While last week was quite restful for everyone, this week truly tested us at certain points, as we were confronted with children in difficult recovery, staff leaving, extreme weather, and three Gaza families settling into their new Bethlehem home.
Praise God, year-old Lya from Kurdistan made it safely to Israel Sunday morning, stable all the way, with coworkers Nate and Colin providing a medical escort due to concern about her spells of low oxygen.
Lya was admitted to the Sheba Medical Center a mere two days later and had surgery on Wednesday, but has had a difficult time recovering, and is in quite critical condition.
While her surgery seemingly went well, on the way back from the operation room Lya’s blood pressure dropped, which was simply a foreshadowing of things to come. Later that night poor Lya suffered bleeding in her lungs. We rushed to the hospital to be with her and her mother, as doctors frantically attempted to stabilize her and save her life. Lya was placed on an ECMO machine, which provides oxygen directly in to the bloodstream to allow the heart and lungs to rest.
This is truly a last resort, as ECMO is difficult for someone so young, and something like half of all patients are unable to successfully come off the machine. Doctors are worried, Shevet staff is worried, and her family is terrified of the future.
We are desperately praying for this sweet little girl who loves bubbles and hates car seats more than any child I know, that in these next few days she will grow and heal. We have faith that our God is a merciful healer. It is difficult to see such deterioration, and we are hurt for her and her family, the pain that their hard work and travels have resulted in. I would love to say we have faith that she will be healed, but simply we have faith in the plan of our Father, and his goodness through the storm of life. He may heal her, he may not, but we are clinging to his promises and his love.
Our other Kurdish child in Sheba, Milad, has experienced progress on the other hand, and I was greeted by his smiles and playful demeanor this Wednesday. The stoic and grumpy little boy has slowly been improving in strength and thus in mood as well. Instead of crying out of fear when I approach the bed, he is giggling and playful, a blessing and a sign to encourage me.
I thank God both for the testimony of Milad’s laughter as a proclamation of God’s strength and the beauty of life which he has given us, and the encouragement and strength I receive, which pushes me forward throughout many hard days we may face.
Asmeen from Kurdistan has also experienced some long-awaited progress in her treatment. We have been trying to get her a specialized kidney exam for months, so we know what is wrong and can proceed with surgery as needed. We departed for Sheba hospital early in the morning, discovering Asmeen is not a morning person, but the long-awaited test was well worth it.
This is another step closer to Asmeen and mother returning home, where their new family member awaits. When Asmeen came here six months ago, her mother had just given birth to her baby sister 18 days before, and left her at home with her father in Kurdistan. We are praying for a speedy reunification of this beautiful and growing family.
We have also seen lots of medical progress for the other children staying with us in Ashdod. Naim from Gaza had an echo with glowing results; during the echo Naim did vomit, but this attempt to escape the echo failed, and they completed it a few minutes later.
His heart is looking fine, and his heart doctor asked a pulmonologist to spontaneously check his lungs after hearing his cough. His lungs also look fine, confirmed by a chest x-ray. After taking time to check Naim, the pulmonologist gave him a football, and played with him. Seeing how hospital staff in Israel are treating our children is often heartwarming to us as well, and we are so thankful for their commitment and devotion.
Another touching moment came when the Israeli cardiologist Dr. Tirosh asked Naim’s mother how her family was. Three weeks ago all of her children, excluding Naim, were killed in a refugee camp by an Israeli airstrike, and the wound is still fresh. Dr. Tirosh hugged her, gave her comfort, and just grieved with her. Israel has suffered greatly in this conflict, and Naim’s mother and our other Gaza families have also lost friends, family, and homes. We pray that all can see comfort, resolution, and justice.
Mohammed from Kurdistan also had an echo this week, and his doctor expressed great surprise and pleasure with Mohammed’s adjustment to his pacemaker. It was previously concerning but Mohammed has adapted perfectly and the doctor is thrilled, but he can’t go to Kurdistan quite yet, as the doctor wanted his heart to be a bit stronger before discharging him. This news was hard on his mother, but she, along with our staff, have enjoyed how much happier Mohammed has grown (pictured below left); he has come from being a grumpy and shy baby to a bubbling baby boy who loves the staff and other families alike:
Loai and his grandmother Umm Fares also had their own appointments in Jerusalem this week: Loai had an echo at Hadassah Medical Center, and Anna took Umm Fares for a prenatal check for her and the baby as she is approaching her due date.
Loai is doing well and his echo shows he is consistently healing, meaning we get to reduce his medications and simply wait to watch our little boy grow up. Umm Fares also had good news from her appointment, as the baby looks to be healthy and growing, and Umm Fares seems to be doing well in her pregnancy as well.
And Hur from Gaza had a nutrition appointment this week that told us she is gaining weight (although we could tell just by looking at her.)
She also received a special vaccine to protect her from a respiratory virus this winter, and is within a few weeks of being able to go to the West Bank, as Israel’s health ministry has requested of Gaza families.
It seems like the hostel we found a week ago in Bethlehem for three other Gaza families is the perfect location, with a large outdoor area, and many rooms for privacy. It is run by an Arab Christian Family which also hosts a house church there. They are located in the heart of Bethlehem and have complete freedom of movement. Our coworker Keyla is staying with them, and says she hopes they can see God through the many believers who are coming to visit them. We ask for prayers of peace as they settle into this new environment.
All of this activity has been challenging since we had seven staff members leave us this week. Ben, Kersten, and their three girls Alma, Miriam, and Linnea left us to return home to Jordan this Sunday. We’ll miss them and their fresh-baked challah each Shabbat!
Also Nate and Colin returned to the US this week; we are praying for their future, that God can guide them, comfort them, and one day lead them back to their Shevet family.
This week our problems have not been limited to staff leaving or children’s health, but traffic and weather as well. Due to some massive and unexpected road work, our daily half-hour commute has turned into a two-hour drive some days! This means we are leaving much earlier for appointments, which can cut into our morning meetings as a community, and also the rest we take nightly. We also experienced some harsh rain this week, limiting visibility severely when driving, even as we take all the available safety precautions.
I would be amiss to not tie the American Thanksgiving day into this prayer letter, and with all that God has done, it would be impossible not to write this without praising him for each blessing. This week we hosted a film crew from Samaritan’s Purse, who want to share the story of the mothers from Gaza, along with supporting them through Shevet. This is just one of the many sources which God provides: from his people, through the generosity of hospitals and officials, and of course simply his spirit which gives strength and wisdom. Every single component falls together perfectly in his plan to heal the children, to give them and their families a new life and a bright future. As Paul says of Messiah: And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
God simply has given so much, the entire existence of Shevet is the result of giving. The selfless sacrifice of Messiah Jesus has bought us from the world, and given us a new life in him, one dedicated to love. We are working to serve every day out of gratefulness for who served us.
Thanksgiving evening we dined with our families, each of us saying what we are thankful for. While most of the staff gave thanks for the families or the food they cook us, the families expressed gratitude to God for their children, and for their second home, and their second family, at Shevet Achim.
God has given us meaning, he has given us joy and purpose, redemption and love despite our attempts to run from him. Without His love, without His mercy, without Him, anything we could be grateful for is worth nothing. This above all is what we are thankful for.
As we head into the next week, we face a new and changing future, as Israel and Hamas begin a temporary truce and the release of hostages that have constantly been in our prayers, and we will see how our sweet Lya does after her surgery. Through all the victories and losses, the storms and calm waters, the famine and the harvest, we are thankful for the God who is with us.
Max for Shevet Achim