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

When Jonathan stopped in for a visit on Saturday evening, he found Akar awake and with wide open eyes. This was a huge milestone for him, and he remained stable with no change for the next two days. But overnight on Monday Akar went into respiratory failure and had to be resuscitated and put back on a ventilator:

I caught another glimpse of the gratitude of the people of Israel this week, when workers at the foreign ministry asked me to record a brief video for social media telling how they partner with us to get Iraqi children into the country. One of the consuls wrote me: "You moved me very much. I am happy that I had a part in aid to save children and helping them come to the land."

Going home is beautiful, and goodbyes are hard. This is the reality of life at Shevet Achim, a difficult truth that somehow we learn to embrace. While we miss those we say goodbye to, both families and coworkers alike, we can say goodbye in the knowledge and faith that they are in the hands of God, and he will not let them go:

That’s the cavalry arriving just when all seems to be lost, our four new coworkers from Germany who are landing at Ben Gurion airport as I write. Their coming heralds the possibility that other new coworkers who are waiting will also now be able to come, as Israel is now wide open for visitors:

Three-year-old Akar remains in critical condition in the ICU at Sheba hospital following his heart surgery three weeks ago. This ordeal is, of course, exhausting for Akar’s mother, and I’m in awe of the grace and strength she has displayed over the last few weeks. On the day I met her, I can remember watching her calm her rambunctious little boy by stroking his hair and speaking his name softly to him. Two days ago, I watched her do the same thing standing by his hospital bed, speaking his name with such love and tenderness:

It was stirring over the weekend, to see friends old and new digging deep and standing with us to meet our commitments to help Israeli hospitals with 2021 surgeries. According to our online counter $124,322 has now come in toward the total needed of $450,000.
And then our longsuffering Mohammed L. Given up by doctors in Jordan and Iraq, finding new hope in Israel, but now after five months with us and his treatment plan uncertain, Mohammed is losing hope. This weekend he was rushed to the hospital with a high heart rate, defibrillated and put in the ICU:

Our tiny Jaffa and Jerusalem communities–nine souls all together!–joined tonight for the last time in 2021. To remember all the LORD has done for us throughout this year. Less than half our previous size, yet more forgotten children than ever before made it through the doors of our partner hospitals for heart surgeries in Israel.

I think then that we should take our cues on how to pray for Akar from how these doctors treat their patients. When we pray for Akar we should pray as if he were family. I don’t know if he will live or not, but then again no one is ever given that information. His situation looks very grave now, but as one of the doctors in the ICU said, we will wait and pray:

Rohat‘s mother and I both acknowledged today that if he hadn’t left Iraq when he did he would no longer be alive. Why is Israel the only hope for so many children in the Middle East?

Two-month-old Balsam from Gaza had a successful preliminary surgery in Israel Tuesday to prepare for the upcoming operation to switch her great arteries. Due to the urgency of her situation last week, Balsam arrived with her grandmother, but her mother has been quite eager to obtain permission to come herself. Yesterday, praise God, we were able to bring the mother from Gaza to be reunited with her baby girl.:

None of the Israeli medical staff seemed to mind doing the work of healing on the Shabbat. But more than that–they were full of love and care and enthusiasm. They worked up Rohat so thoroughly and gently, even somehow getting blood out of his pencil-thin limbs without making him cry:

In the last few hours we’ve learned of a six-day-old girl named Rifan with a narrowed aorta, whom doctors are now keeping alive with mechanical ventilation and prostaglandin in Gaza. Israel’s largest hospital the Sheba Medical Center has already agreed to accept her tomorrow, despie the Sabbath:

Just three Shevet Sundays remain in 2021, including tonight. So this weekend I finally buckled down and pored through our records to see where we stand at year’s end.
First of all, yes, it’s no way to run an organization, going over the books when the year is nearly over to see how much we’re in debt. That we even exist after all these years is purely the grace and power of God. We simply committed years ago never to turn away for financial reasons a dying child who has no other hope.
I found myself eager to see what the numbers said this time around. We’ve already passed the 100-child mark in 2021, compared to 79 last year, 92 in 2019, 60 in 2018. Would we be deeper in the hole than ever?

We have committed to purchase a ventilator (with extra batteries for electricity-deprived Gaza), which will allow Abed to return home to his family. His mother has been incredible during this time and continues to take wonderful care of her boy, and wants the best for him. So many of our children and their families have been waiting on the Lord; we are trusting with Isaiah that they and we will renew our strength:

Friday morning, while Farooq and his dad went to pray, I had a long conversation with four of the border police who were guarding one of the Temple Mount entrances. Like everywhere in the Middle East, their identities were more complex than you would expect:

For as in Adam all die, so in Messiah all will be made alive…
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Look at the farewell the doctors at Schneider Children's Hospital in Israel gave to Iraqi Farooq when he was discharged this week to our home. Even longtime veterans at the hospital seemed stunned by the transformation of this young man:

Our most urgent prayer request continues to be for Yano, our dearly beloved 5-year-old Kurdish girl who is still on the ECMO machine and fighting for her life. Tuesday marked one week since she came out of surgery on the ECMO, and the doctor in the ICU explained to me that at this point, they would hope to see serious improvement in the condition of her heart. However, Yano has not significantly improved since the operation. The doctor asked us to make sure Yano’s mother knows that all the doctors and nurses are doing all they can for Yano, but that they are very worried about her condition.

And Sundis! As doctors struggled in the OR to replace her old pacemaker Thursday, her mother told us that Sundis had died as a child in Gaza and was taken to the morgue. Only after an hour did her mother spot a pulsating vein in her neck. Here’s how Alena found her today: "I would say Sundis is recovering well after her surgery, but after seeing her today, that seems an understatement."

“Pray for Yano,” her mother asked even before her big surgery Tuesday. And indeed, Yano’s heart did not work well after the surgery, and doctors had to put her on ECMO for heart-lung support and also performed an emergency catheterization to check her coronary arteries. On our Whatsapp thread coworker Bria shared a video of Yano singing “My God is so big”:

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 seeking life-saving treatment for her son at a cost of $64,000:

“Will you help us?”

Few of us have the resources 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: