Taking a deep breath

Friends, brothers, and sisters,

Greetings from those of us in Ashdod.

After another long week of labors, we come again to the eve of the Shabbat. We sit; we settle; we breathe. Although our community technically takes both Friday and Saturday off from work, as do most of our Israeli neighbors, our tasks usually bleed into Friday. We’ve spent much of the day cleaning, letter-writing, and going to the hospital.

Today Max and Matt were at the Sheba Medical Center to check on the Kurdish children Lya and Milad, bringing with them fresh homemade food from Asmeen’s mother. She makes meals and does the laundry for our mothers in the hospital almost every day. She has been a rich blessing to them and to us, and we are thankful for her (pictured below right).

mother togetherWe got good news from our coworkers’ trip to the hospital today. When brother Max wrote last week, Lya was in a precarious position. After finally having been weaned off ECMO heart-lung support, Lya experienced severe internal bleeding. Although she was stabilized, she remained in danger and her chest had to be left open, a frightening sight for her already fearful mother. It was a dark note upon which to enter the last Shabbat, and we held her always in prayer.

But praise God, since then, Lya has shown consistent improvement every day. Bit by bit, she gets better and better. Yesterday her chest was finally closed by doctors after almost a week open; today we heard that she’s had no deterioration since and continues improving. Praise God!

lya at ShebaIt has been a joy for me to visit her and her mother throughout this week, to see the mother’s face grow lighter and more hopeful every day. But the recovery isn’t over yet, and Lya’s health has proven unpredictable. So please, continue to hold her in prayer!

I find that I increasingly depend on the Shabbat to breathe and to process. The weeks become an endless series of tasks and endeavors; there’s so much movement, so much to do, that I forget where and when I am and who I’m with.

shabbat mealBut we come to the Shabbat table at the end of each week, and we take deep breaths and quiet ourselves before God. We break bread and take wine together and remember our Lord the Messiah, we release the burdens of the week, and we rest and remember and reflect on what occurred this week. (In some ways, the letter you are reading here helps me to understand the events of the week just as much as it helps you.) So the Sabbath closes our week and lets us sit for a while, and then it inaugurates the new.

We had such an inauguration this week. Little baby Yazan from the West Bank, who’s just under a year old, came to Sheba for an echo Tuesday. Yazan is the first Palestinian baby to enter Israel with Shevet since October 7th.

Max and YazanHe’s a jolly baby, quick to smile and laugh, and his parents were warm and friendly to Max and me. Seeing Yazan in the Sheba echo clinic, a place we used to visit all the time and now hardly at all, he seemed a living reminder of God’s faithfulness and promises of renewal.

Yazan had his first surgery when he was just a few months old at the beginning of this year. And from that echo we learned that he has grown large enough to proceed to the next. He’ll have a CT scan soon which will allow the doctors to plan his next operation. Pray for him and his family till they return!

Yazan’s acceptance also serves as a reminder that Israel’s heart will not remain hardened against their neighbors forever. This week I also took the Gazan baby Hur from our Ashdod house to the hospital for a blood clinic. The doctor we met with spoke excellent Arabic, and the first thing he did was ask Hur’s aunt how her family was. They talked for several minutes about the war and the effect it had had on both their lives; things they regretted, people they had lost. The doctor told me, as we were leaving, how wretched he found the whole situation: “There are no winners here,” he said.

hur and aunt 2The warmth he showed Hur and her aunt was not unique either, though it’s certainly not widespread yet. Every now and then I’ll see it returning in the hospital where it has long been absent; a smile here, a welcoming greeting there. It is slow, but it is a start, and it is a start that we recognize and praise God for. And we ask him to increase it; to continue softening the heart of Israel, to heal their wounding and point them to mercy toward the innocent.

I won’t romanticize the present situation. Most of the West Bank children, even now, continue to be refused access to Israel; only a small few are given permission to enter. And at the beginning of this week, the son of Hur’s aunt was caught in a missile explosion in Gaza, and his face was severely damaged. He needs surgery, but, as his mother told me, there are no surgeons available to perform the procedure. Please pray for him, that he will get the treatment he needs. Hur’s aunt refuses to grieve or to wear her anxiety before others; the night she received the news she retreated into her room, and in the days following she has remained upright and composed.

Many of our remaining families are wrestling with anxieties these days, and I ask you to remember them in your prayer as well. Mohammed continues to wait at the crossroads between further surgery or his heart condition resolving itself with growth. His mother is afraid for her son, and she’s very afraid at the thought of returning to Kurdistan without his being fully healed.

mohammed and motherWe’ve tried putting him on a new medication at the doctor’s suggestion, and now we wait until next week to see if it’s effective. Please pray that it be so; we’d rather he and his mother be spared from the experience of another surgery.

Pray for the grandmother of Loai from Gaza, who is in our Ashdod home and rapidly nearing the due date for her pregnancy. Though she’s calm and peaceful about it, she’s also experiencing pains.

grandmother and loaiPray that we’ll be vigilant and careful, and get her to the hospital without any hitches when the time for delivery comes; and pray that she’ll have a safe and peaceful childbirth!

And pray for Asmeen and her mother as well. First, pray for Asmeen’s immediate healing; the other day she stuck her hand in a hot cup of tea, and it left some nasty burns on her. And second, pray for her upcoming procedure this Tuesday. It is a low-risk procedure which, according to the doctor, has about a 70% chance of resolving her kidney reflux issues; but if it doesn’t, she may be asked to wait much longer before attempting anything further, and we don’t want to inflict that on her or her mother.

asmeen and motherSo pray for them! Pray that God will bless her and her mother, who has served both us and her fellows so faithfully in her time here.

Pray also for Milad from Kurdistan and his mother, who remain in the hospital with his condition largely unchanged. Milad is in a good state, and indeed, pretty much whenever I see him in the hospital—which is often—he’s in a great mood. He smiles and plays and waves his feet around with constant enthusiasm.

milad in strollerBut he continues to have slight problems that do not resolve, and he remains on an intravenous antibiotic treatment. His mother also is a rich blessing to us; she singlehandedly does most of the Kurdish translation for both our staff and the doctors, and without her help, Lya’s mother would be hopelessly confused. So we thank God for her, and we pray that Milad will be healed soon.

There is little else to say. We continue on, trying our best to be faithful with what we have been given and trusting our Lord to do the rest. Pray for our community here in Ashdod, that we keep up strength and spirit as we move forward. Pray also for our Gaza families now sheltering in Bethlehem. They are well and strong under the watchful eye of Keyla. They’ve made friends in the town who come and visit them, bringing them gifts and kind words.

bethlehem homePray for their safety, though; Israeli forces have arrested Gazans in Bethlehem this week, and though our families are not causing any problems, we’re nevertheless being careful with them leaving the house as a result. And pray for our sister Keyla too, who continues to deal with and seek out insight on her new anemia diagnosis.

I will close this letter with that, as it is time for me to rise and prepare the Shabbat dinner for our community. Beth, our newest volunteer, is preparing homemade challah bread for us, and we need to light the Shabbat candles. Soon we will sit and we will breathe and we will be quiet; and we will break the bread and drink the wine, and we will sing songs to the Lord together, and we will enter into the peace and renewal of the Sabbath.

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

Zechariah for Shevet Achim