Near the birthplace of Jesus – By the time you read this, I will have returned from inspecting the new air conditioners we furnished for a Christian day care center in Bethlehem.
Let me remind you: The three formerly Christian towns of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala are not located in Israel. Most Christians in America believe Bethlehem is controlled by Israel and receives services from Israel such as electricity and water. That is not true.
Just recently a member of my church told me he and his wife were going to Israel and they would visit the birthplace of Jesus there. I had to tell him the reality. To visit Bethlehem, they will have to leave Israel and enter the Palestinian Authority controlled “Area One.” Most Christians have left Bethlehem since it came under Palestinian Authority control, and Christians are now a small persecuted minority there. Christian women can no longer walk down the street unescorted, and if they do not wear a head covering, they could be assaulted.
It is because Christians are under such pressure in the Bethlehem area that I decided to hold a Christmas for Refugees event there in 2018. Even though Christians are not refugees there, they are now a minority in their own land. Our Christmas party for the children was a tremendous success endorsed by all the churches, and something everyone is looking forward to again this coming Christmas.
A few weeks ago, I received distressing news about a day care center in Beit Sahour, a Christian area inside the Bethlehem “governate.” The day care, with 117 children age four and under, had only one of seven rooms with a working air conditioner. Six of the rooms would be exposed to the heat of the summer. The babies under one year old would be in the only air-conditioned room. In order to add new air conditioners to the other six rooms, some rooms of the old building would need to be rewired.
The total cost of the project would be $7,000, if we could help. The project is not in our budget for 2019, but after seeing photos of the children and praying about what to do, I was confident that the Lord would want me to help. In my heart I believe that the additional funds will be provided, as He moves the hearts of His people.
My heart really goes out to the Christians of the “West Bank.” The Christian community established in and around Bethlehem for the last 2,000 years was abandoned to Muslim control forever by the 1993 Oslo Accord orchestrated by President Bill Clinton.
The final version of “Oslo B” was signed by Israel in 1995, and Israel handed control of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat. At the time, Bethlehem was majority Christian.
In 1950 Bethlehem and the surrounding villages were 86% Christian. The estimate is now just 2% Christian, mostly in Beit Sahour which is the actual place of the birth of our Lord. There are only about 11,000 Christian families left in the whole area. The families that left did not move to Israel. Israel does not want any Palestinians, regardless of if they are Christians or Muslims. The United States blocks Christian Palestinians as well. Christians in Bethlehem are not full citizens of any nation.
The reality is that most Christians in the area of Bethlehem are not even Palestinians; they are a distinct people all their own, much like the Coptic Christians of Egypt who are not Arabs, but the descendants of the original Egyptians.
We have helped with other projects in “Area A.” More than a decade ago we imported Nativity sets that were made by Christians in Bethlehem and sold them to raise funds. For a while we sold olive oil soap made by Christian villagers. The Christians we worked with finally gave up and moved, some to Europe and others to Dubai where they could work unbothered.
Please pray for the Christians who are faithful and stay to defend the faith and to stand with the Church of the Nativity and work to protect the Christian holy sites such as the birthplace of Jesus, Mary’s Well and Shepherds’ Field. In the next Chairman’s Report, I will report on my visit to the day care center and share photos of the new air conditioners.
William Murray, Chairman