A Palestinian church in east Jerusalem has been forced to shut its doors following years of harassment by Islamists who set fire to the site, physically threatened a congregant and intimidated the landlord, the church’s pastor tells a Christian news site.
Pastor Steven Khoury of the Calvary Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Christian Holy Land Missions, told Morning Star News that despite the setback, he is determined to continue operating in Jerusalem.
“I believe in being persistent, and I believe in holding your ground and standing strong,” Khoury said. “I believe in the message so strongly I am willing to risk my life. Our members are willing to risk their lives by continuously coming to the same location. I believe still that people will see that we are committed just like they are in their religion, and we are willing to die for our faith just as they are as well.”
On his radio show last year, Glenn Beck warned that the Jerusalem congregation might soon be “homeless,” because “no one is willing to rent to the Christians.”
In 2011, Khoury – who Beck described as a friend – stepped in at the last minute to speak at Beck’s “Restoring Courage” event in Israel after a Muslim who had been originally slated to deliver an address pulled out following Palestinian death threats to his family.
“I’ll never forget meeting this guy, ” Beck said last year of Khoury. “Such a remarkable hero.”
The congregation had to clear out of the Shuafat neighborhood site it was renting in July after Palestinian Muslims threatened the building’s owner. Khoury said that despite the hardship the persecution in some ways strengthened the church.
“It was very emotional, because a lot of our people really started to grow there,” Khoury told Morning Star News. “Most of the growth happened in Shuafat because of the persecution.”
While the congregation is temporarily renting a meeting hall for services twice a week, it aims to ultimately raise $3.5 million for a new building.
“Because Jerusalem is the most sought-after city in the world by the three major religions in the world and land is so scarce, Jerusalem is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world,” Khoury said. “We can’t get a loan because we don’t own anything in Israel. By faith we are asking the Lord to help us raise $3.5 million. We’ve been able to raise about $700,000 so far.”
Khoury recounted that his congregation was harassed almost from the moment the church opened in 2007 in a predominantly Palestinian Muslim neighborhood. Ten days after opening, a member was attacked with a knife by a neighborhood Muslim.
Then came an arson attack and vandalism. “It only burned a few of our playground sets and didn’t reach the building,” Khoury told Morning Star News whose coverage focuses on the persecution of Christians.
“These [the attacks] were all spread out over a two- or three-year period, to let us know that we were not welcome there,” Khoury said.
Later, the landlord received threats which pressured him to evict the congregation.
The latest move for Calvary Baptist Church follows two previous moves spurred by threats of local Muslims.