Friends, brothers, and sisters,
Greetings from those of us in Ashdod.
This was a busy week, with many early-morning departures. We weren’t able to have a single morning meeting with all our community members present; we sometimes have to send one or two out to pick up children or sit with family during surgeries, but it’s rare to see it every day.
This week, coworker Max and I took a Gazan child named Jamal to his follow-up echocardiogram. Jamal is a bit over one year old. He had a surgery nearly a year ago which he recovered well from, and he’s been coming back every three months since. At this last echo, the doctor decided that it’s time for him to have his next surgery, which God willing will be a complete repair. It was good news of forward movement and potential holistic healing.
But friends, I will be frank with you. Despite the good news, most of the day we spent with Jamal was deeply frustrating for me. The little boy screamed and cried not only if I got near him, but if I even looked at him for more than a couple seconds. Putting him into his car seat, he would scream and cry; taking him out of his car seat, he would scream and cry; playing with him, he would scream and cry; being examined by the doctors, he would scream and cry.
Truth be told, that is how many of our relationships with these children actually play out. They come to us as unaware infants, and when they visit again grown and healed they don’t remember us, and positive interaction becomes more dependent on the baby’s disposition than on any established relationship. And in truth, it can grow very discouraging. It’s not satisfying to only ever show love to these children and not receive it back from them.
But toward the end of the day with Jamal, some of his extended family who live in Israel showed up. They shook my hand and immediately thanked me for all our work and insisted I come with them as they sought out doctors to speak with. They asked about future treatment dates and trusted whatever I had to say about them. Then they busted out a foil dish of rice and chicken and salad, sat down in the hospital waiting area to have a meal, and insisted that Max and I join them. And with his family around, Jamal became much more comfortable. I could even look at him without him screaming. So we sat and we ate and we laughed and enjoyed a brief moment of community.
We have a few things to thank God for this week. First, we thank Him for Adam‘s successful surgery and continuing recovery; it’s only been four days since he arrived at Sheba hospital in an ICU ambulance from Gaza, but he’s improving quickly.
We also praise God for the continued healing of Yaman from Kurdistan. A week ago he was rushed straight from the airport into surgery at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, and he has since been recovering marvelously, even playing with the handmade toys that were brought to him in the hospital!
We praise God for the continued healing of Ismail, who, despite his incredible rollercoaster of a hospital stay, has been improving well for some weeks now at Sheba, and is poised to be discharged back to Gaza at the beginning of next week.
And we thank God for Rahma‘s first successful post-hospital echo, which looked great!
We pray for Abeer, who after one month in the Hadassah ICU went to surgery to remove blockage in one of her veins; however, a couple hours into the procedure, none of the expected blockage was actually there, leaving the source of some of her problems a mystery.
We pray for Hur, an emergency transfer to Sheba this week. As of writing, she is seventeen days old. Hur has a complicated heart condition, but treatment has stood still because of infection in her lungs.
And friends, this week I bring sorrowful news with me. After two months in the Sheba ICU, Ameer was transferred back to Gaza on Tuesday and died two days later in the hospital there. He fought long and he fought hard. We thank God for the time of life Ameer had, no matter how short; we thank God for the time we got to have with him and his mother; and we thank God that he was home with his family when he passed.
In the West, our perspective on relationships is usually individual-based. What I do to you, I do to only you, and vice versa. Many of my struggles with relationship here come from my being, at least in part, still rooted in that perspective. But the Semitic peoples do not have such a reductive model. They still look at relationship the way Scripture looks at relationship. Remember for example the parable of the vineyard owner. What you do to my child, it is as if you have done it to me.
If you curse one of them, you have cursed the entire family, and they’ll certainly let you know that. If you bless one of them, you have blessed the entire family, and they’ll certainly let you know that too. And the family expresses this on behalf of those who cannot express it. Jamal (the constantly-crying child at the start of this letter) cannot even comprehend us, much less thank us; but his family thanks and honors us, because by loving him over the last year, we have loved them as well. By fighting for his life, we have fought for theirs as well. They will be very slow to forget that. And so too with many other families, who thank and honor us on behalf of those too small to do so.
We saw the same sentiment expressed by Sara‘s mother this week. Sara is a beautiful six-year-old girl who came to us as an emergency transfer last Saturday; a piece of a coil had broken off inside her lung during catheterization in Gaza, and she was rushed to Sheba under our care for treatment. But, thank God for his miracles, there was no damage done to her that the doctors could discern; indeed, she was in such good shape that she was discharged back to Gaza just a few days after reaching us!
I told her: “You can thank us most truly by thanking God, because all we do we do for love of you and for love of God; and all good gifts come from Him.” And she was pleased with that answer.
Friends, let us remember that this is true not only in the honor and gifts we receive, but also in the honor and gifts we give. Messiah told us that whoever gives us even a cup of water because we belong to him will gain reward, for we are representatives of his; gifts given to us are as gifts given to him.
And when we see those in need in our own lives, they too are representatives, images, of our God, and what we do to them, it is as if we had done it to our Lord himself.
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
May the God of peace and love be with you all,
Zechariah for Shevet Achim