This article was first published at Christianity Today, on May 21.
Hanna Maher’s wife is nine months pregnant, due any day now, with only four hours of daily electricity. Her two older boys scurry about in the dark, kept ignorant by parents about the dead at the border.
But it is hard to be ignorant in Gaza.
A Norwegian charity estimates 56 percent of children in the Palestinian territory suffer from traumatic nightmares. Suicide, rarely seen culturally, is a growing concern. Maher, an Egyptian-born Baptist pastor, says some at the border see death as the best option.
Two million people are squeezed into a coastal strip roughly the size of Philadelphia. Exit is severely restricted on one side by Israel. The waiting list into Egypt is 40,000 names long.
Unemployment is over 40 percent. Clean drinking water is hard to come by. And on May 14, as tens of thousands massed near a chain link fence demonstrating for their “Right to Return,” Israeli snipers picked off dozens.
“Monday was a hard day. But at least it is quiet now,” Maher said. “It has been bad for years. But conditions now are the worst I have seen.”
Maher went to Gaza in 2011, and married his local Palestinian wife a year later. His congregation is the strip’s only evangelical church, with about 60 regular members. Overall, Gaza’s Christian population is about 1,000, mostly Greek Orthodox; in the last 10 years, it has declined by a third.
Maher provides food aid to about 120 families. His marriage preparation classes are a crash course in how to nurture a family amid poverty.
And he says local Christians are critical of just about everyone…
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