Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, former director of advocacy and outreach for World Vision U.S., is executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace and author of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World.
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Life Inside the Gaza Blockade
MOST CHRISTIANS KNOW about Gaza from its mention in the Hebrew scriptures in the sensuous and heroic stories of Samson, corrupted by Delilah, who lured him into showing the secret of his strength (Judges 16:5). Historically a Canaanite city and then Philistine, Gaza was conquered by Joshua as a part of his conquest of the Promised Land (Joshua 10:41). For thousands of years Gaza has had a history of being destroyed and rebuilt, from the time of Alexander the Great until today.
The Gaza Strip is now a small territory to the southwest of Israel, bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, with 1.8 million people living in only 140 square miles. During my visit there earlier this year, I was overwhelmed by the place’s incredible beauty; at the same time, the lack of functional sewage treatment plants, limited electricity, and other broken infrastructure result in Gazans experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis. Beautiful and tragic.
In 1967, the Israeli military seized Gaza and remained there until 2005, when Israel unilaterally pulled out under Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement” plan. Between August and September 2005, roughly 9,000 Israeli settlers were evacuated and 21 settlements destroyed (rather than turned over to Gazans). In 2007, after Hamas took control of Gaza, Israel intensified the restriction of movement and imposed land, sea, and air blockades on the territory. The blockades have led to severe living conditions for the people there and a growing humanitarian crisis.
A Church Under Siege
STANDING ON A rooftop overlooking the devastation of Beirut in 1989, Nora Haddad* had determined to commit suicide.
More than a decade into the 15-year Lebanese civil war, 18-year-old Haddad had witnessed the devastation firsthand. Born in Lebanon and raised in a family that was nominally Catholic, she became disgusted by the violence among religious factions that prevailed during the war. “Christians were the most cruel—they were often the worst,” she says. “How could I believe God existed when even animals were living better than us?”
Haddad waited on the balcony for a missile to come and kill her. She asked God, “If you are there, show me something through your Word.” She says God led her to Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who is against us?” Shortly thereafter, a stranger came to her door and began to tell her about Jesus. After hearing the message of salvation in Christ, she says, she knew there was hope.
Haddad became a disciple. In 1997, her journey led her to Syria, where she has become one of the most influential leaders of an evangelistic movement that endures amid the refugee crisis and the genocide of Christians and other minorities in the region.
Challenges in Syria
Less than 10 percent of people in Syria are Christians, including Orthodox, Uniate, and Nestorian sects. Life for Syrian Christians under the Assad regimes has been challenging in many ways. During the reign of former president Hafez al-Assad, overt proselytization was not legal.
Forgive Us, Lord
Often we do not know how our words and actions affect and harm others. However, ignorance is not an excuse. As the body of Christ, we must be willing to look deeply at the implications of the choices we make. When those choices cause harm – intentionally or unintentionally – we must repent and ask for forgiveness.
Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith was a cry from my heart and the hearts of my coauthors as we wrestled with what it means to be the church of “Good News” in the 21st century. So many people do not see the evangelical church from that perspective. The church – rather than being Good News – is often a painful place where broken people, judgment, and criticisms prevail.
Extremism, Terrorism, and the Attack in Norway
Similar to many of my Western counterparts, my first thoughts when I first heard about the attacks in Norway went to extreme Islamic terrorism. I had heard about the growing tensions in Scandinavia because of the increasing Muslim population and cultural shifts arising as a result. Thus, when I heard through a friend that a Norwegian school had been attacked, I assumed the attack to be a response from a Muslim terrorist group. I asked if it was al Qaeda or such other organization. My friend responded, "Probably." Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the picture of the suspect who appeared very Scandinavian with fair skin and complexion.
According to the New York Times, the attacks in Oslo killed at least 92 people and the orchestrator left behind "a detailed manifesto outlining preparations and calling for Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination." If I had read that statement out of context, I would think one was talking about the Christian Crusades of the 12th century.