By Mark Ellis
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
RAMALLAH, WEST BANK (ANS) -- His efforts to help his people have led to numerous death threats. Because another Palestinian pastor was recently murdered, he takes the threats seriously.
"I have to take the threats seriously," says Pastor Isa Bajalia, an American-born Palestinian who founded a ministry in Ramallah known as Middle East Missions. "Rami Ayyad once sat in my place and thought they probably won't do anything," he notes.
Rami Ayyad, the manager of Gaza City's only Christian bookstore, was abducted and killed in early October. The attack came six months after his Palestinian Bible Society bookshop was bombed, and nearly daily threats of violence. No arrests have been made in his killing.
Threats against Pastor Isa began in May, after a medical mission team came from a U.S. church to minister in Ramallah. There were three physicians, several nurses, and other volunteers who distributed medicine, vitamins, and other essentials. "The group was very bold in the way they prayed and witnessed, and somehow the word got back to the Palestinian Authority," says Pastor Isa.
"We have to use wisdom in ministering to people of other faiths - and not be offensive," he says. "At the same time we have a sovereign mandate in Mark 16 - The Great Commission."
Pastor Isa also ran into trouble more recently when he attempted to sell some land in Ramallah that once belonged to his grandfather, who immigrated from Ramallah to the U.S. in the early 1950s. Pastor Isa has identified two men he alleges are attempting to extort money from him, in exchange for his grandfather's land. One of those threatening him is a member of the Tunzin militia group.
"It's like the mafia," Pastor Isa says. "He says if I pay him $30,000 and assign the land over to him, he'll get off my back."
Pastor Isa grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and was born-again at a Baptist Church when he was 14. He met his wife at Rhema Bible Training Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the mid-1980s. They have one son.
Many generations of his family lived in Ramallah and had ties to the Greek Orthodox Church. "Because of my family roots, I've always had a desire and a calling from God to better the lives of my people," he says. "The thrust of our efforts is to bring educational opportunity and humanitarian relief to the people of Ramallah."
In 1996 the Bajalias launched a kindergarten in Ramallah for children aged 3-5. Due to the intifada, their school was forced to close in 2002. They have also been involved in church-planting efforts, but with the tense atmosphere currently in the West Bank, those efforts take the form of cell groups meeting in private homes.
A surprising incident clarified Pastor Isa's ministry vision about 12 years ago. One afternoon as he walked toward his house he was startled by a shepherd running down a hill, chasing his sheep. He heard the man yelling, causing a commotion.
"I noticed the sound of sheep hooves coming from behind me along with
Pastor Isa Bajalia
When Pastor Isa turned, he noticed the sheep were following him. "When I stopped the sheep stopped running," he recalls. "The shepherd was out of breath and thanked me for stopping."
"I don't know why, but my sheep were following you home," the man said, somewhat perplexed.
Pastor Isa continued to the door of his house when he felt God speak to his heart, saying, 'If you continue to obey me, I will always cause sheep to follow you - and some shepherds.'
Pastor Isa and his wife have ministered in the Middle East since 1991. He sees a delicate balance between humanitarian relief and maintaining an effective witness. "We're firm believers that the light of Jesus Christ shines first and foremost through your life," he says.
"We befriend those we minister to in our humanitarian efforts," he notes. "We attempt to somehow allow them to see the life of Jesus lived through us. We try to sink into the shadows of the background to allow His personality and character to be in the forefront."
"That always opens the door to questioning on their part," he adds.
Just this week, mounting threats forced Pastor Isa to flee Ramallah and take cover in East Jerusalem. Despite these pressures, Pastor Isa remains steadfast. "I'm a firm believer that battles are won from your knees," he says. "I will not stop being obedient to the high call of God."
|Mark Ellis,a Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service, is also Director of Communications for Guidelines International Ministries. firstname.lastname@example.org|