Al Nucciarone, pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church, was preaching the day before from the Sermon on the Mount about building on a solid foundation to withstand the storms of life.
"Little did I know the next day on Monday I would get a text message that the Baptist church was attacked," Nucciarone told Baptist Press Feb. 22.
The vandalism is the latest attack on the Baptist House, which houses the Jerusalem Baptist Church as well as a nondenominational church and a Russian-speaking congregation. Not only has the Baptist House previously been defaced by graffiti, but it was burned to the ground in a 1982 attack attributed to Jewish extremists. After being rebuilt, it was the target of a 2007 arson attack that caused minor damage.
In the Feb. 20 attack, in addition to blasphemy about Jesus and phrases like "Death to Christianity," the term "Price Tag" was written on the church exterior. Media reports say the phrase is used by Jewish extremists to indicate the "price" they will exact in response to the government curbing settlement efforts as part of the peace process with Palestinians.
"Officers are investigating a strong possibility of a nationalist motive but no one has been apprehended yet," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told Reuters.
Nucciarone, who has led the English-speaking congregation since 2007, said an outpouring of support has been received from the community. Rabbis from organizations promoting Christian-Jewish understanding sent supportive emails; a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior came to give support; and the mayor and deputy mayor of Palestinian-majority Bethlehem also expressed their support.
"We have a Reformed synagogue next to ," Nucciarone said. "They brought over flowers. One of my Jewish friends came over with his rabbi. They offered their solidarity with us."
Local Christians, who have lived through Palestinian terrorism and attacks by Jewish extremists, are accustomed to opposition, Nucciarone said.
"We suffer, and then Palestinian Christians suffer as well," he said. "That's a fact of life here. We're a minority. People, just like they attacked Jesus, they'll attack us."
Nucciarone said he probably will start a sermon series from 1 Peter based on suffering though he doesn't view persecution as entirely bad.
"Persecution, of course, always makes you more dependent upon the Lord," the pastor said. "I think one of my colleagues said, 'Well, this happened; we must be doing the right thing.' So it is somewhat of an encouragement."
Nucciarone asks Southern Baptists to pray for the Lord to give local believers boldness and unity in their faith in the days ahead. He also requests prayer for the congregation's Jewish and Palestinian friends and -- even though he says his congregation loves and forgives the attackers -- that justice will be done.
" doesn't intimidate us," Nucciarone said. "We continue to serve the Lord, be a light in darkness and share our faith as the Lord opens up the door."
John Evans is a writer based in Houston. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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