his own brother before being thrown out of the house, along with his wife and children, into the streets. Mercifully the brothers have since reconciled and are living together again, but the scars remain.
Counting the cost
We have to be so careful as we support these new believers and help them learn how to follow Jesus in the Gaza Strip. We have to know with all our hearts that knowing Jesus is worth it: worth all the pain, worth all the cost, and worth even of life itself. Even as we are teaching brothers and sisters in Gaza, they are teaching us what it means to obey these words of Jesus:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-33)
We have a lot to learn from these Gazan brothers and sisters who are willing to risk everything to follow Jesus. May God give us all new revelation of how precious it is to know Him.
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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash