For nearly all, the atrocities that occur in Syria and the Gaza Strip are simply news headlines. We may see or hear them, and then we move on.
For Hanna Massad, they are with him every day.
Massad, 59, grew up in Gaza as a member of the Christian minority, who for years worked on the ground in that disputed territory, helping those in need, regardless of faith. Now he splits his time between Wilton, where he lives with his wife Suhad, a teacher in Amity, and their two daughters, and Jordan, to which he travels several times a year.
Massad will be a special guest at Wilton’s National Day of Prayer on Thursday, May 2. At the event that begins at noon in Wilton Library’s Brubeck Room, he will offer a prayer for people who have been persecuted, experienced violence, and must live through war. The community is invited to hear not only his prayer, but those of other community members who will pray for peace, children and families, schools, those living through domestic violence, those affected by mental illness, and more. The theme of this year’s National Day of Prayer is Love One Another.
Massad was ordained a minister in 1987 and served as pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church while he pursued a bachelor’s degree from Bethlehem Bible College, which he received in 1991. He then traveled to Pasadena, Calif., where received his master of divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1994 and then a Ph.D. in theology in 2000. While he was studying at Fuller, he served as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Azusa, Calif.
Massad returned home to serve as the pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church in 1999, leaving with his family in 2007 due to continuing persecution of Christians, who number only about 2,000 among Gaza’s population of 1.5 million.
“My wife was rector of a church that had been bombed. A church member was kidnapped, tortured and killed because he refused to be converted,” he told The Bulletin.
They fled to Jordan, where he worked with an Iraqi congregation, many of whom had lost their property because of ISIS, he said. Many refugees in Jordan were waiting to immigrate to other countries, but because they were not allowed to work, he worked to meet their physical and spiritual needs. The congregation meets every Tuesday. Buses pick up people from various locations to bring them to worship services. There is also small-group Bible study and a Christian correspondence school.
This he does with a group of what he termed “aid leaders” with the organization CM2G (cm2g.org), a public charity that raises money for their relief work. There are eight aid leaders in Jordan and two in Gaza.
“Gaza is still in my heart,” Massad said. “I live in Wilton but I go to Gaza and Jordan three times a year and stay for three weeks.”
While in Gaza, he supports Gaza Baptist Church, which also has the only Christian public library and a school for boys and girls from kindergarten through sixth grade. The faculty is half-Christian and half-Muslim. A relief program helps both Christians and Muslims in poverty. According to the CM2G website, 40% of Palestinian families live below the poverty level.
His experiences have led Massad to write a book, Pastor from Gaza, which is available on Amazon. In it, he recounts harrowing experiences like having to stop preaching because of shooting close by, but also his thoughts on “how to live by love and forgiveness.”
The book, he said, offers a Christian perspective on the conflict between Palestinians and Israel since that country’s beginnings.
“By the grace of God, I refuse to allow unforgiveness and bitterness to rule my life,” he said.
Wilton’s National Day of Prayer is organized by Adrienne Reedy and hosted by Morning Meditations with Sisters in Community, a local prayer group that meets every Wednesday at Reedy’s home. She has arranged the service in Wilton for several years. A light lunch will be served after the service.
Anyone who wishes to communicate with Massad may do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.