You do not need to be afraid anymore


As Shabbat is beginning we and the families ran to our safe rooms, as with the end of the cease-fire our section of Ashdod came under heavy rocket bombardment from Gaza; our coworker Matt carried Asmeen to safety while she was still sleeping:

matt and asmeenAfter a week-long break from hard times, it seems the chaos has returned and doubled down in our community and our surroundings. We are promised to be led to clear pastures and given rest by our shepherd, but before those pastures, and after that rest remains the valley of death, times of hardship and pain. But we praise God for the breaks he gives us and every single minute of joy.

I was hoping to bring good and exciting news about little Lya from Kurdistan, as this week has seen lots of improvement in her critical condition. She was passing each pause of ECMO heart and lung support with flying colors, her heart was regaining its rhythm, and the staff, doctors, and her mother agreed that she looked better, stronger, and healthier. All of this progress aimed toward removing her from ECMO on Thursday.

lya off ecmoBut just as I started writing this letter Thursday afternoon I got the dreadful news of a new bleed from a tear in an artery, and my co-worker and I quickly rushed to the Sheba Medical Center to be with Lya and her mother. Doctors rushed to stop the bleeding, and were successful, but Lya is still in a critical position, her chest left open for observation and intervention as needed.

I continued writing this letter by Lya’s bedside in the underground ICU, shielded against rocket attacks, keeping her company in such dire and frankly terrifying times.

lya underground ICUThis mere toddler has experienced so much hardship and pain, and will continue to feel that, and we must support her through it. She is in need of intercession, for countless souls to speak on her behalf, and put forward the love and compassion of the kingdom of God for this sweet little girl. Depending on how she does, her chest may be closed as early as Sunday, but this is only speculation in such uncertain times. Include Lya’s mother in your prayers, as she rides out the storm with her daughter every step of the way.

lya and motherWe have had some good news in Sheba this week: Milad from Kurdistan has been growing in strength, spending more time awake, and most of all spreading joy with his smile and playing. This past Friday, my coworker Petra and I paid him a little visit, which was filled with massages, popsicles, and a harmonica dance party!

He is still weak, and his oxygen is still periodically dropping, but we are grateful for his healing, even if it is partial, because it is something.

Mohammed from Kurdistan, who came to Israel at the same time as Milad, is experiencing a small step back in his healing as Milad is taking steps forward. We were hoping Mohammed would be discharged this week to return home, but on echo his doctors saw there was some small leakage in his heart, and decided to keep him a bit longer. Then in a follow-up echo later this week they saw that the leakage still has not begun to heal.

mohammed echo this week 2This leaves us in a tricky position, as doctors want to do another operation, which is hard on not only his own recovering body, but also on his family, who desperately want their momma and baby boy back. Please pray for Mohammed and his mother as we approach this crossroads, that we can navigate this with wisdom and patience, with the Spirit of God as our guide.

This week has been a quiet one for eight-year-old Naim from Gaza:

naim candleUp until yesterday when he finally had his circumcision, after years of delays until his heart was repaired and his congenitally-displaced organs had been placed inside his abdominal cavity. The circumcision was difficult to schedule, as many of our requests to secretaries and hospital staff were greeted with confused looks and “Why?”

Non-newborn circumcisions are something that our Jewish friends seem to think strange and foreign; they would ask me if it was “privilege,” which doctor said he needed one, among other things. (I think one secretary even tried directing me to the hospital rabbi!) But in the end Sheba staff have been helpful in our mission, even when they don’t quite understand it.

Naim himself never quite understood what would happen, although his mom tried to explain it to him. He was simply in good spirits about the whole situation, even being back in the hospital. He enjoyed being doted on by the nurses with candy and high fives, and entertained himself with the children’s hospital’s many attractions.

A sweet moment also came from this; as Naim was leaving his circumcision, he noticed his mom’s concern and fear, and in his loopy-drug fueled state, went up to her and my coworker Zech, kissed them both, and told his mom “You do not need to be afraid anymore, I am here.”

naim and mother circumcisionNaim’s mother has gone through so much in these past weeks, losing three of her children in the Gaza fighting, leaving her last child Naim with her, both of them trapped in Israel, and with an uncertain future ahead of them. Naim’s tender acknowledgment of her fear warmed our hearts.

Asmeen from Kurdistan, another child in the Ashdod house, is getting closer to finally having a date to remove her kidney. This week she had a urine test and a great time socializing with some other moms at the hospital.

asmeen and familiesShe has also grown close with Naim, which has been sweet to see. Naim has become something of a big brother to Asmeen, helping her go from place to place, showing her the things he thinks amusing, and bestowing upon her constant hugs and kisses.

naim and asmeen and shevieNaim has become very doting on all of the kids on the family side, but he and Asmeen are quickly becoming good friends, and it is such a blessing in our community.

naim asmeen playgroundIn Bethlehem we have seen stability and peace coming to our Gaza families sheltering there, all of them certainly benefiting from some peace and quiet. They are visited frequently by the believing community of Bethlehem, and it is warming to see them welcomed and to receive so many guests.

bethlehem familiesBethlehem’s fearless staff leader Keyla has discovered she has some anemia. Our Bethlehem mothers, one of whom is a nurse, noticed her complexion was a bit off, and she was tested, and we discovered this not-so-fun surprise. We pray for her recovery in this as well.

Likewise Michiel and Ben in our Jerusalem community are doing well, working on the home and helping out during wartime as needed, while they wait for the arrival of new children.  And our Ashdod community was strengthened at the end of this week by the arrival from the US of Beth, an experienced pediatric heart surgery nurse (pictured below third from right).

ashdod communityWe reveled in the ceasefire this week, the progress towards peace, with hostages being freed and aid being given. Now fighting has begun again, plunging this land back into war and division after a small rest. We are praying for more progress towards peace, and compassion to shine through. We can not make a plea for humanity to be shown, because it is simply human to hate, to attack, to seek vengance and to eventually end up surrounded by destruction and pain. Rather we are making an appeal to divinity, to God that he may guide us all in peace, life, and gentleness.

In both blessing and hardship this week we are encouraged by God’s beauty in it all; we see his work, we see his hand moving and the incredible fruit which it bears. Our community reading of Psalm 34 this week brought David’s revelation to our minds:

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
Oh taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

So through the hardships, God reminds us of his goodness. He shows us the fruit which comes from pruning, and the gold which comes from smelting. Children and parents brought to Israel in a desperate bid to save their loved ones establish lifelong relationships, and people without light to guide them are brought to the light shining from the mountain of the Lord.

Thank you for praying with us,

Max for Shevet Achim