Palestinian church in Israel forced out of building by Muslims

(Photo: Courtesy Pastor Stephen Khoury)Pastor Stephen Khoury preaching at Graden of Tomb service in 2007.

A Palestinian church in Jerusalem's Shofat area has succumbed to pressure after seven years of harassment and attacks by hardline Muslims, abandonning the building housing its place of worship.

The congregation of Calvary Baptist Church, under the Holy Land Missions, left the building they were renting after the landlord received numerous threats from Muslim residents.

"It was very emotional because a lot of our people really started to grow there," Pastor Steven Khoury told Morning Star News. "Most of the growth happened in Shofat because of the persecution."

The persecution started after the Evangelical congregation moved into the predominantly Muslim area in 2007.

The first incident happened when a church member was attacked with a knife by a Muslim who lived close to the building. The building was also set on fire, but only a few of the church's playground sets were burned.

Through the years, the church experienced vandalism, damage to property, and physical attacks on children.

"These were all spread let us know that we were not welcome there," Khoury said.

Persecution is not new to Holy Land Missions. In 2006, the congregation had to leave a building in the Beit Hanina area of East Jerusalem due to similar incidents.

Church administrator Hany Khayo said he is used to such stories. But what is disheartening, according to him, was the response the church received from Christian traditions such as the Greek and Armenian Orthodox.

"Some of those [pressures] in the community were from traditional Christians, believe it or not," said Khayo.

"Traditional Christians did not want us there. They said, 'You guys are not Christians. What Christianity do you represent? If you're not an official church, then God doesn't hear your prayers.'"

In spite of the challenges, the pastor said that the congregants are determined to stay in Jerusalem and follow what God wants him to do.

"I believe in being persistent, and I believe in holding your ground and standing strong," he said.

"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."

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