Palestine (MNN) — As the land is torn apart by conflict, the ancient church in Palestine has often been ignored by the West.
Who are we? Why is this happening? And what is our part in the story? These three questions face a beleaguered Christian minority in Palestine, says Yousef Alkhouri of Bethlehem Bible College.
To answer them, the college is offering a new course for this spring semester entitled “Christian Theology and Ideology in Palestine.” AlKhouri says the course is open to the public and is separated into nine topics. The class has averaged 80 people attending per session. “Together, the audience consists of Christians and Muslims, women and men of all ages.”
AlKhouri says we understand theology based on our cultural and historical contexts, and Palestine is no different. He describes the Palestinian theological emphasis this way. “It’s a Christ-centered and Kingdom oriented, contextual theology. It holds firm to belief that God is just and God is loving. And we have seen and witnessed his love to the world through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It also stands firmly on Jesus’ command to love thy neighbor, Muslim or Jew.”
And this theology flows out of deep wounds Palestinian Christians have suffered since 1948 that have decimated the Palestinian church.
“Let me be honest here,” AlKhouri says, “there has been a faith crisis in the Palestinian Christian society due to the conflict in this land, and [because] many Christians in the West have been blindly supporting the politics of the Israeli state.”
When theologies collide
Christianity in the West has its own contextual theology, one that has often led to a religious support for the State of Israel’s claim to the land of Palestine. But it is hard for Christians in Palestine not to see this American theology in a negative light. “The Bible that once was a source of peace [and] was the good news for Palestine, at some point it was turned against them and become as a weapon on the chest of Palestinians and Palestinian Christians.”
AlKhouri says the Palestinian way of reading the Bible is one that emphasizes the presence of God in suffering and His coming justice and peace at Christ’s return.
But Christians in the West often forget that Christians have always lived in Palestine. AlKhouri says when he speaks to Westerners, they often assume he used to be Muslim. “[They are] forgetting that Christianity started here in Palestine, started in our front yard at the Nativity Church.”
How to Pray
“We ask Christians around the world,” says AlKhouri, “to pray for our ministry as we are striving to be light in the land of our Lord.” He believes Bethlehem Bible College has a mission to proclaim Christ in Palestine, and that prayers from Christians around the world are important to that mission.
“We urge Christians to pray for the small and dwindling Christian community in Palestine, to pray for peace. And most importantly, pray what Jesus told us to pray: may the kingdom come. And that’s our prayer, that we see the kingdom coming to Palestine and the Holy Land with justice and sincere reconciliation between people.”
Finally, Alkhouri encourages Christians, if they visit the Holy Land, to visit the Christians who live there. “Last year more than 3 million people visited the Holy Land and people visit [old] stones, which is, of course significant. But also I think the most important [thing is] to visit the living the stones who are standing with great resilience in this land despite all the challenges.”
Bethlehem Bible College (Courtesy of Bethlehem Bible College on Facebook)