“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” – Psalm 133

We praise God that Jonathan, Michelle and Zeporah brought 13-year-old Rozh and her mom from Kurdistan, northern Iraq to join us this week. Rozh had her first echocardiogram Thursday, and doctors will meet together and decide how to proceed. Pray God gives them wisdom and understanding of her condition and that she may receive the proper treatment and God’s healing touch:

It was an afterthought really, as we drove to the airport on Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of our ten-day trip through Kurdistan, northern Iraq. We were going right through the little town where Birhat and his family lived. Five years had passed since his young parents scraped together everything they had to send their profoundly-disabled baby boy to Israel for heart surgery. They wanted to do everything they could to extend his life, even after doctors warned that heart repair would not improve his neurological condition; Birhat would likely spend his whole life lying on the floor, unable to walk, talk or feed himself. And that’s the way we found him this week, with his mother still lovingly and faithfully tending to him:

While the war prevents the arrival of new children from Gaza into Israel for heart surgeries, we are finding more children in the West Bank who need urgent intervention. This week happy one-year-old Osaid came to Sheba Medical Center for interventional catheterization, and will stay over in Israel for heart surgery in the coming week:

It’s been a week full of beautiful encounters since I last wrote you from Kurdistan, northern Iraq. Joyful feasting with families whose children returned from Israel with healed hearts. Gratefully watching God pour out his love on the families of children who died in the hospital in Israel. Seeing a Jewish believer fulfilling her longtime call to share Messiah’s goodness with Muslims, in this case Syrian Kurdish army officers. And seeing the hope in the faces of young Muslim parents when they hear their first child can come to Israel for heart surgery:

Eva`s mother has been waiting anxiously throughout almost two months of echo after echo, since her emergency transfer to Israel and first heart surgery. This week`s echo was finally looking good enough that the doctor said we could schedule a diagnostic catheterization in two weeks. This is the first step towards Eva’s second surgery. The doctors do not know which surgery she will need yet, there are two possibilities, one that is more risky than the other but with a better outcome if successful. God has already done a mighty work in Eva’s life throughout her time in Israel and we trust him to continue that good work, to keep Eva strong and healthy and to guide the doctors in their decision:

When Jan emerged from the airport in northern Iraq at 3:30 this morning, he found a crowd of family excited to see him after his four months in Israel for heart treatment. And they kept gathering throughout the day at the family home to celebrate his healing. I understand there will even be a sheep sacrificed as a thank offering! It’s such a good ending to Jan’s story. His mother first took him to Iran for treatment after his birth, and the indifference and devaluing of his life which she experienced there left her deeply traumatized. Her family was reluctant at first to send her with him to Israel. Now she returns to share with them joy and peace:

This is the week of Passover, and so alongside our neighbors we spent Monday in a frenzy of cleaning and preparing. We threw out all the leaven and leavened foods we had, arranging our home as a clean space ready for renewal. As we piled up bread and flour and pasta into trash bags, I was struck with a tremendous feeling of waste. Conflicting thoughts kept running through my head as we worked. Is there a way to save some of this—maybe we can leave some of it outside for the week and then bring it back in—surely we shouldn’t throw away the leaven our neighbors gave to us (as some benevolently do every Passover, unaware that we Gentiles are observing the holiday with them)—and so on and so forth.

Over our 30 years of partnership with Israel to provide heart surgeries, I’ve seen again and again how many Jews find great delight specifically in following the instruction of Jesus to love their enemies. It is a quintessential Jewish value. And it is this value that is under attack in Israel in our days. So what shall we do? In eight days we have an appointment to bring four-year-old Rafiq from Jenin to Israel for evaluation for surgery. In the current climate no other charity in Israel will help him. And we’re committed this year not to bring children until we have funding. Rafiq currently needs $5300. We’re asking our Father through his people to help Rafiq:

This has been a very big week for our Gaza families in Bethlehem, with our usually quiet hostel home shaken by loss, homesickness, and rockets. Loai’s grandmother has been with us for eight months for the sake of her grandson (pictured here), who is each day getting fatter and happier after his heart surgery, and is now learning how to walk. But her own three-year-old son has been disabled since birth, and she’s been consumed with worry about him back home in Gaza. This week the dreaded word came that he has passed away. Loai’s grandmother was overwhelmed with grief that she wasn’t there to see her son again, and all we can do is try to join her in her pain, and pray she and her family can be comforted and draw close to the Lord:

Dear coworkers,
Your messages and prayers for us during the Iranian attack last night were a gift. There’s a peace in knowing we are under our Father’s eye and in the prayers of his people. In fact we were all sleeping soundly in Ashdod while you were worrying!
Calmest of all was three-year-old Sohaib, who traveled from northern Iraq through Jordan while all this was going on literally over his head:

It was my first time in Bethlehem since Christmas Eve, nearly four months ago, and I marveled at how much the Gaza babies there have grown. It’s worth marveling at: Hur, Loai, Abeer, all of these children were so sickly and small when I first met them. But now they’re large and happy and hungry, each of them a miracle of God. I held Abeer on my lap while she chowed down on a banana. She has a tremendous appetite now!

We’re resolved in 2024 to find funding in advance of each child’s surgery, unless it is a life-and-death emergency, so that we do not add any new obligations until our old ones are met. Let this year, in which we’re no longer responsible for so many Gaza emergencies, be a year of jubilee. In this light I again want to appeal to you for little Fatimah, who is due to come from Kurdistan within the next week. If you saw her your heart would break; she’s been neglected and waiting all her life. Few of us have the $8900 she still needs for her surgery. But as we learned at the start of our community 30 years ago this summer, she just needs one advocate. If any one of us gives what we have, prays, and shares her story with everyone we know, God can do far beyond what we can imagine.

Even as Eva and Jan’s mothers are longing to return home to Kurdistan, we here in Ashdod are relishing in the extended time we get to spend with them. During this month of Ramadan the mothers are fasting during the day, and it is traditional to break the fast at sunset with family and delicious food. Both Eva and Jan’s mothers have said that they are very thankful that they get to break their fast with us each night, saying that it is better than with just the two of them. I am so blessed by these mothers and their children, we have many moments of laughter and joy which I do not take for granted. God has granted us this time of peace and joy together, we are living out the name of our community, “Shevet Achim” – brothers in unity.

To be able to experience the joy of the resurrection of our Lord with these dear Kurdish mothers brought me to tears. It reminds me of the crowds that followed Jesus, there was something mysterious and enticing about Jesus, and everyone wanted to come and see. The mothers greatly enjoyed the music and singing, holding up their children and dancing with them:

Three of our children from northern Iraq are nearing the conclusion of their treatment in Israel, and we await two new arrivals. Meanwhile these quiet weeks allow us to spend more time building relationships with families, exploring and getting to know our local community, and becoming more attuned and connected to the world and people God has placed around us. We are eager to make the most of this opportunity:

This week we received the photo above and text below, from the last Israeli family which stayed in our Jerusalem home while undergoing cancer treatment at nearby Hadassah hospital: "You were the light and the hope during our difficult situation. The words aren’t enough to thank you. Many many thanks for hosting us in your warm home. We wish you health and peace and happiness. Carry on in your wonderful path until the end."
This was an Arab Muslim family from the far north of Israel, and their open hearts and generosity are characteristic of what we so often find among Muslims all across the Middle East. How few of us Christians and Jews ever have the opportunity to experience the kindness of Muslims, especially during this bitter wartime. The shock and brutality of the Simhat Torah attack, and the ensuing war in Gaza, has somehow coarsened us all. We point the finger, and believe the worst of others:

Eva from Kurdistan continues to grow and heal in Israel. I’ve known Eva for just under two months now; at the beginning of that time, she was small, unhappy, and unresponsive. Now she’s almost unrecognizable compared to then, in size, health, and attention. Each day she’s a little more expressive, a little more in tune with the world around her, and, praise God, a little bigger. It is a joy watching her soul and spirit develop even as her body prepares for her next surgery: https://www.shevet.org/?p=118557 ...

Corry told us about a walk she and Peter took on Shabbat yesterday with the year-old Kurdish boy Jan in his stroller:
A father was just coming out of the synagogue with his three sons. Visibly an Orthodox Jewish man. He looked at us and said: “Where are you from?”
We answered: “From The Netherlands.” He said he could see that. Peter is said to have a typical Dutch face. He had been to the Netherlands before. “But that child, who is that? Not from you!!”
We were allowed to explain to him that we were volunteers at Shevet Achim. He said he had heard of this organization. We went into this and told what Shevet Achim and the Sheba hospital with their doctors and nurses mean for “our” children. How this child could not be helped in his own country, Kurdistan. And now after treatment, he was becoming a strong, lively boy.
After some more informative back and forth, the young Jewish man had tears in his eyes. We said that as Christians we worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And love the Jewish people. And so do other people, like these Kurdish people. The Jewish man embraced Peter with a warm hug. We blessed him and everyone went on their way with joy.

Early this morning we bid farewell to our dear Shalaw and his mother. Shalaw went around to every volunteer several times and gave each of us a big hug and a kiss; his mother also embraced us, and both pronounced praises and thanks with deep and genuine hearts. We waved them off, simultaneously sad and joyful, trusting that they go with God on their long journey home to Kurdistan:

A hectic and joyful start to the week, as we raced to get our two miracle children Asmeen and Milad and their mothers to the Temple Mount this morning to pray, just before they crossed the Jordan river and started their journey home to Kurdistan, northern Iraq. The rock under the gold Dome of the Rock is traditionally the site to which Abraham brought his son for sacrifice, as well as around which Solomon built his Holy of Holies. And we like to point out to our visiting families that Gordon’s Calvary, the skull-shaped hill by the Garden Tomb, is actually on the northern end of this same blessed mount of atonement. So much shared history here between Muslims, Jews and Christians. Yes it can be used to divide; it can also be used to bring us together.

Shevet Achim communities help children from Gaza, Iraq and Syria come to Israel for open-heart surgeries. The first community formed in 1994 in response to the plea of a mother who came to Israel with nothing but faith, seeking life-saving treatment for her son:

“Will you help us?”

Few of us know how to respond to a request like that. But we found if one person will hear that question–and then pray, give whatever they have, and share the child’s story–our Father will form a rescue community that unites all kinds of people around the shared goal of saving a child’s life. And doctors and hospitals in Israel are ready to partner with us and take more than half of the costs on themselves.

Here are some of the families of children who are asking the same question today: “Will you help us?”

How it Works:

Each of these children is invited for heart surgery in one of Israel’s largest hospitals, the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, or Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. If God gives you the faith to intercede for one of these boys or girls, you can apply to become a local leader. When approved you’ll be given your own page on this website through which you can call together friends, family, and neighbors, to join you in meeting the financial goal. Everyone agrees that a child’s life should be saved–you’ll find yourself partnering with people you never would have expected! You’ll share with them regular updates on your child’s progress, including updates sent from the Shevet Achim community in Israel. And you’ll be invited to come and personally meet your child while he or she is in Israel for surgery.

Here’s how you can get started.

And here are the stories of the children now in Israel: