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

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.

It has been a rich honor for me and for us all to see Asmeen and Milad grow up over their long months in Israel. We just finished waving them off. The families will spend their last Shabbat in Jerusalem with our community there, and Sunday afternoon they will drive to the Jordan border. Our eyes tearful and our hearts tender, we here in Ashdod have finally said goodbye to these faithful families. Father, go with them.

The little Yazidi boy Ali from Iraq was due to go in tomorrow morning for his second heart surgery, but instead was rushed to the emergency room last night with a fever. At first he was refused admittance. Some of the finance people in our partner hospitals have been pressing to substantially increase our costs, and they’ve now told hospital staff not to accept new patients from us. Thank God, a higher official in the hospital last night agreed to honor our previous understandings. Ali was safely admitted, and already looking much better when our Jerusalem team found him today:

Surgeons in Israel seemed pleased with the long-awaited surgery of Yazan from the West Bank city of Ramallah, but they struggled to get him off the ventilator. It turned out that the right side of his diaphragm was severely weakened, which is not uncommon after surgery, but definitely not something to take lightly. Doctors planned to give him medication to see if his diaphragm would heal slowly and regain its function, and if not, they would be forced to perform surgery. However, God seems to have intervened, and neither of these happened. A few days after getting the news of the weakened diaphragm, doctors came back with the news that it was actually healed!

One reason our community loves to bring children to Israel for heart surgeries is because Israel’s national mission is to bring true life to the world, and compassionate medical care is a foreshadowing of the ultimate fulfillment of that mission in the resurrection. It is costly and at times heartbreaking, as we saw with the passing of beloved baby Mohammed, who was on ECMO heart-lung support in Israel. But that same ECMO support saved the life of little Lya, and she returned to her family in Kurdistan Friday full of joy:

Early Tuesday morning I was woken up by a phone call from the hospital telling me that Mohammed had died. At around 2:30 am his heart rate began to plummet, and he died about ten minutes later. Mohammed’s mother called me and wailed in her broken Arabic "Mohammed khallas! – Mohammed is finished.”
We drove back to the house as the sun rose. It was a tender and beautiful sunrise. The rest of the day she and our community grieved. It was a long and heavy day. The next morning Mohammed’s mother departed on the road to Jordan.

This week we asked the health ministry again for permission for Hur from Gaza to come to Sheba Medical Center for a long-scheduled appointment, and reminded them that for 30 years we’ve never seen Israel turn away a child whose life is at risk. The reply Wednesday was that they’d send the Palestinian authorities to take her to Jordan!
But something shifted. Thursday night we were shocked to hear that Hur’s permission was granted; the first Gazan to our knowledge allowed to enter Israel since the start of the war. This morning our coworker Keyla and I set out early from Bethlehem with Hur and her aunt to see if it was true:

One month ago, Mohammed was poised to go home and reunite with his father and six older sisters. Now he is close to death for reasons that are still unclear. I find that with each day I also have fewer and fewer words left in me to say. In their place is a great bleakness, and now all I can do is wait alongside his mother. That’s all any of us can do now, really; wait, and see what God will do. Please, be unceasing in prayer for him.

Can we change the fate of Gaza? No, but I will share with you a special joy we had Thursday night to share in the birthday celebration of the mother of Naim from Gaza. Naim is one of the six Gaza children we’re sheltering in Bethlehem, who were in Israel for heart treatment and stranded at the outbreak of war.

Little Lya, who just two months ago seemed to be on the edge of death, was discharged back to Kurdistan with a clean bill of health this week. We have witnessed God’s miraculous healing in this beautiful girl’s life. I remember vividly the night the hospital called me, telling me to come quickly because Lya’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. Our coworker Petra and I went out to pray over her and be with her mother, asking our Lord to heal her. I would be remiss not to acknowledge how much God has answered that prayer.

That’s the precious little Iraqi girl Sibar, surging into new strength following her open-heart surgery at Hadassah Medical Center. Tonight it was a joy and privilege to bring her back to our Jerusalem home, along with another Iraqi Yazidi child Ali, who also had successful heart surgery in Hadassah:

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: