CWN.com - SANTA ANA, CA -- Since Christian bookstore manager Rami Ayyad was murdered on October 7, the small Christian minority in Gaza has lived in heightened fear.
Several Christian families have been evacuated from Gaza in the face of threats from Islamic militants. Many other Christians have fled or are seeking to emigrate due to the deteriorating conditions.
Among them are Ayyad's pregnant widow, Pauline, and their two sons. The three temporarily left Gaza after Rami's murder, but at the beginning of January, Pauline, her sons George and Wisam, and the rest of her extended family returned to Gaza. There they were reunited with three other Christian families, also working with the Palestinian Bible Society.
Two of these families, evacuated from Gaza following Ayyad's death, had since returned to the strip in 2007. The third family had never left Gaza. Pauline is scheduled to deliver her third child by Cesarean-section in early February.
Hanna Massad, the pastor of Gaza Baptist Church, is one of the Christians who now lives temporarily outside Gaza. He attempted several times to return to his church to preach on Sunday morning but was turned away at the border.
Massad remains in touch with his congregation. He says Christians are under increased threats, forcing members of his congregation to meet only in small groups on Sunday mornings. He added that several families living temporarily in the West Bank face a tough decision - remain where they are or attempt to re-enter Gaza.
Gaza has undergone a dramatic decline in stability in the last few weeks. An upsurge in violence and chaos has included intermittent electrical cuts and food and medicine shortages. Hospitals often lack power, and even where there are generators, sometimes there is no fuel to run them.
Under these conditions, Christians must decide whether to stay for the delivery or try to get the permits to leave Gaza again.
One Gazan believer said, "Seventy percent of the Christians want to leave Gaza because they are very afraid. But we love Gaza. It's our country, we have roots here, our homes are here. We will not know anyone if we go somewhere else."
In 2007, tension mounted among Gaza's Christians following recurring warfare between rival political factions and threats and attacks on Christians and Christian institutions.
The Palestinian Christian community had co-existed with Muslims in the area "somewhat peacefully" as a minority group for centuries, according to an area Christian worker.
Christians in Gaza number around 3,000 in a population of 1.5 million, with most belonging to the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.