Bethlehem Bible College has supported Biblical studies amongst the Christian community in Gaza for over thirty years. Students came from Gaza to Bethlehem to study too. But, unfortunately, this all came to a sudden halt as problems developed in the area in 2005.
In 2011 several Christians asked if plans could be made to revive and renew the College’s involvement in Biblical and theological studies. Unfortunately, Palestinian College staff couldn’t travel to Gaza, so Rev. John Angle from the UK, acting on behalf of the College, took up the challenge to initiate, fund and develop the College’s ministry in Gaza. Soon students (some classes had up to 15 students) began to study at the Diploma and Bachelor’s degree level and some attended lectures for their interest.
In the autumn of 2012, ten students began to study for the MA degree and some at diploma and degree levels, with some auditing the work modules. Several internationals responded to the call and used their expertise to spend time on short intensive programs related to the various study modules. Excellent local translators helped and the then minister of the Baptist Church, Hanna Khilpota, gave pastoral support. A small dedicated teaching room and a mini library were established by kind permission in a Christian school in Gaza. As time developed, skype and then online study began to be used as a means of communicating with regular visits of encouragement and pastoral care by the Director of Studies, John Angle.
The study center has been a great success, with many young people studying the Scriptures over the years. Two have gone on to graduate with a BA, two have obtained the Diploma and five have graduated with the Master’s degree in Ministry and Leadership. This has been an outstanding achievement in an environment that is not conducive to learning, where life is difficult, often traumatic, and surrounded by fearful possibilities.
Sadly many (at least ten former students ) have left Gaza for the USA or the West Bank and there is no Pastor at the Baptist Church, so there is no one to encourage and support. Studying now and in the future with personal tutoring and fellowship is impossible, as on the Bethlehem campus. Rev John Angle and one or two others continue to visit Gaza and encourage study online with the College. Still, there is a great need for Arabic-speaking evangelical leadership in Gaza which can be locally supportive and encouraging. There is international support available for Gaza. It is hoped that courses (in person or online) encouraging discipleship or Christian living at a significantly lower academic level, particularly for new Christians (but sensitively and individually!), can be developed. There is also the possibility of a relationship developing with the leadership of the historic churches in Gaza, which could use the expertise of the College. Pray for a gentle strengthening of the College’s involvement in Gaza.
The Christian community in Gaza is small (about 900-1000 amongst a population of 2.3 million) but is respected and significant. “Strengthen what remains,” the angel said to the church in difficulty in Sardis. The College will continue to pray and encourage the Christian community in whatever way it can, finding new ways to show they are not forgotten and loved and strengthening their faith and resolve to follow Jesus.