Outdo one another in showing honor

To our friends, brothers, and sisters,

Greetings from Ashdod. It has been a long, though not particularly difficult, week here at Shevet Achim. Our numbers dwindled somewhat due to sickness or vacation, but our community here was strong, and we gathered in mutual support and encouragement.

There is a passage of scripture I think about all the time these days, Romans 12:10; but I will include the surrounding context here as well, because it is so beautiful.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

What a list! If there is any passage in scripture which lays out how to live life in a community of believers, it is this. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Honor is an idea that the West does not interact with as much anymore, so much so that it seems difficult even to define. But I am reminded of our Arab brothers, who are, for the most part, still deeply immersed in an honor-based culture. When the Arab honors, he does it by bringing you into his home; showing you his children; sharing his food and drink with you; giving you what gifts he can. And he asks you to honor him in return by accepting these things.

Hospitality and honor are deeply tied together, and although they can be separated from each other, it seems that each becomes weaker when you do. Both hospitality and honor, then, are a sort of space-sharing; a saying “here, come into my place, and let me give what I have to you, because I love you.” And what a beautiful thing when brothers and sisters honor and love one another! When everyone gives of themselves, and so everyone receives.

We were short on hands this week, and yet we pulled through all the same. We supported one another and went the extra mile (just now I realize that idiom comes from Jesus’ words) where we could, and in doing so we honored one another and gave of ourselves to one another. Father, work in our hearts that we might do so even more!

From a certain perspective, the entire work of Shevet Achim is a work of honoring. We bring into our space families from Gaza and Kurdistan or wherever, and give to them freely of our belongings and of ourselves, and we tell them they are precious, both in God’s eyes and ours. And they in turn are so eager to honor us and to give whatever they can to bless us and show us love.

Just yesterday I was driving to the Gaza border with one father and his son. He noticed that I was stiff and sore in my shoulders, and immediately he moved to give me a back rub. And every family we ever have with us always says the same thing when they leave—come to see us. Come and stay with us. We will honor you, and we will give to you from ourselves.

Arya, who has been a beautiful and joyful part of our space for over four months, finally returned to Kurdistan with his mother this week. Although we were all weary the night of the farewell party, we nevertheless gathered around them and shared stories and memories and good food and gifts all the same, and it was a joyful time.

arya footballWe thank God for the restoration he has worked in Arya’s life, and we pray that he will grow into the strength and beauty and fullness of life that is good. We miss them, and we look forward to reuniting someday.

arya airport revWe sent several children home this week besides Arya—and although we did not have as much time with them, we love them all the same. Amir—who has an amazing, piercingly loud set of lungs on him (the only time the four-month-old stopped bawling was when he was in his father’s arms)—returned home to Gaza after successful surgery and recovery. Praise the Lord!

amir bottleHis father, a kind and generous and honorable man, thanked Shevet over and over again. I said you’re welcome, and we all praise God. Amir will be returning in one month for a holter test and follow-up echo appointment, so please pray for his continued well-being.

After Arya was newborn Masa, who was so critical that she went immediately on ECMO heart-lung support when she arrived from Gaza one month ago. Praise God again, she is doing well and her heart is in good shape now.

masa dischargeShe has learned how to eat on her own as well! What a blessing to her parents to have her restored to them. She was discharged back to Gaza this week, and she’ll come back one month from now for her follow-up. Pray that all is well and that she is fully healed.

From our Jerusalem community, Kanz departed as well: with good echo results and oxygen levels, the doctors decided to send her home for the time being without surgery. Three weeks from now she will return for the doctors to determine her surgery date. Pray that the Lord strengthens her heart in preparation:

kanz discharge 2And speaking of (likely) departures, good news from Nozhdar’s most recent echo: the fluid around his heart is decreasing appropriately and, if it keeps up at this rate over the next two weeks, he’ll be discharged to Kurdistan at his next check-up.

nozhdar purimNozhdar is a sweet and beautiful boy (even in Purim face paint), and his mother outdoes all of us in showing us honor, and although we will miss them dearly, we pray that their long-awaited return will come in two weeks.

Several children came back from Gaza for follow-up after their surgeries this week, and mostly good news for all of them. Taleen, who has beautiful red hair, had her echo and ECG, and all was well:

taleen echoEzzeldin, who did not enjoy his examination at all, has healed marvelously from his surgery, and he will have his next follow-up one year from now. Nadeen, who has grown so big and beautiful since her last time with us a year ago, also had good health, and will have her next follow-up one year from now:

nadeen echoKenan is in good overall condition. The doctors are concerned with his oxygen levels though, so they recommended a follow-up visit three months from now, at which point they may schedule a new surgery. Anas Q, who laughed and smiled and loved Baby Shark, had his MRI and all the results from it were good. He enjoyed eating and drinking and resting after his six hour fast:

anas q mriJamal, who has the brightest red cheeks, had good results from his EEG with a Sheba neurologist. He has some delays in his movements though still, so he will have a follow-up appointment in six months on that topic, and another follow-up in two weeks for a cardiac check-up. We pray for good results!

jamal and briaMohammed, a sweet little boy, also returned for a check-up, but he has valve problems that will need to be fixed. Pray for him! He will return in one month:

mohammed echoAnd lastly from this squad was Sila, who is so strong and beautiful after her emergency aorta repair, and whose eyes sparkle like stars. Although she is doing good and growing well, she has a small leakage in one of her valves. She’ll return in three months, at which point the doctors will decide if she needs more surgeries or catherizations:

sila and lenaStill remaining in the hospitals, Jud continues to be in rough shape. She has a great deal of fluid inside of her and likely harmful bacteria that are causing intestinal tissue to die. Neither are reducing, and so we can only wait and pray that she will respond to her medication. This little girl is her mother’s only child, and she means the world to her. We ask the Father to restore her:

jud needs prayerLiya is doing better and going strong. She will spend another month in the hospital gaining strength and learning how to eat and recovering after air bubbles to the brain interrupted her last heart surgery. After the month passes, the doctors will attempt her heart surgery again. It is a long and painful waiting time for her mother—pray for them:

liya waitingAnas A from Gaza, praise God, had a successful emergency surgery! And he is already recovering well from the process. His grandmother was overjoyed to share news about him with me and with everyone who comes to visit. This was the first and smallest of the three surgeries Anas will need. Pray that he will grow healthy and strong and be able to face and endure the next two when the time for them comes:

anas a postopOur new arrival Roshna from Kurdistan was prepped for surgery yesterday at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, and her surgery is planned for Sunday. Pray that everything goes well for this precious little girl, shown here smiling kindly in the garden of our new Jerusalem home:

roshna in gardenAnd Halah from Gaza, also at Hadassah, is doing well. She had what the doctors thought might be a seizure this week, but her subsequent MRI shows no neurological problems. She has a swallow test scheduled for Sunday, but her resident doctor said she’s looking good:

halah swallowLastly, we have those who are waiting: Haia from Gaza had her holter test Wednesday and is now awaiting the results. She is sweet and shy, and at age 16 substantially older than most of the children we bring. We pray that results are good, and that any problems are fixable:

haia 16And the Yazidi child Maryana is still waiting for her catheterization, which is scheduled for a week and a half from now. She and her mother are meanwhile in quarantine with COVID. Let’s pray for their recovery and that they’ll be able to soon return home:

maryana and joanneWhat a list of children, each and every one beautiful and special and loved by God. We are grateful for all of them, even those we only get to spend a handful of hours with. All of them we try to honor and to receive, just as we try to honor and receive one another.

jonathan and dya familyEven now, my father Jonathan is in Kurdistan reuniting with families like Dea‘s above, who we have not seen in a long while, being received and honored by them. We also know from him that we have another two children coming in next week, God willing, including Saan with transposition of the great arteries, from a Yazidi refugee camp. Prayer is requested for God’s wisdom for travel plans.

We often talk about honoring and glorifying God, but I, at least, was often confused about what that actually meant for us to do. How do we honor God when we’re walking? When we’re sitting? When we’re speaking? What does it look like for our lives to honor God?

There’s an analogy I find helpful nowadays. I went to a university that is, in certain specific circles, very reputable (outside of those circles, no one has ever heard of it). And when I meet people who know about it, and tell people I went there, and then demonstrate my character, they say “Ah! That college must be doing a pretty good job!” That is to say, they honor my alma mater, because they like seeing the things I’ve done, and they know where I came from.

So too, I think, with us and God. We are equipped and then sent out by our Heavenly Father, and we go and do good and cool and loving and honorable things. And people see that, and people know who we serve, and they say, “That person’s doing cool stuff, and they came from God. So God must be pretty cool.” And so simply by living well in the way God has asked us, we honor him in the eyes of those who see us.

And God, then, honors us as well—He calls us sons and daughters, and prepares a special place for us all within His big place. He shares of Himself and of His possessions with us, and that’s pretty great.

So let us live in cool ways that prompt those around us to honor God. Let us honor and love the people around us and the people God brings to us, striving even to outdo one another in it. Let us support one another and bring one another into our spaces and our lives and give freely of ourselves and our possessions. And let us, of course, pray for the lives and restoration of the precious children that God places in our lives to love and look after.

May the God of peace and love be with you all.

Zechariah for Shevet Achim