In spite of threats, says she won't leave impoverished areas

Pastor Karen Dunham with local Palestinian children
Pastor Karen Dunham with local Palestinian children

Jericho, West Bank - American missionary Karen Dunham, pastor of the Living Bread International Church, draws hundreds of Palestinians to her weekly services in this ancient city, where she also provides food, medical aid, toys, blankets and equipment for local hospitals and old-age homes.

Her ministry is an unlikely magnet in a place where Christian-Muslim relations can be tense and sometimes spill over into violence. She says she will not quit the impoverished refugee camps of Jericho - despite being fire-bombed by extremists.

On one recent evening, 600 people crowded into Dunham's makeshift chapel in the wedding hall of a restaurant to hear the gospel in English and Arabic. Most of them were women and children, though there was a smattering of men.

The vast majority were Muslims, the women clothed in long, modest dresses and tight head scarves or with their faces completely veiled. They joined in the hymns enthusiastically, and at the end of the service came forward for a laying-on of hands.

Dunham, a charismatic 50-year-old evangelist missionary and single mother from St. Petersburg, Fla., came to Jericho five years ago to minister to Palestinians living in the West Bank's impoverished refugee camps.

American Missionary Brings Gospel And Food To Jericho

"I still love Israel, and I know what the Bible says about God loving and dwelling on Mount Zion, but that doesn't mean we can't help the Palestinians," said Dunham, who fought her own battles with drink and drugs before entering the church nine years ago. In America, she worked at soup kitchens and halfway houses for drug abusers.

"No Christians I met had any desire to help the Palestinians. Evangelical Christians talked about the Palestinians as if they were lepers, as if they were the enemy. When I said I was going to Jericho, it was like feeding them hot chili," she said.

Her first impressions of the Ein As-Sultan refugee camp in Jericho were eye-openers.

"I felt like I was dropped into hell," she recalled. "The kids were really hungry and skinny. They had no shoes. I was in the lowest city on earth, killing the scorpions that came in my house, and dressed in refugee rags."

Dunham brought them food, clothes and Bibles, and became a household name in this ancient oasis city where Jesus was baptized in the nearby waters of the Jordan River. She sold her family's property to finance her work, and started raising small donations from supporters in the United States and visitors who offered to help.

American Missionary Brings Gospel And Food To Jericho

High above the city on the Mount of Temptations, from the cave where tradition says Jesus grappled with the lure of the devil, Dunham broadcasts a weekly program to television viewers around the world.

She has a warehouse in town to handle regular deliveries of food, clothes, toys, furniture, soap and other equipment for distribution to poor families, old-age homes and hospitals. Just recently, 25 beds and mattresses went to an old-age home. She has initiated a food-stamp program designed to help feed at least 5,000 families at cost of about $115 per family per month. The church also maintains a Web site (

Dunham is one of very few Christian missionaries living and working in the camps with Palestinian refugees, and her work has received the blessing of both Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Latifa Jeraiteh is the chief translator for the church.