Throughout history, Gaza has continually been a place of military battles. Situated at the crossroads between Asia and North Africa, armies from either direction had to pass through Gaza to advance their kingdom.
Initially it was settled and ruled by the Egyptians. Later, the Philistines conquered Gaza and incorporated it as one of five major cities, along with Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. Joshua did not capture the Philistine land, but gave it to Judah as an inheritance, and, in Judges 1, the city fell under Israel’s control.
Subsequently, from the Assyrians to Napoleon Bonaparte, nearly every major world empire controlled Gaza at one time or another.
Biblically, Gaza and the Philistines were the proverbial thorn in the side of the nation of Israel. Judges 3 says that God left the Philistines and other opposing nations in the land to test Israel and see if they would obey him. True to form, Israel worshiped foreign gods, and frequently God used those surrounding peoples to oppress them. Samson, likely the most well-known of all the judges, spent the majority of his life fighting the Philistines. He died in Gaza at the temple to Dagon, killing more Philistines in his death than he did in his life. Ruins of the collapsed temple are still there today.
Likewise, King Saul fought the Philistines and lost his life in battle. David also struggled against them on many occasions, and the warrior king could not extinguish their presence in the land.
The challenges of living in the Gaza Strip
The Philistines are long gone but the reality of life for Palestinians in Gaza today is in many ways unbearable. The Hamas terrorist-led government has pocketed millions of humanitarian dollars, and the only thing they have created—other than rockets to fire into Israel—is deep poverty. The unemployment rate has reached over 70 percent and the Hamas government could not care less.
Inescapable poverty has a stranglehold on the families, with both physical and spiritual effects. If the security fence came down between Israel and Gaza, would there be anyone left but Hamas in the entire Gaza Strip?
In many situations, the personal, physical need is so significant that it overshadows a greater spiritual need. To say it differently, many are unaware that they have a need for Christ because they are confronted daily with the immediate problem of crippling hunger for themselves and their children. High unemployment coupled with economic restrictions make this a problem with no quick solution.
Committed Christians in Gaza
In retrospect, it’s easy to see that the Palestinians of today are not the Philistines of yesterday. It is, however, consistent with history to understand that one of Israel’s ongoing threats comes from the area that has been a major source of contention since they first entered the land over 3,400 years ago. It is an area that will continue to get the world’s attention, not only because of the radical Muslim groups that operate there, but also due to the strong passion and emotion felt over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Yes, Gaza is run by the Hamas, but before you consign it to the terrorist bin, know this: to the surprise of most people in the West, Gaza is also home to a group of committed believers who follow Jesus amid threats and extreme danger.
Life is more than tough for them as they are caught in between Hamas attacks and Israeli responses. With as many as ten terrorist groups in the area, believers in Christ are continually under intense pressure and persecution. Since the Gaza Strip is surrounded by a security fence, permission is often difficult to obtain from Israel to leave.
One Gaza friend who was not allowed to travel to Jordan and was trapped in the Strip for a few years said this: “I have never been to jail, but I live in the world’s biggest prison.”
7 reasons Muslims are coming to Christ in Gaza
Yet, the underground church in the Gaza Strip is growing.
Muslims are coming to faith in Christ in this twenty-six-mile long, six-mile wide sliver of land known as the Gaza Strip. That may sound too good to be true, but there are several reasons this is happening:
- Muslims are finding out about Jesus on the internet or on TV, and they are being drawn to him.
- Many have now downloaded the complete Bible on their phone and the word of God is speaking to them profoundly.
- Jesus is also coming to Palestinian Muslims in dreams and visions. After they meet “the man in a white robe,” they’re often on a quest to find out the truth about Jesus.
- Hamas has left the good-hearted people of Gaza with a severe distaste for Islam after seeing the cruelty, corruption, and continual cycle of attacking Israel that only leads to more misery for them when Israel retaliates harshly.
- Mahmoud, whom I was privileged to lead to Christ in Gaza this year, believes that the average Muslim in the Strip is post-Islamic and the people merely go through the motions to avoid blowback from the radicals.
- Hamas creates no jobs in Gaza. The economy is in a freefall.
- The average Palestinian may detest Israel in many ways for their battles with the Israel Defense Forces in response to Hamas rockets and attacks, but they want to work for a living. Israel pays Palestinians four times as much as they can earn in Gaza. But there’s a catch. There are only so many work visas given even by Israel. Thousands of Palestinians work in Israel, but with a Gaza population of two million now in the Strip, it’s a drop in the bucket.
It certainly wasn’t their plan, but Hamas has done more to undermine the faith of Gaza Muslims than most Christian apologists and evangelists together.
Mahmoud’s “four best friends”
My previously mentioned friend Mahmoud gave his life to Christ last August. In ten months, he has advanced in his faith in Christ and understanding of the Bible like few Christians I know. I get to share Scripture with him daily. I often wonder if I’m learning more from him than he is from me.
When Mahmoud sent me a prayer on the Whatsapp platform after knowing Christ for only three months, it was truly moving and profound. I thought he had copied it from the internet.
When I asked him about the prayer and where he found it, he said: “I wrote it Tom!”
I replied: “Wow Mahmoud, you are growing in Christ rapidly in Gaza!”
He replied: “Well of course I am! I’m hanging out with my four best friends each day.”
“Who are your four best friends now Mahmoud?” I shot back on a text.
“Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John! I walk with them and learn about Jesus everything I can!”
And Mahmoud is not alone.
Jesus is moving among Muslims in Gaza. Muslim-background believers are meeting in informal, underground churches and not keeping silent about Jesus. Mahmoud is just one of the former Muslims in the Middle East who has become a super-spreader of the gospel.
What can you do to help Christians in the Gaza Strip?
So, the next time you see the Gaza Strip in the headlines about the latest terrorist attack or Israelis fighting Hamas in yet another battle: remember, you have brothers and sisters in Christ right in the middle of an active war zone. Pray for the believers in Gaza.
Pray for their protection from terrorism, war, and from death for their new faith in Christ.
Pray that the love of Christ will be shown through those providing positive aid for the Palestinians. Just because they live there, they suffer in poverty and isolation. They have a spiritual battle in Gaza’s climate of hopelessness. But they are putting on the armor of God and fighting through it. Pray also that God would alleviate the suffering of these people and that a lasting solution would be put into place.
Jesus promised this: “Upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
And this is happening even in the Gaza. Of course, it is!
Jesus promised it.
And he has zero problems delivering on his promises.
And, by the way, Mahmoud, your new brother in Christ, sends his warmest greetings to you.
Tom Doyle is a best-selling author and the CEO of Uncharted Ministries. His latest book is cowritten with his wife JoAnn named and titled Women Who Risk-Secret Agents for Jesus in the Muslim World.