Voices
Associated Press/Photo by Khalil Hamra

Thy kingdom come

The One who makes all things new is writing the rest of the story

Issue: "Do the math," Nov. 7, 2009

We reporters see too much human nature. We may resist speculation in our writing, but generally we think we know what's coming down the pike.

When Osama bin Laden puts out an audiotape declaring a plan to establish a base in Iraq and carry jihad all the way to Palestine, we're inclined to believe he'll do it. When a freshman lawmaker tells the cameras he intends to change the culture of Washington, we're inclined to believe he will return home amid scandal and broken promises. "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Sometimes we don't bother with the rest of the story, living we presume in the kingdom of man (or Satan). We need help remembering that the earth is the Lord's. "Behold, I am doing a new thing" (Isaiah 43:19).

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Here's one rest of the story: In October 2007 the manager of the Christian bookstore in Gaza City, a young father of three named Rami Ayyad, was found face down with a bullet in his head in the streets. We at WORLD mourned this defeat, reported it, and came back to highlight it in a year-in-review issue, one marker in the long road of jihadism whose outcome we could only (cynically, fatalistically) trace.

But as we put that story to bed here's what was happening. Labib Madanat, Ayyad's supervisor in Jerusalem and the director of the Palestinian and Israeli Bible Society, went to Gaza, put his hand to Ayyad's blood-soaked head in the coffin, tried to comfort his family, and then went to meet with the leaders of Hamas. He wanted to know who killed his colleague and friend (a splinter group more radical than Hamas, and with Hamas' help he discovered others on its hit list).

After that, he said he set about to do the hardest thing in his life: supervise the evacuation of all the Christian families who worked with the Bible Society in Gaza, including Ayyad's widow, her two sons, and a newborn. For these it meant a new exile from homes their families had been exiled to in 1948. It meant securing a new place-in Bethlehem, it turns out-acceptable both to Israeli authorities and the grieving families. It meant giving up the work.

After all, Madanat told me, "It was the first time in recent history that a Palestinian Christian was killed for his faith in Christ by Palestinian Muslims."

Madanat is an Israeli Arab, a Christian who lives in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem 300 yards from a Palestinian refugee camp, near the wall dividing Jewish and Palestinian areas. Madanat told me that the reconciliation to God he has experienced in his own heart allows him to seek for reconciliation almost anywhere else.

Ayyad and Madanat had built up a network of relationships in Gaza, running the bookstore and a community center, providing relief and development in the Palestinian area, which is about 1.5 million Muslims strong and about 1,500 Christians weak.

"It is a test for us now of how much we trust the people in Gaza, not Christians but the Muslims." Without Muslim cooperation, he could not restart the work.

"This is what's difficult for Americans to grasp. We as Christians should be the last to put people in stereotypes because when we do we say to God, 'You cannot do something different. It's beyond You.' I reject that. It's not naïveté. I live the reality."

The reality for Madanat is that the power of Hamas in Gaza is creating a culture of Islamization in Gaza. More and more Christians feel less and less freedom. But Madanat knows, "Our suffering is not new. What we need is to tell one another the good stories of what God is doing in the midst of it." Good things: a faint smile from Ayyad's widow on a recent visit, the first Madanat has seen in two years; a high court decision allowing the Christians to stay in Bethlehem; a recent suitcase of Scripture literature Hamas border guards examined and then allowed into Gaza.

Paul E. Miller in his book, A Praying Life, writes that sometimes we don't pray because we want to be in control and sometimes we don't pray because we think we can't be in control: "But the point of prayer is shifting control to God." Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. The little child, or the one Palestinian Christian surrounded by 1,000 Palestinian Muslims, knows this.

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