There are varying definitions of bravery and courage. After reading a scintillating new book from Pastor Steven Khoury, however, I propose this man from Bethlehem might just be a picture-perfect definition himself.
The subtitle to his book, “In the Backyard of Jesus,” says it all: “An Arab Pastor Living Under Persecution in the Holy Land.” Khoury, you see, pastors several churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, with his father, the equally courageous Naim Khoury.
Lots of ink goes to the Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, who seem to be aligned with the Palestinian Authority; folks such as Naim Ateek and the Awad family. Yet, Steven Khoury and his father pastor the largest Arab Evangelical church in east Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. Like in other places around the globe where persecution against Christians exists, faith is actually sprouting in the Holy Land. Different theories abound as to the source of that persecution, but the fact remains that the Khourys live in this type of environment.
Frankly, his personal story is gripping in the extreme. We don’t often have an opportunity to peer into a world so shrouded in mystery. In a boiling pot that holds the Israel Defense Forces, Muslim terrorists and a dizzying interfaith community, the Palestinian territories are a fascinating study in holding onto one’s faith in the midst of great personal danger.
Khoury conveys his personal story with quiet, yet compelling dignity, describing what it was like from the beginning: “On many occasions I hid under my bed holding my Bible close to my heart, hugging it like a small child hugs his mama’s neck, crying and shaking at every noise I heard outside my windows – constantly wondering whether it would be an enraged person threatening our living compound, a single sniper’s gunshot or hundreds of flying bullets flying at our home. Close encounters with death haunt me every day, keeping me in touch with the reality that without Christ my battle is already lost.”
I’ve met Khoury and had the pleasure of hearing him speak. His amiable manner and gentle grace are proof positive that the faith he promotes is grounded in reality. “In the Backyard of Jesus” is simply one of the best reads you’ll encounter (and, if you are so inclined, Steven Khoury is a brilliant speaker, for those churches and organizations that are interested: HolyLandMissions.org).
The truth is, the environment in which Khoury finds himself living is, well, complicated. Christian Zionists are sure they know the full picture, but really don’t. Khoury’s view of the region in which he lives and works provides context and nuance to an impossibly complex journey. Likewise, those Christians who lean too much in the direction of supporting wholly the Palestinian narrative miss out if they don’t hear Khoury’s story.
Perhaps the most impressive chapter in this terrific account is No. 6 – “My True Identity.” Khoury rightly understands that folks from various backgrounds want him to affirm their particular view … the Christian Zionists and those now being called “Christian Palestinianists.”
Yet, true only to his faith, Khoury recognizes his true identity (and citing 2 Corinthians 5:17): “I would like to speak more truth to you regarding salvation and the identity of those who can receive it.”
He then goes on to present a beautifully balanced view: “It is critical to believe in the whole Bible. My father always says, ‘The Old Testament alone is half the truth, and so is the New Testament. Now, the Old and New Testaments read together are the whole and complete truth.’ If you study from Scripture in Genesis 12, for example, we see God showing favor to the Jews. When everyone else is worshiping graven images or celestial bodies, the Jewish nation was worshiping the true living God. Now, granted, they did mess up and turn from God on many occasions, but they kept coming back. The Jews are not better than the Palestinians, and neither are the Palestinians any better than the Jews. When anyone, Jew or Palestinian, breaks God’s commandments, he must repent and turn to Jesus. I love both and respect both as living, breathing human beings, regardless of personal circumstances.”
Wow. Only a true faith could shine like that, from one’s inner being. Khoury’s story is a sober-yet-joyful look at living out one’s faith with integrity and yes, great personal courage.
With my strongest recommendation, I urge you to check out Steven Khoury’s story, “In the Backyard of Jesus,” and learn from him. Contact him and let him know that you appreciate his book and story and will be praying for him.