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

As Shabbat is beginning we and the families ran to our safe rooms, as with the end of the cease-fire our section of Ashdod came under heavy rocket bombardment from Gaza; our coworker Matt carried Asmeen to safety while she was still sleeping. After a week-long break from hard times, it seems the chaos has returned and doubled down in our community and our surroundings.

Let there be no mistake: in Messiah there are no excluded peoples. The kingdom of heaven is for all who will receive him with the faith of a child. Let’s show the faces of Avigail from Israel and Naim from Gaza side by side, just as their homes and families were side by side before they were destroyed in this war. We ask our Father for grace to see his image equally present in them both, and we ask for redemption for these two children, and these two peoples, who have lost so much:

The pulmonologist in Israel gave a football to Naim from Gaza, and played with him. Seeing how hospital staff are treating our children is often heartwarming to us as well, and we are so thankful for their commitment and devotion. Another touching moment came when the cardiologist Dr. Tirosh asked Naim’s mother how her family was. Three weeks ago all of her children, excluding Naim, were killed in a refugee camp by an Israeli airstrike, and the wound is still fresh. Dr. Tirosh hugged her, gave her comfort, and just grieved with her. Israel has suffered greatly in this conflict, and Naim’s mother and our other Gaza families have also lost friends, family, and homes. We pray that all can see comfort, resolution, and justice.

There’s a door at the Jordan River border crossing into Israel marked “No Entry” in red letters. Exactly twenty years ago, Thanksgiving week 2003, that door opened and for the first time an Iraqi child entered Israel for heart surgery. It was a huge break through the wall of enmity between two countries which are still technically at war. Today thank God that door opened again, and for the first time since the outbreak of war on October 7 another “enemy” Iraqi child entered Israel for an urgent heart surgery:

I remember, when I was a boy, the excitement I would feel whenever my father or older siblings would come back home after long times away. There was of course the joy of reunion and of renewed companionship. But one of the best parts was taking them to see all the cool things I had done while they were away. That is the same heart I want myself and all of us to have for the return of the Messiah: the pure heart of children that long for him to return so that we can show him all the cool things we made for him.

The war in Gaza may have reached its turning point this weekend. Israeli soldiers reached the hospitals in Gaza City, and thousands of civilians sheltering within streamed out of the gates, joining the throngs of Gazans fleeing to relative safety in the south. One of them was our own Salma, who spent four and a half months earlier this year in the ICU of Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. Her sister proudly introduces her to us in this video today, as they escape on a horse-drawn cart, Salma still on her portable ventilator:

Um Naim`s loss shaped this week for us all. It has been heavy. We passed much of our time sitting with her, sharing in her grief as best we could; we have all wept with her. We look to the day when all these pains and scars and tears will be wiped away; when all things are made new:

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

Our hope remains.

The interview with the Gaza mothers sheltering in our Ashdod house dropped on the Times of Israel website Thursday, and not surprisingly it revealed they were more worried about their own families than those of their neighbors: “I was only afraid for my house and my family and my children, and the people in Gaza, when I heard about it,” Umm Leen said…“We are peaceful people, but I’m afraid we are going to get a call that my kids are killed.”
The call came this morning: https://shevet.org/?p=117086

We received word from Israel’s Ministry of Health that all of our Gaza children not actively undergoing heart treatment must be taken to the West Bank, regardless of whether they have family or friends there. Leen, Rose, and Abeer (pictured here) are all in the West Bank now. They are stable without much need for further treatment, and there are good hospitals they can go to there if they have need. But pray for them! It will be very difficult for them to reenter Israel if any critical emergencies occur. We are trusting the preserving work of God, that he will protect and shield them.

The road took me right past the Sheba Medical Center, and I pulled in when I realized I hadn’t visited our children there since the war started. I needed my son Zack’s guidance to find the pediatric ICU, now relocated underground due to the continuous rocket fire. Alongside our Iraqi patients the medical staff were also treating an Israeli toddler, separated from her parents, who suffered severe, painful burns in the October 7th attack. Only after leaving the hospital did I receive word that some of the staff there were hurt and angry after reading on Facebook the opening excerpt from my letter last week, which referred to “dehumanizing language” that Israeli leaders were using toward the people of Gaza. It felt to these Israelis like an insensitive attack in light of what they’re going through:

All of our families from Gaza who were in Israel for treatment on October 7 are stuck here in light of the horrific attacks by Hamas, and other hospitals have patients in the same situation, so we have seen God’s plan for Shevet Achim and opened the doors of our Ashdod home to these people. While we have been blessed this week with these families, a comforting community, and the fruits of the skilled work of the doctors, nurses, and secretaries of the hospitals, we have struggled with navigating the social and political situation that faces Israel. Many people are in pain, and we struggle to find the right way to help nurse this pain. We often find ourselves forgetting to consider every perspective, focusing on one side more than the other, and generally speaking too quickly or vaguely. Our God knows we are imperfect, and he has revealed that to us as well this week in conversation with some of our friends and coworkers:

So it turns out the 3500-year tradition of the Jewish people isn’t cast aside so easily. Last week as faithful friends we sounded the alarm over the dehumanizing language that Israeli leaders were using as they cut off food, water and electricity to the entire Gazan people. It changes your perspective when you have labored for years with Israeli doctors to save the lives of little ones who are now trapped inside Gaza, and you know well their faces and their names and how much they are loved by their families: Salma, Hassan, Mohammed, Kenan, and Jude, for example. In the last two days Israel has relented under enormous international pressure, and started allowing life-saving essentials into the Gaza Strip. But there is something more than international pressure at work here; after all it was Israel that taught the nations the meaning of justice and righteousness!

Milad’s mom was very nervous, scared and crying, and when the doctor came to take Milad for surgery, his mom kissed him, told him she loved him and said goodbye to him. Some of the doctors were encouraging and comforted Milad’s mother in that moment. When we were in the waiting room, a Jewish woman came to pray for Milad and his mother and repeated over and over, “Always pray and God will answer.” Then three other Israelis came to ask if she needed anything and in turn comforted her, saying that everything was going to be ok:

I was awakened by the buzzing of my phone on the nightstand just past midnight last night. It was an officer from the Israeli army, with whom we worked closely over the past year to help get children from Gaza into Israel for heart surgeries. He had been based at the Erez crossing, through which the bulk of the Hamas forces streamed into Israel on the Simhat Torah holiday; one of my first questions after the attack was whether he was still alive. Now, in light of the Israeli army order to evacuate more than a million residents from the northern Gaza Strip, he wanted to know about the size of the hospitals in Gaza, and how many ambulances were available to transfer patients. After waking up and thinking about it for a moment, I sent him this reply:
"I’m praying for wisdom, praying for mercy. for you and also that you’ll have mercy on the people in Gaza, because we’re getting calls from families of course that have been here for treatment. And they’re so frightened, and we have some kids there who are–one kid’s on a ventilator at home and needs electricity. There’s a lot of very sick people in Gaza who need help, so may God help you to help them."

The pediatric cardiac ICU in Tel Aviv has been moved underground to protect children (including from Gaza) against rocket attacks. And Gaza babies discharged from the hospital have no home to return to. Here is this week`s Shevet Prayer letter "Grace Will Lead Us Home."

Today our coworkers in Ashdod and Jerusalem rushed to the hospitals to comfort and reassure the Gaza families, who must be feeling quite vulnerable at the moment in Israel. A particular joy was Keyla’s report that seven-year-old Naim from Gaza seems to be out of danger: "When the war between Israel and Gaza started Naim was very scared and crying a lot because they heard the sirens sounding and the rockets falling, today he was calmer and was even asking how Shevie was. Shevie is our little dog here in our house in Ashdod that Naim loved to play with, so we used that tool to encourage him to be strong, recover soon and he can come to our house to play again with Shevie."

Messiah came to be a light in a dark world, and the darkness could not overcome it; and he taught his disciples to carry that same light farther into the darkness, so that those distant could see it through them. Paul expresses the idea clearly and simply to the believers at Corinth: "You are to imitate me, just as I imitate Messiah." We’ve been hitting on this idea over and over again in the last weeks in our morning meetings: What kind of example are we setting? When people look at us, what do they see? Do they see the light we’ve seen?

This week in Kurdistan we dropped by a party held by Samaritan’s Purse for six children who have returned after they were sent to us in Israel for heart surgeries. Looking at them all together I was reminded of what a friend told us the day before: "By now every household in Kurdistan knows a family whose child has been to Israel for heart surgery." In fact Friday we met a friendly sheikh who personally knew two families who’ve come to the Jewish people for healing.

Yaman from the mountains of Kurdistan is back in our Jerusalem house after his scary trip to the Hadassah ER last week; I hear he’s having a great time running around the place and is in good condition, praise God:

While I never would have planned it, this evening we ended up visiting a child in a Yazidi refugee camp whose life was saved by heart surgery in Israel–together with a dear Muslim family whose child had the same surgery but didn’t survive. Somehow the presence of God was there as we all sat together. The grieving mother held the baby who lived. It was a golden hour.

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: