As the nation of Israel was under attack on the morning of Oct. 7 by Hamas militants, two words began to echo on nearly every news report were “unprecedented” and “surprise.” Without any warning, militants swarmed into Israel by land, air and sea. The incursion was preceded with a barrage of thousands of rockets launched into Israel from the Gaza strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared Israel is at war with Hamas.
Meanwhile, at least two Southern Baptist Church groups — Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and First Baptist Church Fernandina Beach, Florida — are among those looking to return home after being caught in Israel as fighting broke out. See related story here.
“Our team was touring Israel when war broke out with Hamas,” wrote Zach Terry, pastor of FBC Fernandina, on Facebook. “Attitudes are good, we have confidence that our Lord causes all things to work together for good. Pray for Israel and pray God uses our presence here for His glory.”
Reportedly hundreds have been killed and thousands injured on both sides of the conflict. Hamas also reportedly kidnapped dozens of Israeli men, women and children, including soldiers. American citizens also are reportedly among the hostages.
Hamas claimed motivation for the attack was, in part, due to ongoing tensions around the dispute involving the “sensitive Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews and remains at the emotional heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” AP reported. They also reportedly pointed to the recent “expansion of Jewish settlements on lands that the Palestinians claim.”
Prayers for peace
Leaders around the world were quick to condemn the attack. The White House issued a statement that declared, “The United States unequivocally condemns this appalling assault against Israel by Hamas terrorists from Gaza.” Biden also stated, “Terrorism is never justified. Israel has a right to defend itself and its people.”
Paul Chitwood, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, called for prayer in a statement on social media shortly after the attack began.
“Approximately 10 million souls in Gaza and Israel today find themselves in a war zone,” he noted. “Most are innocent of the ongoing atrocities. Few are prepared to face eternity. Pray for peace. Pray for the gospel to be proclaimed and believed.”
Baptist missions teams caught in Israel
A group from Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham found themselves stuck in Israel after fighting broke out on Oct. 7, but as of Oct. 9, they’ve traveled safely to Jordan and have flights booked to return to Alabama. Meanwhile, First Baptist Church Fernandina Beach, Florida remain in Israel for now as they seek to return home.
The team of 11 from Shades Mountain were in Israel for a missions trip when the conflict started but were “safe,” “secure” and “in a very good spot” by the time pastor George Wright updated the congregation during their worship service Oct. 8.
On Oct. 7, Hamas launched an attack on Israel from Gaza. On Oct. 8, Israel officially declared war on Hamas.
Wright said the church gathered “with a very heavy heart” in light of the conflict, and he called them to pray for peace in Jerusalem alongside praying for their missions team. He asked for prayer for them to find the “best, safest, wisest way to get across the border and get to where they can fly home,” and this morning (Oct. 9) a representative from the church said those prayers had been answered.
A group from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Daphne has also been in Israel since Friday, according to the church’s Facebook page. As of Oct. 9, they were hoping to get out on a flight to the U.S. by way of Dubai later this week. Bader Mansour with the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel said the “situation in the southern part of Israel has been devastating; it brought us a deep feeling of sorrow, anger, confusion, and concern for the future.”
He said in the northern part of the country, where their association’s churches are primarily located, they are all safe.
“During this morning’s church service in Nazareth, many congregants found comfort in tearful prayers,” Mansour wrote in an email update Oct. 8. “Despite the continuous influx of bad news, the Lord encouraged us through songs and Scripture.”