A promise of reunion

Friends, brothers, and sisters,

Greetings from the community in Ashdod.

Over the last weeks, our community has been reading through the Acts of the Apostles. The book has served as both instruction and preparation for a long-planned study of the letter to the Romans, which we just began yesterday. Acts is a wonderful resource for a community such as ours, not least because of its account of how the early believers in Messiah functioned; and something we particularly noted this time around was Paul’s several presentations of the good news. Each time he generally hit the same points: he would say who he used to be and who he now was; he would affirm his foundation in the Judaic tradition; and he would declare himself a follower of Jesus the Messiah, on the basis of the his resurrection from the dead. And indeed, Romans itself opens with just such a presentation.

That the Messiah was physically resurrected is central to virtually all Paul’s teaching. Paul does not, generally, seem very concerned with the historical narrative of Jesus’ life, nor does he make much mention of Jesus’ teachings (although his instructions to congregations were obviously deeply informed by them). But Paul points to the death and resurrection again and again, and it is upon that cornerstone that he builds his faith.

Particularly impactful is the account Paul gives before King Agrippa, who knew the prophets and believed them. It is the last time Paul is recorded presenting the good news in Acts:

To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Messiah must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.

To this the governor Festus responds that Paul is out of his mind, driven insane by his great learning. And indeed the resurrection of the dead—the proclamation that one day every person who has died will be restored to physical, enfleshed life and will then be brought before the throne of judgment—is insane. In the modern day we have even more reason to declare it insane, because as one of our community members aptly pointed out, such a teaching violates the law of conservation of mass in a way that a simpler teaching of a non-physical heaven and hell does not.

And yet, laws of the universe or not, that is what we believe, as Paul believed before us, and as Jesus believed before him, and as the prophets believed before him: in the coming resurrection of the dead, and the hope of that proclaimed to all by the raising of the Messiah in incorruptible flesh.

Those who know our work here at Shevet know that we are no strangers to the bitterness of death. And this week we tasted it again with Jud, who despite all prayer and all efforts of the doctors of Sheba died late Thursday night. Joanne, Elise, and I went to the hospital to comfort Jud’s mother and bring her back to Ashdod. We sat with her for a while, and we grieved with her as she mourned over the only daughter of her old age.

jud and motherWe have the hope of the resurrection, it is true. And Jud’s mother shares that hope. It is a hope of eventual reunion. But even with that future hope, she is still deprived of her beloved one in the here and now, and she feels the absence of her daughter who she loves. We pray for her, and we pray that she and her family will be comforted.

But this week was a time of joys as well as sorrows. Beautiful little Nozhdar and his mother, who have been vibrant and life-bringing members of our community for many months now, were finally discharged from Sheba and returned to Kurdistan on Wednesday morning. The night before, we had a farewell party all together—the last time, at least for a while, that we here will get to eat his mother’s delicious cooking, which she shared with us as often as she could.

nozhdar farewellAnd we gave gifts and shared in memories and words of gratitude, and we parted with deep love. Thank you, Father, for the great work of healing you did for Nozhdar—we praise you for it.

nozhdar firetruckRifan also returned home to Gaza this week, although she had both a shorter stay and less progress made. Rifan’s bronchoscopy revealed a narrowed left bronchi which will eventually be treated with a stent; however, Rifan currently is dealing with a bout of influenza and has been sent home until she recovers from it:

rifan wavingIn a few weeks she will return to us, and the doctors will evaluate the step forward from there. Please pray for her healing.

Also leaving our community were Mohammed and his mother. They were only with us for a short time, bookended by two Sheba appointments, but how beautiful they are! Mohammed made many loud sounds incomprehensible to everyone but his mother, but his mother compensated for these linguistic peculiarities by speaking excellent English. She even helped us translate farewell messages at Nozhdar’s party!

mohd b dietThursday Mohammed had a dietary appointment, and his mother and doctor created a plan to get him up to par with his eating, as he is having trouble with solid foods. They returned safely home, praise God! He’ll be back in a couple of months for his next follow-up.

Some of our coworkers returned home this week as well:

manuel leavesManuel, here from Germany for one month, and Craig, here from New Zealand for six, left us to return to their native countries.

craig akkoWe sent them off with what gifts and blessings we had to give. Already we feel their absence and we miss them, and we pray that the Lord will continue to work powerfully through them, just as he did with them here. We are lesser for their loss, but their homes are better for their gain.

For the children remaining, most are in a time of waiting. Baby Saan returned to Hadassah Hospital and was admitted there.

saan feedingHe will remain there until he has gained enough weight to be operated on, which, God willing, will be as soon as next week. Pray for him and his mother as they wait and prepare!

Baby Rahaf, just a few weeks old, came as an emergency transfer from Gaza to Sheba Medical Center and is also waiting. She has been diagnosed with coarctation of the aorta, and the first step of her treatment is a new heart medication—but no further plans will be made for her until the doctors see how she responds to it.

rahaf in shebaPray for her, and for her grandmother, who is anxious in this strange new environment.

Another emergency newborn reached Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem last night, after an attempted catheterization by a foreign team in Gaza went awry:

majed in hadassahBaby Majed is now stable and resting in the ICU, and a new catheterization to open his pulmonary valve is now planned for Monday, God willing.

Anas A. continues to wait as well at Sheba, but it seems his waiting will be shorter! He is growing stronger and healthier every day as he recovers from his surgery.

anas in shebaHe is now in the Intermediate Pediatric ICU; but before he can be discharged, his oxygen levels need to stabilize (and he needs to eat more!). Pray for his completed healing.

Liya from Gaza continues to endure her long and arduous recovery from the air bubbles that went to her brain. She is improving, but slowly—she still needs to get stronger before she can be operated on again.

liya and doroHer mother also endures, though she grows tired from the long wait. Her mother has a beautiful heart. She spent much time with Um Jud comforting her.

Ayham returned from Gaza this week for his follow-up appointment at Hadassah and had an echo on Wednesday. The doctors want him to be admitted for a big switch surgery, but before he can be, he needs to recover from the flu he’s currently battling.

ayham waitingPray for quick recovery for him and for a successful surgery!

Halah also at Hadassah has taken a step back in her process. Although she was scheduled this week to receive a PEG stomach feeding tube (due to her trouble in swallowing), the doctors canceled the procedure due to her breathing difficulties. Pray that she will heal and be able to swallow and eat and grow:

halah eyesNiyan from Kurdistan is quickly growing used to life here at Shevet. She has few people to play with besides we volunteers, but her spirit is unconquerable—she is always laughing and talking and seeking out new ways to play (some of which are more pleasant than others).

niyan and bria 2Before any steps forward can be taken regarding surgery, she needs a CT scan and a diagnostic cath. Pray that the doctors will be discerning and that she will be able to move forward quickly!

And of course, who can forget our precious Maryana? It seems she has waited longer than anyone else. She has seen all her little friends depart, and now her primary playmates are the volunteers. What joy she brings with her beautiful laughter and smile!

maryana couchBut, thank God, she is finally moving forward. Maryana will be admitted to Sheba on Sunday for her catheterization. Pray that God will give her healing and return her quickly home!

Beautiful Roshna, feeling better and recovering, has been discharged to our Jerusalem home, where she continues to recover. Thank you, God, for your healing of Roshna:

roshna dischargeAnd more good news: Anas from Gaza had his Glenn surgery on Wednesday, the second of the three big surgeries he must undergo at Sheba. The surgery went well, and now he rests and regains his strength in preparation for the third. Thank you, God, for your continued preservation of Anas! Finish what you have begun here, Father:

anas postopWe had one more admission this week. Ahmed G arrived from Gaza for his echo and his catheterization. During the echo, however, Ahmed’s oxygen reached dangerously low levels, and he was immediately given oxygen support and checked into the Secondary Pediatric ICU. His oxygen quickly recovered, however. Thursday he had his diagnostic catheterization which, praise God, went well.

ahmed g shebaNow we wait to see what the next step will be in preparation for his surgery. Pray for discernment from the doctors and good health for Ahmed!

And we also had a few brief in-and-outs this week. Jamal, a longtime favorite of our staff here, returned from Gaza after a long time away and had a successful echo examination. He is in good condition and will return in three months:

jamal and bria 2Mohammed AS also returned from the West Bank after months away, and he has grown so much since his last visit—and all’s well with him as well, praise God. He’ll return in three months for another follow up, but for now, he’s big and healthy:

mohammed a echoAnd we also got to see Joude from Gaza, who was last here three years ago as a one-year-old child for heart surgery. She’s grown so much since then and is now a beautiful little girl:

joude returnsThe doctors told us she will need another surgery in the future, but that won’t be for several months still. Thank you God for the wondrous healing you have worked in these children’s lives!

Paul puts a lot of stock—all his stock, in fact—in the resurrection of the dead. He says that if Messiah was not raised from the dead, then we who believe are fools to be pitied above all others; a claim that I do not fully understand, but perhaps will realize when I am older.

But that’s a discussion for another time. For now, I take the resurrection of the dead as being, among other things, a promise of reunion—reunion with those we have lost and with those we do not yet know. Jesus in his resurrected body was recognizable, discernable, relational. He walked and he spoke and he knocked and he ate and he knew those that he loved. So too will we, I expect. And we will see death defeated, even as Jesus saw it.

And until then we will wait and love one another, and comfort one another when we feel the pains of separation. Love desires unity, and separation is one of the greatest pains to love. We rejoice with those who rejoice; we mourn with those who mourn.

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

Zechariah for Shevet Achim