For this reason I want to repost at blog I wrote in March of 2008 after a remarkable visit I had with some pastors from the Gaza Strip:
"Rami was just a few days short of his 29th birthday," his pastor in the Gaza strip told us. Our new friend had had come to Bethlehem, in the West Bank, to meet our group and to pray and fellowship with us. He speaks with good English, obviously very well educated and polished.
"He had talked to one of our church members just minutes before they kidnapped him. He called his family about an hour afterward and told them, 'I will be with this group for a couple of hours. If I am not back after that, I will not see you for a long, long time.'"
Rami Ayyad was beheaded about 5 hours later. "The group gave him a choice- deny his Christian faith and convert to Islam and live- or deny Islam, and die."
The pastor takes some time now to regain his composure.
"For him the choice was already made. The saddest part of all is that his little boy George at 4 years old still doesn't understand what happened to his daddy. Every time he sees his picture on the computer screen, he goes to the screen and hugs the computer."
Although no one claimed responsibility for Rami's death, it is widely believed it was carried out by the "Righteous Army of God", a radical Muslim group that just a few weeks before had blown up Rami's book store. Rami was a very popular and dynamic young Christian leader.
We sit in silence for awhile.
"It is very hard" He says.
As our conversation unfolds it is very clear to me that I am in the presence of a different kind of Christian. Here is a man who studied in the states, receiving a doctor's degree, and yet chose to return to Gaza. He pastors a church of about 150 believers who are living out their faith in possibly the most hostile environment on the planet.
"We are having to learn forgiveness all over again", he says.
Our group gathers around him and lay hands on him and pray. It is very moving. I am standing behind this man with my hand on his shoulder crying out to God for His continued work and strength in his life while his 2 year old daughter rests in his arms.
And yet I know that tomorrow I am going home to a very comfortable existence, and this man is going back into a place that is plagued by hatred and despair, poverty and starvation.
Here is a man who gives to people who have nothing to give back. He is not in it for acclaim, for applause, for material gain. He silently and lovingly pours his life out for others.
His is the applause of heaven.
The church in Gaza is gathering children out of the slum and putting them in school and taking care of their physical and emotional needs. They give them clothes and blankets and textbooks. They show them to unconditional love of Christ.
But the church is not just proclaiming the gospel, it reaching out to the terrible physical needs and with the help of Christians from the states, meeting those needs when they can.
"When the Christians give, they give without condition", one of the Gazan church members tells us a little later, "but when Hamas gives, there are always strings attached. It makes a big difference in the way Christians are perceived."
This is just one of the many remarkable stories we have heard in the past few days in Israel and the West Bank. There are so many I would want to tell you.
Like the story of the Arab pastor in Haifa who leads a Messianic Jewish congregation. His church is growing rapidly with several worship services and home groups. "The Messianic movement in Israel is just now taking off" my friend in Haifa tells me. The church is made up of Jews and Russians and Ethiopians, who each have a worship in their own language.
Or like the story of the 25 year old Israeli Army officer I met who is a former Druze and is now a dynamic follower of Jesus. He is right now in the middle of an intensive 3 month discipleship course in which he will actually travel to the different places where Jesus taught and learn about His teaching in a very intense way. He is very bold in his witness. One of the ways he trained younger Israeli soldiers in his unit was to teach them about Christ.
Or the story of the Palestinian husband and wife who are committed to ministry in the West Bank. They are providing blankets and food and clothing and are meeting the physical needs of the impoverished people of the West Bank and Gaza. They risk their lives every day to show the love of Christ to the people around them.
After lunch with them and the drive back across the line and through the huge concrete walls that now separate Israel and the West Bank, I think of my new friends. One a dynamic and focused believer an Israeli Army officer who has fought for his country in Gaza. The others are Gazan believers whose lives have been so devastated by the affects of that same war. They are worlds apart. And yet they are one.
There is also the story of the American family that lives here who are committed believers and who work for a Christian ministry. A few years ago their oldest daughter was killed by a suicide bomber. Her grief stricken parents and 4 sisters made the decision to not leave Israel- but to honor her memory by investing the rest of their lives here. Recently a high school student in Israel made a film about this family- about their love for Israel and their love for Christ. Each one in the family was interviewed for the film. They shared their joy and their desire to serve the Israeli people, both Jew and Arab. The final scenes showed pictures of their daughter who was killed and details of the bombing.
When the film was over, the entire school- parents, teachers and students stood to their feet in thunderous applause.
I can't help but think that it is nothing compared to the applause of heaven.