Tried by Fire: Bethlehem's Remnant

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BETHLEHEM - One of the untold stories of the Middle East is what is happening to the Christian population.
    
Many are fleeing areas like the West Bank city of Bethlehem because Muslims are persecuting them.
 
Bethlehem is the birthplace of Christ and was once a Christian city. But today Christians are only about 10 to 15 percent of the population.

Some observers say if the mass exodus continues, within another generation it could become a city of Christian holy sites without any Christian residents.

Justice Weiner believes that is happening.

Exodus of Christians

He has spent years investigating persecution and the exodus of Christians in the Palestinian territories.

"The Christians who were once the dominant commercial and economic force in these towns have seen their numbers dwindle," Weiner said. "They've seen their land stolen and expropriated. They've been forced to sell or to close their businesses."

"They sense hostility walking down the street," he added. "They're afraid to wear crosses. They sometimes are abused verbally when they go to church."

Despite this mass exodus, members of the First Baptist Church in Bethlehem have chosen to stay to be a beacon of light in the community. And for that, some have paid a high price.

Not only do they share their faith with others but they embrace the Old Testament along with the New Testament. They accept the entire Bible as the word of God, including the promises to the Jews.

"We are born again Christians; believe in God's promise with Abraham," said First Baptist Church Pastor Steve Khoury. "It's an everlasting covenant from God. It's an everlasting covenant with Abraham. He made it with him and his offspring. That is not very well respected in our culture."

For that they are persecuted not only by Muslims who see them as Zionist supporters of Israel, but also by traditional Christians.

Persecuted Church 

First Baptist Church of Bethlehem has been fire bombed 14 times and two young women were shot to death for inviting non-Christian children to Vacation Bible School.

"Persecution has made our church stronger," Pastor Khoury added. "I've been beaten up and shoved in trash cans just for one simple reason: for discipling other young men who are from another faith."

"My father's been shot at three single separate times for one simple reason: carrying a cross and walking everyday and professing Jesus Christ and Him alone," he added. "Our church family gets persecuted everyday."

CBN News featured the story in September 2003, just days after Pastor Naem Khoury was shot. Today, he is back in the pulpit, but he is receiving continuous death threats.

Remembering Body of Christ 

Pastor Khoury has an entire congregation standing beside him. But many Palestinian Christians, Muslim and other Arab converts to Christ and suffer alone. Like a man called "Mukhtar."

His family disowned him, called him a snake and threatened to behead him when he became a Christian. He explained what happened one night when several men came and knocked on his door and asked him if he loved Jesus.

"I tell him yes, of course, I love him," Mukhtar recalled. "'Ahh, you love him, huh? You are a snake!'"
 
"They said, 'We want to kill you, you are a snake,'" he added. "The three person come from here and jeejee, and he said to me, 'We want you can't move.'"

Mukhtar was severely beaten and was hospitalized with several cracked ribs and vertebrae as a result.

Arab converts to Christianity like Mukhtar and many Palestinian believers say they know God is with them in their suffering.

They pray the body of Christ around the world will not forget them.

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Gary Lane

Gary Lane

CBN News Reporter

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