Friday, October 12, 2007

A Tribute

Many of you know by now about the murder of our friend, Rami Ayyad, in Gaza this week. It was our honor to attend the funeral. Please be in prayer for Rami's family and the entire beliving community there. These are hard days.

Much has been written about the attack. I've copied a couple of articles below. The first is from the international press. The second is written by a friend of Rami's who worked in Gaza until this past summer.

Christian leader killed in Gaza

Believers in Gaza are mourning the loss of a Baptist leader killed this past weekend. It is believed he died for taking a stand for his faith. Rami Ayyad, 29, a prominent member of Gaza Baptist Church and manager of a Christian bookstore owned by the Palestinian Bible Society, was kidnapped Oct. 6 shortly after closing. His body was found the following day about a mile from the store. No one has claimed responsibility for his death. He had been shot twice and struck with a blunt object. Ayyad leaves behind a wife, Pauline, who is pregnant with their third child, and two children under the age of 3.

Hundreds of fellow Christians gathered Oct. 7 for his funeral. He was buried next to his father.“Rami was the most gentle member on the team, the ever-smiling one,” a colleague said. “He was the face of our Bible shop, always receiving visitors and serving them as Jesus would.” A Baptist worker said Ayyad worked the front desk of the bookstore and regularly answered questions about his faith. “Rami was known for his easy manner with people,” the worker said. “He was bold in his faith and not ashamed of the Gospel.”

Last week, Ayyad told his wife that he had noticed people following him. A couple days later, he closed the bookstore and never arrived home. That evening, friends contacted him by mobile phone after he didn’t show up to a children’s program at the church. “He said he’d be delayed another couple of hours,” the worker said. “He also spoke with his wife.” His body was discovered the next morning.

The Baptist worker describes local believers as shocked and shaken by Ayyad’s death. Those closest to him described him as “a hulk of a man,” “dynamic” and “extremely likeable.” “He was the guy that if anything [in the church] needed to be done, he did it,” the worker said. “He was known as a peacemaker.”

In recent months, tensions between Muslims and Christians have escalated. The Bible Society store was attacked last spring when a bomb was detonated at the door of the building, damaging the first floor. No one was injured. Other believers have been robbed and threatened in recent months, but this is the first known kidnapping and murder of a Christian in the Gaza area. Baptist workers ask for prayer for Ayyad’s family, the local community and for those who murdered him.

It is estimated that only 2,000 evangelical Christians live among the 1.5 million people who populate the Gaza Strip. The majority is Muslim. Less than 1 percent claim to be Christian. Of that percentage, most are Greek Orthodox.

My Friend, Rami

The last time I saw Rami we were at the beach near Gaza City. A group of us were in the water and I was trying to force Rami under water. Rami was a big man, weighing at least twice what I do, needless to say, I did not manage to get him to budge. When he in turn came after me all I could do to protect myself from suffocating under him was flee. Eventually I was able to sneak up on him under water and pull his legs out from under him and then escape again.

There are around 3000 Christians living in Gaza today. Rami was the office director of the Teacher’s bookstore, a Christian bookstore in downtown Gaza City. The store sells Christian books and offers computer and language lessons, which are attended by Palestinians from across the Gaza Strip. When I would visit the place on occasion Rami was always there on his swivel chair cracking jokes. Few people entered that did not already know him.

Gaza can be a place of sadness, Rami always reminded me much more of the mentality of Egyptians laughing and joking no matter how depressing life becomes. On Saturday afternoon Rami closed his shop as he always did at 4:30. He had told his brother that three days earlier he had sensed he was being followed home after work but had not made much of it. Two hours after closing up he called his wife and told her with much uncertainty that he hoped to be home in two hours and not to worry. He was not able to say where he was or why he was there. Rami never came home. Friends and family searched for him until late into the night. At 5:30am on Sunday morning his body was found beaten, a bullet through his head, another through his chest. His wallet, ID and watch were gone. No one has made any statements, no group has taken responsibility.

This is the first time in Gaza’s recent history for a Christian to be kidnapped and killed. Sadly, such incidents do occur in revenge killings usually of political nature but never with religious causes. In Gaza, Muslims and Christians live and die side by side, sharing every element of the Israeli occupation and containment that has been a reality there since most people alive today remember. Rami had no political or factional involvement, nor was his family implicated in any family feuds. Rami’s boss was quoted in the Independent saying "We don't know who was behind the killing or why. Was it for money, or was it because he was selling Bibles?"

The heart of the matter is the fact that Gaza is a place overrun with violence. Readers of this blog have followed the complexities of the makeup of Gaza’s social and political makeup, I will not repeat again what I have so often before. Violence here has deep roots in injustice and occupation, but beyond this every individual, every political grouping, every community makes the choice of projecting their experience outward and returning violence for violence. Gaza is deeply entrenched in violence. In Gaza victims of bloodshed often themselves become shedders of blood.

Rami experienced the harshness of occupation, the limitation of curfews, Israeli military incursions, civilian targeted sonic booms, restrictions on travel beyond the 365km2 confines of the Gaza Strip and the strife of civil war. Rami chose to respond to violence with laughter, love and peace. The strength to live such a life is what I hope for Rami’s killers, it is what I hope for every Palestinian living and born into the living hell of Gaza today.

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