Atrocities perpetrated by the self-identified Islamic State in Iraq and Syria drives some Muslims in the Middle East away from the faith of their families, a Baptist pastor from Palestine said.
RCO Ministries, formerly known as Ramallah Christian Outreach.“They look at ISIS and see the brutality toward their own people, and they move in one of two directions. Either they don’t want anything to do with God because of their association with Islam, or they desperately want a Savior, and they come to Christ,” said Munir Kakish, founding president of
Munir and Sharon Kakish recently visited Texas at the invitation of First Baptist Church in Palestine. The East Texas congregation entered a partnership with the West Bank ministry about 10 years ago.
Changes in recent years
Kakish, who has served in Ramallah since 1978, pointed to changes he has observed in recent years. He noted:
- Worsening of day-to-day living conditions among Palestinians, due to the political and economic situation.
- Deeper faith and spiritual maturity among Middle Eastern Christians as they have learned to depend on God rather than political solutions.
- Greater receptivity to the Christian faith among people from Muslim backgrounds.
“I see an openness of Muslims to the gospel,” Kakish said. “They are coming at times to worship with us, and they are not ashamed of it or worried about it.”
Kakish is pastor of two congregations—Ramallah Local Church on the West Bank and Ramla Local Church, about a half-hour drive from Tel Aviv in Israel. For the last eight years, he has led the Council of Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land, with which the Ramallah congregation is affiliated. The Ramla congregation is part of the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel, and it relates both to the European Baptist Federation and the Baptist World Alliance.
Kakish also directs the Home of New Life—a ministry to orphans and children from disadvantaged families—and the New Life Community Center, which offers computer training, tutoring, language classes and Bible courses.
Outreach to refugees in Jordan
“We also are reaching out to Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan, delivering food packages,” he said.
Some refugees live in tents in established camps, while others live outside the camps in tiny apartments, often sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor and using kerosene stoves both for warmth and cooking.
“They are not allowed to work and take jobs away from Jordanians,” Kakish explained.
Care for Palestinian children
The problem of unemployment extends beyond the refugee population in neighboring Jordan to include the general Palestinian population on the West Bank, he noted.
The Home for New Life offers two approaches to ministry in that setting—a residential program for boys from dysfunctional or impoverished families and a sponsorship program for both boys and girls who continue to live with their parents. Sponsors help provide financial assistance for the educational and medical expenses of children, whether from Muslim or Christian families, Kakish explained.
“We see a change in these families one child at a time, one person at a time,” he said.
Kakish identifies with the children. Born in Jordan, he spent eight years in a children’s home in Ramallah after his father’s death.
“It is encouraging to see kids growing up and serving the Lord,” he said, noting at least 10 of the young people served by the Home of New Life are involved in Christian ministry. “My first love has always been helping children.”
Each summer, the church at Ramallah and New Life Community Center sponsor a summer camp for children and teenagers, where young people learn the Bible while engaging in fun activities.
Making an impact
Teams from First Baptist Church in Palestine have served as short-term volunteers with children at the New Life Community Center and the Home for New Life, and their presence has made an impact on residents of the West Bank, Kakish noted.
“It means these people care for us enough to come to a place where no one wants to be,” he said, noting more than 45 percent of the West Bank population live below the poverty level.
Members of the East Texas congregation have shared more than a name—Palestine—with West Bank Christians and have gained far more than they have given, Pastor Jay Abernathy insisted.
“This has helped our people to see the Holy Land in a different light,” he said. “The church of Jesus Christ is there now, not just back in history.”
In recent years, First Baptist has been less involved directly in hands-on ministry in the West Bank, although members continue to pray for the friends they have made there, he noted.
“It has been humbling for us to be a part of the community of believers there,” Abernathy said. “They are not dependent on us. They depend on the Lord.”