NASHVILLE, Tenn. Palestinian Authority police seized the six-story Gaza Baptist Church building Feb. 2 to use as a lookout station against militants they have been fighting since December. Battles between the Fatah and Hamas factions have killed more than 80 Palestinians, including a bus driver for the church.
According to Assist News Service, the 20-year-old man, who was the Awana Club driver for the church, was shot through the heart and killed Jan. 28 while walking down the street, said Al Janssen of Open Doors USA.
"It's really hit the church hard," Janssen told Mission Network News. Christians in Gaza are "one group God could use to hopefully bring some peace to the region, but to be honest a lot of people just want to get out of there."
The next morning, a bullet struck the home of another church member, barely missing his head.
The police who commandeered the church building took up positions on the sixth floor, pastor Hanna Massad told Assist News Service. He is concerned that a firefight with Hamas militants could severely damage the building, which church members would be in no position to repair.
"The situation in Gaza is very dangerous," Massad said. "We are not able to leave our homes much. We continue to hear shooting, especially at night. Streets are blocked. People are afraid and confused. It is the worst situation we ever went through, even more dangerous than any Israeli invasion."
Gaza Baptist Church is the only evangelical church in Palestine's volatile Gaza Strip. The believers are surrounded by nearly 2 million Muslims. Gaza is also the stronghold of the Hamas terrorist organization.
Despite the dangers, the church's prayer team continues to travel house to house to strengthen and encourage believers. The congregation continues to minister to hundreds of impoverished Palestinian families in neighboring refugee cities. In addition, two young people in the church are preparing for full-time ministry.
Still, many remain in Gaza even as an estimated 1,000 people flee nearby Iraq. A steady exodus of Christians from Palestine and Lebanon has also been reported.
"I believe in the power of prayer," Hanna wrote in a recent e-mail message to friends in the West. "Please unite with us before the throne of God and pray that He will protect the believers in Gaza, that He will give me the strength and wisdom to minister to the church family at this difficult time and that He will give wisdom to the leaders in Gaza to stop this evil fight."
Janssen agreed, calling on Christians worldwide to pray that God would help His people stay in Gaza to be "light in the midst of terrible darkness."
BP News writer Mark Kelly contributed to this report.