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

It was a big surprise when I heard today that Sila will be discharged to Gaza [after her emergency life-saving surgery in Israel]! At first I thought the doctors were talking about a discharge in a few days but her overjoyed mother told me she can go home today.
And if you’ve followed the news this weekend, you know the grace-filled story above comes right on the heels of a terror attack that killed seven Israelis in Jerusalem on the Shabbat. It’s little short of miraculous how Jewish doctors lovingly care for their Arab neighbors throughout such times. It fulfills Messiah’s command to love our enemies:

Our miracle is finally heading home. On Tuesday an ambulance brought Somaia and her mother to a hospital in Gaza. There was big applause from all the staff in the ICU as they said goodbye to the beloved child they cared for so wonderfully for 10 months!

When I finally entered Arya’s room, he generously offered me a cookie. I declined with thanks because I didn’t want to disregard the strict hygiene standards in the ICU. However, Arya kept going, as it is common in Kurdish culture. Finally, I capitulated and quickly slipped the cookie under my facemask. Thank you, Arya, for the delicious cookie!

Tiny newborn Masah was rushed to Israel in an ICU ambulance from Gaza for emergency surgery to switch her great arteries, and give her the chance to grow up and have a normal life:

For many long months–nine months–newborn Somaia from Gaza lay immobile on an ICU bed in the Sheba Medical Center, helpless even to breathe on her own. At one point her bones were breaking although she was hardly touched or moved. No other hospital would agree to take her in, as they saw little hope for change any time soon.
So great joy broke out among our community members when a nurse walked by and casually remarked that Somaia was now breathing on her own for three days. And somehow Somaia appeared even able to count to three!

Friends, it’s incredible to see how this little boy, this two-year-old from a humble family in the Gaza Strip, was so loved by so many. It wasn’t enough to save his life, but it didn’t have to be. That power was in the hands of the One who is holding Fayez safe in his arms even now. Our calling was so much smaller, and we pray that however imperfectly we may have fulfilled it, that the Father will bring something beautiful from it:

In the last couple months it became clear Fayez’s heart was failing, and that his caring doctors at the Sheba Medical Center had run out of options. Still they kept seeing him monthly, and today Fayez came out of Gaza to be ready for another echocardiogram and blood work early tomorrow morning. At noontime in Ashdod we gathered to lay hands on him and pray for God’s mercy and healing.
We could see though how weak he was and that he wasn’t really able to eat or drink. Over dinner tonight we asked for Messiah’s wisdom, and as everyone shared the consensus emerged that we should get him to the emergency room. Bria and a visiting medical resident Koren left with Fayez and his grandmother immediately.

Seven-year-old Naim from Gaza was born with his abdominal organs in a sac outside his body. Today doctors at Sheba Medical Center in Israel completed a catheterization to prepare for his third heart surgery--and along the way they'll finally do the surgery to place his organs inside his body:

I feel encouraged as we enter a new year and a new season of work in Israel. It’s true, we still owe some $645,000 toward surgeries done by Israeli hospitals in 2022. But we’ve done our part. Only God can do the rest. If he is for us, who can be against?
About 5% of that amount was incurred last week for just one boy, 13-year-old Mohammed B from Gaza. Doctors in Israel wanted to implant a state-of-the-art artificial valve in his heart through catheterization, but couldn’t do it without our support. I went to see him and his mother before the procedure.
“You know, Mohammed’s care is going to cost a lot of money,” I told them.
Then I looked directly at Mohammed. “But you are worth far more than that.”

As the last hours of 2022 slip away in our different time zones, it has been a real joy to see how many are responding to our opportunity to support the Israeli hospitals who provided heart surgeries to children from Iraq, Syria and Gaza this year. I'm seeing names I don't know as well as old dear friends. God is at work in this. His son had authority to multiply a child's loaves and fishes, and as we give Messiah from our own resources he will again multiply as needed.
So we watch and pray. You can see the amount still needed at the link below by going to "2022 year-end commitments." At the time of posting the figure is $652,992.

Yesterday over lunch with our US board member Gerry, I referred to the "huge amount" which we've committed to pay at year-end, in support of Israeli hospitals for the heart surgeries in 2022 for 80+ children from Iraq, Syria and the Gaza Strip.
After a second's thought I felt convicted to add: "But for the Lord that's just dust on the scale."

If you go to our donation page and click on "2022 year-end commitments," you'll see the up-to-the-moment amount needed. As I'm writing it stands at $684,566. To us it indeed looks huge. Over 28 years we've never needed this much before at year's end. But year after year we've seen our Father in heaven enable us to keep faith with our partner hospitals, despite our great mistakes and unbelief.

So Paul's words to the Colossians ring true to me as 2022 draws to an end: "Continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope of the good news you heard."

I'm grateful for the friends old and new who are praying, giving and believing together with us. We are not alone.

Photo from timeslive.co.za

Our little Assyrian boy Sarjon also spent two nights in the hospital in Israel for his diagnostic catheterization on Tuesday. He came home the day after and is continuing to visit us (and our dog Shevie) here in the staff house, running around between us volunteers, playing the piano and stealing our Christmas decorations:

Our Ashdod and Jerusalem communities merged after the Shabbat ended and shared in the sights and lights of both Hanukkah and Christmas Eve in the Old City. The evening ended with Jews, Arabs and foreigners singing carols together at Christ Church inside Jaffa Gate. Yes, many Jewish Israelis are drawn to the Christmas season...but I shouldn’t leave the impression that all Jews in Israel are embracing Christmas trees:

When Joanne and I arrived at the hospital at 7 am to wait with his mom, San was already awake and greeted us with a big smile. He didn’t know what was lying in wait for him and so he was happily playing with us. Maybe he realized a little bit that things were not normal when his mom started crying with him on her lap–not knowing if and when she would have her only son back again.

Hanukkah (the “Festival of Lights”) is already at hand. It’s not one of the feasts appointed by the Torah, so life goes on mostly as normal for the Jewish people. There’s no Shabbat rest or holy convocation, just the candles, sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) and gifts, some traditional songs, and most importantly passing the story on to the next generation. Tonight we tried to explain it to our visiting Kurdish families, including Mohammed who is recovering well from his heart surgery:

Adorable Shan was discharged by her Israeli cardiologist to return to Kurdistan. Only a little over a month after her arrival here the smiling girl is already cleared to go home! What a blessing for her family! At the farewell party her mom shared with us that she never expected to find such a kindness from people in a strange country. She had tears in her eyes when she shared how thankful she is that her daughter is now perfectly pink – something she never saw before.:

As the standoff continued over the next two days, I appealed to the shipping company, the airline, and to Israeli journalists. In mounting frustration and anger I even allowed myself to speculate about the wrong motives that may have led to this decision. Still the company wouldn’t budge, and no other air route was available. Finally on Friday morning I understood yet again that the way of the spirit of Messiah is to willingly suffer wrong and to bear the burden ourselves:

Before we brought Hazhin's father to the airport, we were able to have a beautiful farewell lunch with him here in Ashdod. We shared with him words how grateful we are for getting to know him, for all the love he showed to us, and what a wonderful father he is. He nearly spent a week in our house and we were blessed by his humble and kind personality. He served us by cooking and baking for us, by helping us with whatever needed to be done and by taking care of our community dog Shevie. It was a goodbye to a beloved brother, another loss after the loss of Hazhin:

When the Yazidi refugee child Sineor finally came back to his room in the Hadassah ICU all the doctors who were there welcomed him with a big applause and cheering. Praise to God our father for everything that he has done for Sineor and his mom today!

The next call came at 4:15 this morning and a few minutes later we were in the car to the hospital again. The following hours we spent in her room watching the numbers of her heart rate going up and down until shortly after eight the numbers dropped further and further and Hazhin went – her earthly father holding her tiny hand – home to her heavenly father. This afternoon we buried her in Jerusalem along the eastern wall of the Old City:

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: