KHAN YOUNIS – The following is a dispatch I recorded on Sunday but we are only just publishing now that the Israeli military censor has lifted the embargo on our visit.
I never thought this would ever really happen, but I’m in the Gaza Strip – in Khan Younis, the city where the most intense fighting is underway between Israel and Hamas terrorists.
Traveling in an armored personnel carrier with heavily armed Israeli commandoes, a small group of reporters and I were taken this morning inside newly discovered Hamas terror tunnels in the very heart of Khan Younis that no other reporters have been allowed to enter before.
We just came out of the tunnels and it’s chilling what we saw.
We saw the underground bunker where senior Hamas leaders – including Hamas terror chief Yahya Sinwar – lived, worked, slept and directed their war against Israel.
We also saw – and stepped inside of – the very cages where Hamas kept at least twelve Israeli hostages.
This was truly the epicenter of evil.
Traveling with me – in addition to my cameraman for TBN, who is working with me to film a very special program for THE ROSENBERG REPORT – is Chris Mitchell, a devout Evangelical Christian, the Mideast bureau chief for the Christian Broadcasting Network, and a dear friend of mine for many years.
But we’re not just here to report.
We’re here to pray.
Inside the very cages where they were held – up until just recently – we had the extraordinary opportunity to pray for these hostages, for their survival and their courage, for their immediate liberation, for the comfort of their families, and for the Lord to personally touch them and encourage them all and draw them close to His loving, compassionate heart.
It was a sacred moment, and deeply emotional for me.
But just moments ago, Chris surprised me.
As we came out of the tunnels, and just before we got back into the APC, Chris asked me if I’d like to take communion.
He’d actually thought ahead to bring communion crackers and grape juice.
I was stunned but so encouraged that the Lord had put such a thing on his heart.
“Absolutely,” I said, “I’d love to.”
And right there, in a completely bombed out, apocalyptic neighborhood – hearing machine guns and explosions and the constant buzz of IDF drones all around us – we bowed our heads, humbled our hearts, and took the Lord’s supper.
We didn’t film it.
We just did it.
Chris prayed for the Lord to redeem the land of Gaza that has been so defiled by Hamas.
And he prayed again for the liberation of the hostages.
I did, too, and asked the Lord to break the stronghold of Satan over the land and people of Gaza.
I prayed for the Lord to liberate all 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza from the Hamas reign of terror.
And for the Lord to pour out His Holy Spirit, open the eyes of every Arab and every Jew in this region, and draw many – hopefully all – into His loving, compassionate, merciful heart.
It was an astonishing moment – one of the most important in my life – to be an Evangelical Jewish Israeli, standing in the center of Gaza, praying to the Lord Jesus the Messiah and King of the Universe for the liberation and redemption of Israel, our neighbors, and our enemies.
And I’m so grateful to Chris for his friendship and his leadership.
He’s always been a prayer warrior – and never more so than today.
Yesterday, I interviewed Chris at the TBN studios in Jerusalem. I asked him about why he had wanted to take communion in Gaza and how he had gotten the idea.
We reflected on our time in Gaza and why we believe in the power of prayer.
I also shared with him one of the spiritual takeaways I’ve had this week. I was struck by the importance of being suited up in a bulletproof vest and a helmet and taken into Gaza with heavily armed IDF soldiers and driving inside an armored personnel carrier and thinking about Ephesians chapter six where the Lord speaks through the Apostle Paul and commands His children to be suited up in the “full armor of God” because of the ferocious spiritual battle we’re engaged in.
“The other thing that I've been processing…is that we were suited up,” I told Chris. “You know, you and I put on these bulletproof, very heavy, bulletproof vests and helmets. This is not our normal day job look. And it goes back to Ephesians chapter six. Like, you would never go into the worst fighting in Gaza unless you were with people that had weapons, unless you were suited up as much as they give you to be suited up, to get in an armored personnel carrier, and to go in with people who know what they're doing and are prepared. Like, you wouldn’t just walk into Gaza unprepared, right? And yet, in many ways, many Christians, even those who love Jesus, but they don't realize that there's a roaring lion waiting to devour them, and they're just kind of going about their day and they're not suiting up. And the only way to suit up right is to ask the Lord to suit us up. And this has been a prayer that we prayed with our boys when they were little. “Lord, fill us with your Holy Spirit. Suit us up in your full armor. And open our eyes and our hearts to what You want to say through Your Word, through Your Spirit, to us today, and help us to walk in the Spirit, especially in dark days.” So, we got a lot of sermon illustrations that came out of that day.”
The following is the transcript of our conversation in Jerusalem, lightly edited for clarity.
JOEL ROSENBERG: So, a few days ago, Chris Mitchell and I were in Gaza. He’s the bureau chief here in Jerusalem for the Christian Broadcasting Network, CBN News. He's been doing this for almost a quarter of a century now and is the dean of Christian journalism in Israel and I think he’s served longer than any other journalist in this city. And I'm so grateful. You and I had an opportunity just a few days ago to go not just into Gaza – that would have been crazy enough to go in with the IDF – but into Khan Younis, the epicenter of the most fierce fighting between Hamas and Israel, and then into those terror tunnels. And you surprised me – in a good way – but I just wanted to do a story, a brief story on your heart for prayer and why you surprised me. Just share with people what was on your heart.
CHRIS MITCHELL: Well, Joel, I think it actually goes back to the time when I went down – I was invited by the GPO….
ROSENBERG: The Government Press Office, part of the Prime Minister’s Office.
MITCHELL: Right. To go down and watch about a 45-minute video of the raw footage from October 7th. And like many journalists or many people that have seen that subsequent to that, it's so riveting. It's so moving. It's so revolting. It's so horrific. And so one of the things when I came back from that – I was driving by myself back to Jerusalem – and I really felt the Lord put two words in my heart: “Honor them.” It was so wrong what happened that day, everything that we saw, and we didn't see which is even worse. And later, a few weeks later, we had this opportunity to go down to the Nova music festival site that was literally a massacre where maybe almost 400 people were slaughtered and many kidnapped. And we went down there to do a story. But you know, what I felt in my heart, more importantly, was to go down there and take communion. That land had been defiled. It had innocent blood that was shed there. And I just wanted in some way – what we could do, what I could do, what I felt led by the Holy Spirit to do – was to take communion and pray for this land, and pray for the people, the families that had loved ones that were brutally murdered that day, and to help redeem the land because it had been defiled. Innocent blood was shed.
ROSENBERG: So, not just prayer? I mean, because you're a prayer warrior. You and I have literally never done an interview – I'm not even sure if we've had a conversation, maybe a few – in which we didn't pray. And I love your heart for prayer. I had a pastor in college from India, and he was discipling Lynn and me and other students, and he used to say [in thick Indian accent], “Joel, Lynn, we serve a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God, a wonder-working God.” Now, if you need English-to-English translation like I did at the time, “Joel and Lynn, we serve a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God, a wonder-working God” – a God who does miracles. And you've always been a prayer warrior. But it wasn't just prayer. You wanted to take communion. You wanted to take the Lord's Supper, as you did at that festival site, but you wanted to take it in Gaza.
MITCHELL: Yeah, well, we had the opportunity – the rare opportunity – to go in and actually be there on the ground. I remember a saying from many years ago during the 10/40 Window Prayer Movement was, “Pray with insight onsight.” We had the rare privilege of being there on-site in Gaza that had…..
ROSENBERG: That very few followers of Christ – very few reporters, even – get to actually go in there.
MITCHELL: Exactly. And so what an opportunity. And through the years, every so often, I'll be in a place – I'll be like on the border with ISIS and the allied troops – and I just get the nudge from the Holy Spirit saying, “Well, why didn't you pray? Why didn't you pray here?” And I remember a time in Iraq saying, you know, ISIS was advancing and I just felt led, you know, “God, stop them, stop this assault.” So, we had that opportunity in Gaza, and as soon as we came out of the tunnel, we had just a few moments, and we had a little juice and a few crackers and we were able to take communion and pray that God would redeem this land that had been so defiled. And so that's what happened. And we had that rare opportunity to pray for the land, that God would redeem what the enemy had meant so much for evil. And we're not there to offend anybody there. We're not there to, you know, we just wanted to cry out to God, “Redeem this land.”
ROSENBERG: Amen. And in addition to that, I was praying – as you prayed that – I was praying, “Lord, would you break this satanic stronghold.” This was demon-possessed people. There's no other way [to understand it.] You can't just go in and cut off baby's heads and slaughter people. I mean, there is criminality. And then there is terror. But this was off the charts. This makes the Nazis look tame. Putting a baby in an oven and burning it in front of its parents? There’s a level of satanic, demonic activity that has controlled Gaza for all these years. But not just these years, right? The Palestinian name comes from the Philistines. In Arabic, you say, ‘Falestinim,’ right? So, the modern name comes from the Philistines. And they [the Philistines] were slaughtering Jews and conquering nations and taking and kidnapping Jews from the earliest parts of the Bible. So, I was touched [by your wanting to take communion]. I was surprised because we’d had this amazing, crazy day. Machine gun fire. Bombs bursting in air. And being in those terror tunnels. Being in cages where Israeli hostages had just been. But when you said, “Hey, would you like to take communion?” right before we got back in the armored personnel carrier to leave, I was touched. That was a brother in Christ who has had more experience in this region and the Holy Spirit just gave you a stirring, an unction, “Let's do this.” And I was grateful. I wish I'd thought of it, but I didn't need to because you did. And you know, we didn't film it. But I think, you know, it's one of the things that you and I have talked about in the last few days, like, “Should we share that publicly?” Because Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, right, on the one hand, He says, “When you pray, don't go broadcasting your prayers. Just go into private, into your prayer closet, as it were, and just pray silently, secretly to the God who sees in secret,” which means you have the faith, right? If you're just talking to the Lord in a dark room and you don't believe that God's really there, what's the point? But on the next page in our Bibles, the Lord Jesus does say, “Let your light so shine before men that they'll see your good works and glorify God in heaven.” So, which is it, Lord? I mean, we're not trying to draw attention to ourselves. We're trying to say we had an opportunity to ask the Lord to do something big. And it moved me. And I was really touched that you wanted to do that.
MITCHELL: You know what I think is the lesson for us – and I think the lesson for those watching or listening – is that we are fighting a battle of good and evil, and we need to be prepared. And the weapons of our warfare, as Paul said, are not carnal, but mighty through God for the pulling down of strongholds. And that's prayer. And that's communion. That's being in the Word. And I get the feeling that no matter how difficult days are now, they're going to be much harder, much more difficult and that we need to be prepared. And I was just thinking about this in the last day or so, “However well prepared I feel like I am, I'm not prepared enough, and I really feel like we need to pray. We need to, you know, be together in fellowship. We need to take communion. We need to be in the Word – all of that to prepare us for the days that are coming. And I think that's a lesson for me and you, for the Body right now, is really to get ready for these days that are coming. Be prepared now. But all that to prepare for all the days that are coming so we can be what He wants us to be for such a time as this.
ROSENBERG: Amen. Two last thoughts as you're talking. First, you know, being in those tunnels, being in those cages where at least twelve Israeli hostages were held, some of them recently – three had been released, but obviously had reported to the Israeli security authorities and intelligence that they had been there; they didn't know where they were, I'm sure, because they'd been blindfolded, going in, blindfolded going out, but they said, “We were in these tunnels with these people” – so the Israeli intelligence knew that there were at least those specific people in that cage. But to be there, to actually be there, was like insane, and surreal and hard to process. But to be able to pray for those hostages – for their courage, I can't, you know, we're 127 days or so into this, and it's just we're not sure if there's an end in sight; we hope there is – that's our prayer. But to pray for them. Pray for their families. Pray for the liberation of the Palestinian people, as well. And pray for the defeat of Hamas. I want them all as terrorists to get saved but also arrested. And if they're not going to get saved, then they probably need to be arrested. And maybe worse. Because they’re evil. So, that was powerful enough, in one sense, to be there and be able to pray on-site, as you said.
But the other thing that I've been processing in just the last few moments that we have is that we were suited up. You know, you and I put on these bulletproof, very heavy, bulletproof vests and helmets. This is not our normal day job look. And it goes back to Ephesians chapter six. Like, you would never go into the worst fighting in Gaza unless you were with people that had weapons, unless you were suited up as much as they give you to be suited up, to get in an armored personnel carrier, and to go in with people who know what they're doing and are prepared. Like, you wouldn’t just walk into Gaza unprepared, right? And yet, in many ways, many Christians, even who love Jesus, but they don't realize that there's a roaring lion waiting to devour them, and they're just kind of going about their day and they're not suiting up. And the only way to suit up right is to ask the Lord to suit us up. And this has been a prayer that we prayed with our boys when they were little. “Lord, fill us with your Holy Spirit. Suit us up in your full armor. And open our eyes and our hearts to what You want to say through Your Word, through Your Spirit, to us today, and help us to walk in the Spirit, especially in dark days.” So, we got a lot of sermon illustrations that came out of that day. But also, we got to leave.
ROSENBERG: We got to go home, take a shower, have dinner with our family or colleagues. And there are people that are still there. Last words, last thoughts?
MITCHELL: Let's pray.
ROSENBERG: Let's pray – amen! That's Chris Mitchell, people, right there! Right there. I wasn't testing him. But – amen – please.
MITCHELL: Amen. Father, Lord, we just thank you that you gave us that opportunity to be where very few people have the opportunity to go. We have the privilege to report on it. And we had the privilege to pray there – on site with insight – for the hostages, for their families. And, Lord, we had the opportunity to take communion. So, Lord, what a privilege. And Lord, we are in very, very difficult days. But Lord, we sense they may get even tougher. So, we need to be prepared. So, help Joel and I to be prepared. Help our colleagues to be prepared. And help Your Body to be ready for these days, to be suited up in the armor of God, and to be like Queen Esther, we are called “for such a time as this.” Help us to “look up, for our redemption draweth nigh.” And Lord, help us to be suited up, and that we can fulfill the purpose and the plan You have for each one of us, so that when we see You, You'll be able to say to us, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.’ In Jesus' name. Amen.
ROSENBERG: And Lord, I want to also pray for the 1,000 or so Christians in Gaza, Lord, that are holed up in several churches up in the northern part. And I'd like to go visit them – if the IDF would let us – and encourage them and hear their stories and, and report on that, if You would open that door. But in the meantime, Lord, we pray you would strengthen them. They feel like they're on an island by themselves. And they’re not sure what to do next. They're safe at the moment. But there's devastation all around them. And I pray you'd encourage your Body there and strengthen them, and let them know that you're with them, Lord, that you'll never forsake them. You'll never leave them. And finally, Lord, we pray that you would open up the hearts and minds of everybody in this Land, in this region, by the power of your Holy Spirit, to be seeking spiritually to be saying, “All right, Lord” – or, You know there are many people here don't know that there is a God, or they may be worshiping a God who isn't real and they don't know You, or they don't know You personally – and we pray that You would reveal Yourself, that You would open eyes and hearts and show people that Jesus is the Messiah, and He is our Good Shepherd, and we don't want to be wandering around in this world as sheep without our Shepherd to protect us. There are ravenous wolves waiting to devour us. So, we pray that You would draw more and more of the people of this Land – Jews and Arabs and others – into your Kingdom through Jesus the Messiah. Thank you for this time. Thank you for my brother, Chris. Bless him. Bless his family and the CBN team. I'm so grateful for them. We pray in the name of our King, our Savior, who will come to this city, Jerusalem, one day and rule and reign over the whole world. We can't wait. But in the meantime, yes, help us be faithful. It's in Jesus’ name we pray, amen. Amen.
Thank you so much for watching – continue to track us at ALL ISRAEL NEWS, and of course, TBN on THE ROSENBERG REPORT. And, of course, follow my colleague – the dean of all of this, God has really given him unique experience and insight – Chris Mitchell on CBN News and Jerusalem Dateline. God bless you. Thanks for watching.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.