Bishara Awad feels very disheartened as he watches the final pieces of a 23-foot-high cement wall being built. When it is finished, the wall will totally encircle Bethlehem, the town in which Jesus Christ was born and where Bethlehem Bible College, where Awad serves as president, is located.
In September, Israeli officials approved construction of a settlement west of Bethlehem and so that area is being walled off. The barrier will completely surround Bethlehem and the nearby countryside.
"This is very hard for us," Awad said on a recent speaking tour in the United States. "We work in the midst of all of this. The wall has affected the lives of everyone in Palestine."
Founded by Awad and others in 1979, the college normally enrolls 135 students who are interested in Christian service in the Middle East. The college is located on the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. It also has a branch in Gaza, another community totally closed off by the wall. There is also a satellite campus in Nazareth.
"We have spent 32 years training Palestinians (in) the Bible. We are preparing the way, training pastors to ensure that the Gospel of Christ continues in the Middle East,” said Awad."We are a light for the light of Jesus Christ in the Palestinian territories."
In September 1990, Bethlehem Bible College moved to its new home, the former Bible Lands Society buildings. With additional classroom space and dormitories, it has been able to increase its enrollment and expand its ministry.
"We want to be on the side of God’s justice," said Awad. “We are in the holy land, which should be open to everyone.”
Although graduates from the college are able to find jobs as pastors and in ministries in the area, they are working with a dwindling population of Christians. Many have left or are leaving because of tensions between the Palestinian people and the Israelis.
The college is surrounded by Muslim neighborhoods, but students have never been harassed by Muslims for embracing the Christian faith. Many Muslims are, in fact, friends and attend events at the college.
"We want to do what is right in the sight of God for peace," said Awad, who was born in Jerusalem and lives in the land where his family has been for 500 years. "Despite all of the challenges we have faced in building the college, it is amazing what God can do."
(Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.)