BETHLEHEM—“We are the forgotten people, but we are not forgotten by God.” That’s how Pastor Naim Khoury of First Baptist Church of Bethlehem—the largest evangelical church in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank area of Israel—explained his church’s continuing existence. After all, it’s been bombed 14 times.
The birthplace of Jesus is Bethlehem, the hometown of Israel’s King David. That part of Israel is currently in the West Bank, which Israel has given to the Palestinian Authority to govern. “We are not all terrorists,” Khoury insists, speaking in the sanctuary of his church. “There are Arab Christians here who love the Jewish people; there are sweet people here who love Jesus and love Israel.”
Khoury is the epitome of the happy warrior as he describes his struggle in a region plagued by violence. “They thought they could chase us away, but the Lord has sustained us,” he says as calmly as if he were describing the weather.
There are 150,000 people in Bethlehem. First Baptist Church is the largest Palestinian church in the West Bank. The church has 300 members, 65 percent of which are unemployed, and thus have no income whatsoever. It has also planted five more churches throughout the West Bank territory. They make do with very little amidst extreme poverty. Christians from America provide part of their financial support, some contributing online through the church’s website.
First Baptist has been bombed 14 times. “They thought they could chase us away, but the Lord has sustained us.” Explaining how he and his fellow Christians could persevere in such a climate, Khoury declares, “We have learned to trust him and obey him.” Elaborating on that, he continues, “The Lord is faithful all the time. He shall never leave us or forsake us.”
This pastor preaches that love for all is the key. “You cannot love the Jews and hate the Arabs; and you cannot love the Arabs and hate the Jews.” But First Baptist does so without compromising their beliefs. “We stand for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and show love for the Jewish people.”
He is under no delusions. “There will be no lasting peace until the Prince of Peace comes again,” Khoury admits. But much can—and should—be done in the here and now. “We need to plant the seed of love between both peoples.”
“We pay a big price to stand on all 66 books of the Bible,” Khoury confesses soberly. The violence opposition they face is shocking to Americans, whether Christian or not. On one occasion, Khoury was shot four times. “They told me I had died,” Khoury says of how the doctors described it to him afterward. “But the Lord intervened,” he adds as his personal explanation of why he survived, “for no weapon formed against me shall prosper,” quoting Isaiah 54:17.
Khoury has also seen what he regards a miraculous conversions within his immediate family. He prayed for his family members, and his mother came to share his faith after seven years. His converts eventually included his brother George, who became a Christian after Naim had prayed for him for 27 years. George became active in ministry himself, serving in Jerusalem. George was martyred several years ago for his faith in Jesus Christ, when Muslims murdered him on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem. “The Lord called him home,” Khoury explains.
“We are not afraid of anyone,” he promises with a look of steely resolve. “My Lord is able to carry us through, and we continue until he comes again or takes us home. And until that day, may he find me a faithful servant.”
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News, and reporting on location from Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.