By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (August 10, 2012) – Labib Madanat captivated worshipers at the 2012 Annual Meeting when he preached on pursuing peace in the Middle East. He told them that he was the coordinator of the Palestinian/Israeli Bible Society, but he did not tell about how the vicious killing of a friend had threatened his faith and his life’s work.
Covenant World Relief is considering possible ways to partner with Madanat, and Rolling Hills Covenant Church has engaged in ministry with him since 1995. They note that he has lived his belief that, “The love of Christ is equal to the cross of Christ.”
In 2007, a splinter group of Hamas kidnapped and tortured 30-year-old Rami Ayyad, who managed a Christian bookstore in Gaza operated by the Palestinian Bible Society, which Madanat served as executive director at the time. Ayyad’s body was found laying face down on a street the next day. He had been shot and stabbed multiple times and the kidnappers also had crushed his skull.
That night as Madanat drove home, he learned that Israelis had killed several militants in an unconnected raid. “It was the first time in my life that I was glad the Israelis had killed some of my own people.”
Twelve hours later, Madanat attended the funeral and stood beside Ayyad’s pregnant widow and three children. “It was the most difficult experience of my life,” he recalls.
Christian leaders at the funeral looked at him and seethed. One excoriated Madanat because the Bible society had opened the store. “He told me, “Why did you bring all of this on us? Why do we have to serve the Muslims, to love them so much that we have to pay such a heavy price? What you have done, Labib, has caused so much damage to the church in Gaza. You blew it up. I wish you’d never came.”
Madanat, an Israeli Arab, said he felt a sense of hatred well up in him as he left Gaza and passed through one of the many checkpoints on his way home, which is located in a Jewish neighborhood near a Palestinian refugee camp. “Every Muslim I saw was like a knife pointed at me. I hated all of them.
“Later that evening, as usual, Israel attacked a target in Gaza and killed five Muslim militants, and for the first time in my life, I rejoiced over the killing of my own people.” Madanat pauses. It is a weighted silence, but after a moment he continues because he wants – he has – to tell the rest of the story.
“At that time, I was not ready to consult God and lie and give a false statement that I love them, because to say I love them – when I hate them – is an insult to the cross of Jesus,” Madanat continues. “But the lord ministered to my heart, and the message he gave me was ‘Labib, if the militants succeed in killing Rami, he is with me. But if they succeed at killing my love in you, for the Muslims then that will be a great loss.’ The Lord warned me against that.”
Madanat is soft-spoken, but there is no missing his passion and unflinching pursuit of telling the truth. That honesty is seen when he criticizes media in the United States and the unquestioning sympathies by some Christians towards Israel.
“They do a disservice to Israel,” he says. “When you show the Palestinian needs and the Palestinian suffering as well as the Israeli pain and suffering, when you’re faced with all of the stories, then you sense the need for reconciliation and peace. But when you only show one side of the conflict and aggression and so on, you begin more and more to say, who is the guilty party? They should be punished.
“Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?” he continued. “More honest reporting by the media will create more desire among people to say we should help both sides come together to live into this peace and reconciliation.”
Despite all the personal pain as well as the great suffering that continues in the region, where the number of Christians continues to decline, Madanat lives with hope. “People ask if there is hope for the Church in the Middle East, but that is the wrong question,” he says. “The right question is: Is there hope for the Middle East without the Church?”
Madanat says it is important for the Bible Society to remain in the area, to distribute Bibles – and to do more. “We don’t feel like we have accomplished our ministry when we hand a Bible over. Sure we are happy to see that, but the goal is not to give a Bible. The goal is the person.”
That means developing relationships so that people will be willing to hear the gospel. “Handing over the Bible to someone can come in the beginning or the middle or the end or never,” he explains. “We want to create opportunities for Palestinians to have access to the word of God, to meet Jesus there in the pages of the Bible. We are taking the Bible from being a product-based mission to a people-based mission.”
Madanat became involved in pursuing reconciliation after he met Brother Andrew with Open Doors, a ministry that seeks to strengthen Christians in persecuted countries so that they might grow in love for their enemies and share the gospel. Brother Andrew eventually would become the connection between Madanat and Rolling Hills Covenant.
The church had sensed a call to reach out to Muslims, says Safy Jacob, who guides the congregation’s global outreach ministry and is a member of the denomination’s Executive Board. She subsequently traveled in 1994 to the Middle East with Brother Andrew to visit different ministries and pursue possible ways the church could minister in the region.
Subsequently in 1995, the church sent a team of high school students and adults to serve alongside Bethlehem Bible College and the Bible Society. The church has since sent numerous groups on mission trips to the area.
A team of Covenant leaders, including Jacob, traveled to the region earlier this year to discuss how Covenant World Relief might work with Madanat.
Reflecting on his first meeting with the Covenanters in the 1990s, Madanat recalls, “The heart of the people was overwhelming to me. What I saw in the Covenant is the variety and the diversity, which is in the core of the heart of God. It’s not a diversity that sacrifices truth.”
Madanat says he looks forward to working with the Covenant. “I want to be a servant. I want to serve the Covenant wherever the Lord wants to lead in the Middle East, whether it is with the Bible Society or in some other way.”