Missionary couple shares experiences helping Palestinian people

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Missionary couple shares experiences helping Palestinian people

Dec. 10, 2006  News media contact: Tita Parham*
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0585}

An e-Review Feature
By John Michael De Marco**

The Rev. Alex Awad looks out over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives in this 1996 file photograph. After six years of repeated applications to the Israeli government, Awad, a Palestinian American, received an official visa for his missionary work in 1995. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose, e-Review FUMNS Photo #06-481.

Palestine has often been the eye of the storm when it comes to unrest in the Middle East. The Rev. Alex Awad and his wife, Brenda, stare into that eye each day, with the goal of helping poor Christians the Western church often ignores.

The Awads recently spent some time in the Florida Conference discussing their ministry experiences and thanking churches for their longtime support. The couple currently lives in Bethlehem, where Alex Awad serves a small international church in East Jerusalem and both teach at Bethlehem Bible College.

Numerous Florida Conference churches support the Awads, as well as the college and its humanitarian arm, The Shepherd Society.

Born in Palestine and raised in a Palestinian-Arab-Greek Orthodox family, Alex Awad said Arab Christians existed in the Middle East before the rise of Islam.

“My mother was the first in our family to join a Protestant/evangelical congregation,” he recently told e-Review. “After the death of my father in the first Arab-Israeli War (1948), we lost all of our material possessions and became refugees.”

Despite that experience Awad said his mother did not lose her faith and confidence in God.

“Regardless of the hard economic situation she opened our home for Bible study and Sunday school,” he said. “This had an impact on my spiritual development and that of my six brothers and sisters. By the time I was about to graduate from high school I felt God’s call to serve him among the Palestinian people.”

After graduating Awad enrolled at a Bible college in Switzerland. He continued his education at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., and at North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Ga., where he met Brenda. In 1979, seven years after the Awards were married, the couple returned to Bethlehem to help Awad’s brother, Bishara, start a Bible college. After eight years of service in Bethlehem the Awads returned to the United States and Alex enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.

“At Asbury I became acquainted with The United Methodist Church and was encouraged by an Asbury professor to apply to the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) for missionary service,” Awad recalled. “We were accepted, and after graduation from Asbury in 1989 (we) were commissioned for mission work in Palestine. Due to political hindrances we were not able to attain a visa to return to our field of assignment in Palestine until 1994.”

The couple is among the handful of GBGM missionaries serving in the Middle East among 300 million Arabs. Awad said he and Brenda’s first objective in serving in Palestine is “to stand in solidarity with the declining Palestinian Christian communities of this land. Second, we desire that local Christians will be encouraged to stay in this land and continue to be a witness for Christ in the land of his birth, death and resurrection.”

To achieve those goals the couple is training young Palestinian men and women to become the future leaders of their churches and communities. At the same time they are attempting to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian masses through humanitarian ministries and the advancement of medical services in hospitals and medical centers.

“The greatest joy in our ministry here is to see our graduates serving God, their churches and their people in many towns and cities throughout Israel and Palestine,” Awad said. “These students are making a positive impact within their churches and in the society. The greatest challenge is to serve where massive injustice, violence, segregation and oppression is taking place every day. The injustices that Israel is inflicting on the Palestinian masses go unnoticed by most people in the Western world.”

Awad said the recent military crisis in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel was a few hundred kilometers from his ministries and did not adversely affect them. Some Christian refugees from northern Israel did stay in their guesthouse until the conflict subsided.

“In the Jerusalem and Bethlehem areas the challenge is the 24-foot high and hundreds of kilometers-long wall that the Israeli government is building throughout the West Bank,” he asserted. “This wall is choking the Palestinian community, causing many Palestinian Christians to leave their homeland. In addition the wall is causing great economic and social challenges for all Palestinians. In many areas the wall has divided roads in half, cutting Palestinian neighborhoods apart.”

The college’s Shepherd Society was established to meet some of the urgent material needs of the poorest people in Bethlehem, where Awad said unemployment is between 40 percent to 60 percent. “We are helping people by giving them food coupons, paying medical bills, paying school tuition fees and subsidizing water or electric bills. While we help all people regardless of religious or ethnic background, we intentionally seek to reach out to the poor Christian community in Bethlehem due to the fact that it is the most endangered community.”

Referring to conference churches Awad said: “We appreciate their prayers and support very much. When we visited these and other welcoming congregations during the fall we were showered with hospitality. We are thankful to all United Methodist churches in the Florida Conference because through their direct or indirect contributions we are able to continue God’s mission in Israel and in Palestine.”

Awad said the harsh political and economic realities in this part of the world constrain his and his wife’s ability to continue serving God among the Palestinian people. “We will continue to serve here as long as God graces us with good physical and mental health and as long as the Israeli government continues to issue us the needed visas.”


This article relates to Missions.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.

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