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

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:

Doctors in Israel thought Kurdish Mir had a valve that needed widening, but upon actually going in, they found that it was at an appropriate width! So his catheterization, meant to be nearly three hours, only ended up taking thirty minutes. Praise God!

One of the Israeli cardiologists walked into the room and stood there for a few minutes reviewing Eva`s echo images. He then stopped, looked at Eva and then back at me and said, “How did you get here with her?” When I told him he said, clearly shocked, “You flew with her here? And she was really just extubated a week ago?”

Just as Sibar crossed into Israel our coworkers Beth and Jonathan crossed the other way to Kurdistan to fetch 11-month-old Eva, who just came off the ventilator in her hometown less than two weeks ago, and is still weak and oxygen-dependent. Beth, a cardiac nurse, carefully monitored Eva throughout the 16-hour journey from her home. They’ve just arrived in Ashdod in time for Shabbat dinner. Please pray that Eva will remain stable until we bring her to Sheba Medical Center on Sunday morning.

Last night after motzei Shabbat (the going out of the Sabbath) Max and I left Ashdod with 14-year-old Shalaw and his mother for admission for his big heart surgery this morning. The van was silent on the 40-minute drive through the night to the Sheba Medical Center, and I couldn’t help but think of taking trusting little Arznda in for her surgery on motzei Shabbat just two weeks previously.

All of our Gazan families sheltering in Bethlehem are experiencing a desire to return home, to see the warfare and death in their land cease, but they have grown close to comfort one another in the pain and hardship they face. Rose and Hur in particular need continued follow-up in Israel soon, so we lift up prayers for the Lord to open the hearts of the Jewish people again to all our sweet children from Gaza:

Just as I sent out last week`s letter, the little Yazidi girl Arznda was indeed carried to our Father. This prompted tears and soul-searching for both us and Arznda’s sister. The day before leaving Israel we toured the scenes of our redemption in Jerusalem, and she found particular comfort at Gethsemane, where Messiah also wept over the cup the Father had given him:

Friends, I won’t lie, I feared for Milad. Even a single surgery is hard on the body, but four is immense. And if I feared, I who have only known this boy for four months, how much more so his mother!
But thank God she was not abandoned to her fear. Coworkers Kerstin and Sonia sat with her most of the day, talking, praying, even eating! One of the ICU nurses made a point of bringing a small breakfast to Milad’s mother, and to my surprise and joy she was willing to take it. And at 2 pm the surgeon came out to personally update her:

Seven-year-old Arznda was proud and excited to wheel her own suitcase into the Hadassah Medical Center last night after Shabbat ended. After sharing life and meals together in our Jerusalem community this past week, we all felt close to this bright, energetic Yazidi girl, who delighted in speaking English with us and learning to sing “Shabbat Shalom.” So many of our prayers were before the throne when she went in for her big heart surgery early this morning:

After nearly three wartime months underground, the Sheba ICU has once again returned to its traditional home on the eighth floor of the children’s hospital, where each room has windows and where people have room to move and to breathe. Please pray for our community as we suddenly pick up speed again. This week saw the most action and treatment in the hospitals we’ve had in months; in a certain sense, we’re slowly coming above ground again in tandem with the Sheba ICU. But the increased tempo can be difficult to adjust to, especially when so few of our workers are trained in the systems of Sheba. Pray that we’ll be able to work well, carefully, and lovingly, both with our families and with each other; that we might be quick to listen, quick to serve, and quick to show grace.

Today we were barely able to admit these two beautiful Yazidi kids to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem for heart surgeries, due to our outstanding financial commitments. But as I’m writing this letter donation notices keep flashing across my screen. As of this hour our donation page shows we’ve received $67,000 in our year-end campaign. One sister from California seems to have shared about our year-end need with friends and family, and at least eight more contributions have come in from her neighborhood. We need each other friends. We can’t do it alone. The life of Messiah is found when the members of his body are joined together and under his headship. Let’s walk together this way into 2024.

The week before the October 7 attack we watched hope come into the eyes of 14-year-old Shalaw in northern Iraq, when we told him God knew him, God loved him, and he was worth all the money and effort it would take to get him to Israel for his long-neglected heart surgery. Yesterday Shalaw finally arrived in Israel together with four other Iraqi children, thank God. When he saw me he rushed over and gave me the biggest hug! He knew God had kept his promise.
Tomorrow we`ll take Shalaw and two Yazidi children for their first examinations in the Sheba and Hadassah medical centers. The management of these hospitals also know that we are trusting the promise of God, and they`re waiting expectantly to hear the result of our year-end funding campaign. For the scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame."
As of this hour $42,542 has come in, thank God. These gifts of love are the raw material that he will multiply. To meet all our commitments an additional $987,458 is still needed according to our online counter:

After a nine-hour surgery in Israel, Milad from Kurdistan was placed on ECMO heart-lung support. This step is a last resort, as only about half of the heart patients can successfully come off ECMO. Milad is in a precarious state.
We’ve witnessed God’s answer to our prayers for Lya, who also found herself on ECMO a few weeks ago, and was brought back from the brink of death. We pray to witness the same for Milad.

Glad tidings from Bethlehem, where tonight we shared Christmas Eve with our Gazan families who cannot return to their homes due to the Israel-Hamas war. The testing of this war has exposed hearts all over the world. It has shown that Israel’s enemies hate them without cause. It has shown that Israel’s natural love for their enemies can be exhausted. And it has shown me that I have not adequately given back to the people of Israel the same word of life which they gave to me.
My prayer is the words of the beautiful old carol we sang tonight at Manger Square:

Loai’s grandmother moved to Bethlehem last week with the rest of our Gaza families stranded by the war, and she went into labor on Tuesday. Late Wednesday night, after a long delivery, her son Yaman was born at the Holy Family hospital, with coworker Keyla and Leen’s mother at her side. Yaman weighs 3.18 kilograms (seven pounds), and he is beautiful.
We thank God for her safe delivery and for the birth of Yaman. He is a reminder of hope, born in Bethlehem at Christmastime to a woman far from her home. We thank God for this sign of life and renewed blessing; and we thank him for sending his Messiah two millenia ago to bring redemption and healing. The weary world rejoices.

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: