Seven years of harassment and attacks by Muslims have finally forced a Palestinian church in East Jerusalem out of their building, church leaders said. The congregation of Calvary Baptist Church, under Holy Land Missions, moved out of their building in the Shofat area of Jerusalem in July after Islamists threatened their landlord. They are looking for a safe, permanent place to meet.
Morning Star News (h/t Susan K) Pastor Steven Khoury said he was emotionally torn when he handed over the keys. The persecution was difficult but had also been a catalyst for spiritual development, he said. “It was very emotional, because a lot of our people really started to grow there,” he said. “Most of the growth happened in Shofat because of the persecution.”
The persecution started almost immediately after the congregation moved into the building in a predominantly Muslim area in 2007. Within 10 days of starting meetings and worship services, a Muslim who lived close to the church building attacked a member with a knife. Then someone tried to set the building on fire, likely with a Molotov cocktail, Khoury said. “It only burned a few of our playground sets and didn’t reach the building,” he said.
Next came the vandalism – first cars parked at the church building were damaged, then the property, and finally there were physical attacks on children coming to church gatherings. “These were all spread out over a two- or three-year period, to let us know that we were not welcome there,” Khoury said.
When the local government accepted a request in late 2008 to put up a road sign identifying the location of the church building, things “really escalated,” Khoury said. “When we did that, it took everything to the next level. The landlords were now being threatened. The landlords were being told, ‘How dare you do this, this is a disgrace to Islam. If you don’t do anything about this, we will.’”
Eventually the landlord succumbed to the pressure, and the 110-member congregation had to leave the building. The departure last month was not the first time Muslims angry about their activities have forced the Jerusalem congregation to leave a building they were using for ministry. It has happened twice before.
In 2006, Holy Land Missions had to leave a building in the Beit Hanina area of East Jerusalem, which, like Shofat, is a Muslim-majority area. In 2004, when the group rented the building, church vehicles were vandalized, a sign identifying the church was torn down twice and the building was subjected to repeated vandalism and break-ins, Khoury said. By comparison, Khoury doesn’t remember any other building near the church property being vandalized.
Church administrator Hany Khayo said persecution has been constant “I have been here since 2004, and every day we have a story,” Khayo said. “[They persecute us] because we believe in one God, because we believe that Jesus is our Lord and we ask everyone to have God’s love,” Khayo said.
Eventually the landlord of the Beit Hanina building began receiving threats from his fellow Muslims, and the church had to leave after only two years.