When American missionary Karen Dunham gave her life to Christ years ago, she had no thoughts of traveling to Jericho, West Bank, to minister. Not even after God told her several years later to go to Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall did she consider such an undertaking. Like most Americans, she saw the Palestinians as enemies and had no love for them whatsoever.
“I didn’t even know what an Arab was,” Dunham says. But she associated the people in that part of the world with bombs and terrorism.
An encounter with a Catholic priest at the New Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem helped change her perspective. “If you go to Jericho and feed the people, you can win the city for Christ,” he told her.
“When he said it, the Spirit of God gripped me,” Dunham says. “I had never thought about winning a whole city before, but the Spirit of God says, ‘You can win the city if you’ll go to Jericho and feed the people.'”
She knew God was telling her to feed her enemies. And she remembered that He had said of Israel in His Word, “It’s a good land flowing with milk and honey.”
“That means all of it,” she says. “He didn’t divide it up and say, ‘This part’s bad, and this part’s bad.’ He said, ‘It’s a good land flowing with milk and honey.'”
With that understanding, Dunham, a single mom and previously associate pastor at Solid Rock Christian Recovery Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, moved with her teenage son, Peter Blake Davis, to Jericho. Because the Palestinians were afraid of them, the only place they could find to rent a home was in a refugee camp. But after living in the area only a short time, Dunham had a radical change of heart toward the people.
“I had to get out of my religious box,” she says. “When I went to Jericho, I felt the Palestinians were my enemy, and I had never even prayed for them….Then here I am living in a refugee camp, and I realize they’re real people. They may wear long dresses and have goats, but they cry and they bleed and their babies are hungry. And God loves these people.”
PAYING THE PRICE
It was God’s love expressed through Dunham that eventually began drawing people in the area to Christ. She reached out to them in practical ways by giving them food and clothing and by providing lessons in English to local children and to the Jericho police. Eventually she was able to begin offering Bible studies and showing Jesus videos. And she handed out gospel tracts with every item she gave away.
But her ministry came at a great price. From the moment she and her son set foot on Palestinian soil, they were persecuted by both Christians and Muslims.
“All my Zionist friends acted like I was called to the lepers,” Dunham says. “I was cut off from the body of Christ….We were kind of like outcasts because they thought I would become an enemy of Israel.” Even the Christian pastors in Israel wanted nothing to do with her, she says-unless it was to criticize her and tell her what she was doing wrong.
The lack of support from fellow believers was painful. But even more disruptive to their daily lives was the persecution from Muslims in the area. Because of Dunham’s presence, they shut off water to the entire community in the middle of summer, leaving Dunham and her son, as well as their own people, with nothing to drink and with no air conditioning.
“I felt like Joseph, being thrown in the pit,” Dunham says. “I was in the refugee camp with my son, going without water, killing scorpions [in my house], and I really felt like I had fallen off the face of the earth.
“Things got really hot,” she continues. “I began to be talked about in the mosques because they thought I was going to steal their babies.”
But that was just the beginning.
“I’ve been through seven fires,” Dunham reports. “They’ve blown up my car, and they burned down my house. We’ve been totally robbed of everything. Our lives have been threatened.”
The Muslims also threw a Molotov cocktail through her son’s bedroom window. Thankfully, he wasn’t home at the time.
In the midst of the persecution, God gave Dunham great favor with the local authorities. Early on, she says, the Israeli army became her mission board, encouraging her and letting her know that they support her work. “Israel is behind what you are doing,” she says they told her. “They want us to feed these people.”
Perhaps even more significant is that the governor of Jericho is behind her. About a year ago, she says, he called her into his office and said: “We had a meeting with the local politicians. We no longer consider it evangelism if you want to put one of those booklets [gospel tracts] in your rice and your clothing, and a Bible. We freely receive it.”
According to Dunham, the “local politicians” included representatives from the terrorist groups Jihad, Hamas and Infata. One of them was a secret convert, and with his encouragement, they passed a law that made gospel tracts and Bibles legal in the city of Jericho.
Not only that, but the governor, along with other government officials, including the minister of health and the minister of welfare, have asked her to get involved in every area of government, she says. They want her input on how to transform the city.