Due to a combination of factors — ranging from persecution by Arab and Islamic extremists, record high unemployment, a drop in tourism, and a shocking decrease in support for Israel among evangelicals — experts have noticed that, overall, the Christian faith is fading from certain areas within the Holy Land. For example, the ancient city of Gaza has the highest unemployment rate in the entire world! As a consequence, facing discrimination from the overwhelming majority Muslim local population, Christians are leaving the area in huge numbers to seek employment. Today, the population in Gaza that once numbered as many as 3,000 Christians, merely a few years ago, has been reduced to approximately 1,200. Many local Christians believe the area could be completely devoid of the Christian denomination within two decades. Rev. Alex Awad, the former dean of the Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank, who has worked in Gaza, noted “every Christmas, I know of Christians who leave Gaza to celebrate and they never return back to the Gaza Strip, which means the final death of the Christian community continues.”
Role of Hamas
Part of the issue in Gaza is being compounded by the militant group Hamas — that governs the area — which has been classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries. Hamas is reportedly forcing Christians in Gaza to convert to Islam under threat of death. As reported by Reuters, hundreds of Christians have staged protests in Gaza’s main churches, demanding the return of members of their community whom they said were kidnapped by Islamist proselytizers and forced to convert to Islam. Similarly, in the town of Bethlehem, Christians have been targets of persecution at the hands of Muslims since the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat assumed political power and control over Bethlehem in 1995. Since then, Christians have been subjected to beatings, firebombing of churches, kidnappings, torture, intimidation, forced marriages, denial of employment, land theft, and extortions. As is the case with Gaza, Bethlehem is rapidly becoming devoid of its Christian population. The Washington Post recently reported that during the Ottoman era, a century ago, Bethlehem was 90% Christian. Today the city of 22,000 is more than two-thirds Muslim, thanks to an exodus of Christians, an influx of Palestinian Muslims and a higher Muslim birth rate. Thus, across much of the Holy Land the once vibrant Christian community that had managed to survive for two millennia despite wars and natural disasters may be on its last legs.
Relevant Bible Passages
The Bible records that despite the best intentions of believers there will come a time when a great departure from the truth of God’s Word will occur. The New Testament refers to this event repeatedly. Paul mentions a coming “falling away” (KJV), or “rebellion” (NIV) in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Paul further elaborates on this idea in 1 Timothy 4:1 when he notes that in the last days “some shall depart from the faith” (KJV). While the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Holy Land is not necessarily an example of such a falling away it could very well be the beginnings of such a tragic event. One of the ways we can counter this is through the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word in the Holy Land. As a result we have been televising The King is Coming on several local cable providers in Israel. Please pray with us for this continued outreach.