A Man of Peace in a No-Man’s Land – Greg Albrecht
Caught in the Crossfire: A Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem.
In a dark world of religious and ethnic conflict between Jew and Muslim, Dr. Awad and Bethlehem Bible College (serving Palestinian Christians) provide a shining light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Listen to a 2 part Audio interview with Bishara Awad. Click on the links at the bottom of this article.
In yet another long line of “breaking news” events, the world once again finds itself invited to take sides in one of two political camps. Seemingly either most identify as pro-Palestinian (and some, amazingly to me at least, even pro-Hamas) or pro-Israel. Where are the voices of moderation? Where is a middle ground? Sadly, we see this warfare in the Middle East as yet another polarizing division in which friends and family members find themselves entrenched. By the grace of God there are Christ-followers who are living out the life of Christ – take a moment to consider Palestinian Christians, and one in particular.
This latest round of Middle Eastern carnage and suffering, centered in and around the state of Israel, started with the horrific terrorist attack of genocidal zealots who call themselves Hamas and their brutal hostage-taking on October 7. Since then, many around the world have been glued to their television screens, watching and listening to a network they feel will give them truthful and unbiased reports. They select a “news” source because it has little if any tolerance for a view that differs from their own. Under such constant bombardment watchers and listeners slowly sink deeper into the quicksand-like-fear and hate one-sided media produces, only to wind up in depression and despair.
As a young boy born just after the Holocaust, I was at once mesmerized and terrified by scenes and depictions of the ovens and death camps of the Nazis. It was the seminal event of my young life, something I could not make sense of – where was God? Apart from God, how could such horror be unleashed and why did the world at large wait so long before trying to save the Jews? Later in life my understanding of the deep-seated anti-Semitic hatred of Jews deepened when an member of my extended family told me the Holocaust never happened – he believed it was a Jewish conspiracy to gain sympathy, because after all, “they (the Jews) own Hollywood don’t they – they know how to create fantasy.”
My first visit to Israel was while I was a college student in the United Kingdom, in the summer of 1968 – one year after the Six Day War. I was, at the time, completely indoctrinated by and with “end times” dispensational theology, a methodology that predicts a “soon-coming” massive conflict in the Middle East as the event that presages the Second Coming. As former evangelical and fundamentalist Christians know, virtually all current news is sensationalized by dispensational predictions, leading to alarming and anxiety-inducing claims that we are always living on the edge of disaster. At the time I was “all in” with the unbiblical and un-Christ-like assumption that the promises God made to Abraham and biblical Israel are being fulfilled in the modern state of Israel. I was totally on board with Israeli political and military perspectives and initiatives.
Given my career path in ministry, I took several additional trips to Israel in the 80s and 90s. Until the late 80s and early 90s my woefully inadequate and wrong-headed understanding of the Bible ensured that I was on the “side” of Israel, without question. While feeling sorrow for the Palestinians I befriended and interviewed, I still remained completely polarized with pro-Israeli views and perspectives.
But then I started to engage in a “dangerous” activity, one that is greatly discouraged by Christ-less religion of every stripe and denomination. I started to think. I took some long hard looks at what I had “always” believed the Bible to say. I looked in the mirror and questioned why I had the biases and prejudices I had.
While only one of my trips had been a “group trip” (a free trip for Christian media and pastoral leaders, sponsored by the Israeli Department of Tourism), on other trips I still found many drivers and tour guides demonizing the Palestinians and extolling the Israelis as having virtually the same views as Christians (or at least the ones I had embraced within Christendom).
After five trips to Israel/the Holy Land/Palestine, I had spent little, if any time, with Christ-followers like myself. With the dawn of the 20th century, just after 9-11, I determined to meet Christians who lived both within the boundaries of the modern-day state of Israel and those who lived in the West Bank – including Palestinian Christians.
I discovered Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) and determined to visit this Christian college on the “wrong side” of the wall believed by some to help protect the state of Israel from would-be terrorists, West Bank Palestinians among them. In those early years of this 20th century I traveled from Jerusalem to BBC (my residency in England for seven years means that these initials primarily bring to mind the British Broadcasting Corporation) and met a remarkable man named Bishara Awad, the founder and at the time the active president of BBC (the college).
Almost twenty years after meeting Bishara Awad, during this most recent outbreak of terrorism and war in the Middle East, when many are summarizing this crisis as being just another example of religious people being religious, memories of my visits to Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Palestinian flooded my mind. I recalled names, faces and places. I found myself remembering Bishara Awad.
I remembered that initial meeting when I spent the better part of an afternoon with him in his office, and later, while on a trip to the United States, he visited our Plain Truth Ministries offices here in Southern California. I found a kinship with Bishara – in several ways. Our fathers were both killed in 1948 – his by a sniper bullet near Jerusalem, and mine in Kansas in a work related accident. Bishara was nine-years-of-age when his father was killed, I was but 15 months.
After his early education in Jerusalem, and then later in colleges here in the United States, Bishara met and married his wife Salwa, who grew up in Gaza – the very center of the suffering and mayhem right now.
There was a world of difference in the world in which we lived as young boys. I grew up in a peaceful nation, while Bishara was confronted with bias, prejudice, fear and violence. Bishara’s family were Palestinian Christians – Bishara remains a Palestinian Christian to this day, dedicated to peace and the dignity of all men and women, Palestinians and Israelis; Jews, Christians and Muslims.
In our archives we found two audio interviews I had with Bishara, in 2008, 15 years ago, which sound as if they could have been taped yesterday. Sadly, the issues remain the same. The division, the bias, the prejudices, the hatred, the unholy religious war … nothing has changed. The more things change the more, it seems, they remain the same.
Bishara Awad is a man of peace in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. Bishara is a man who knows through painful experiences how his faith has left him in a no-man’s-land-like “crossfire.” As a Palestinian Christian he is distrusted and viewed with skepticism by many Palestinians, who are overwhelmingly Muslims. As a Palestinian he is distrusted and viewed with skepticism by many Israelis, who are Jewish by race, though in the majority not observant Jews.
As a Palestinian Christian he is by and large not even supported and befriended by many, if not most, who profess to be his brothers and sisters in faith, fellow Christians … for many of them unequivocally support the state of Israel. As a Palestinian Christian Bishara and the Bible College he founded are dedicated to shining the Light of Christ in a dark and troubled part of this world. Hence the title of one of his books, “Yet in the Dark Streets Shining: A Palestinian Story of Hope and Resilience in Bethlehem.”
Bishara, his family and many of his colleagues at BBC believe in Christ-centered peacekeeping in times of hatred and violence. We hope you enjoy these two now 15 year-old 40-minute podcasts (click on the links below) and find the story of Bishara Awad, and the life Jesus lives in and through him, enlightening and inspiring.
A 2 part Audio interview with Bishara Awad.