From a coffin to a cradle

Friends, brothers, and sisters,

Greetings from those of us in Ashdod.

Early Tuesday morning I was woken up by a phone call from the hospital telling me that Mohammed had died. At around 2:30 am his heart rate began to plummet, and he died about ten minutes later. Mohammed’s mother called me and wailed in her broken Arabic Mohammed khallas! –“Mohammed is finished.”

Andrea, Asmeen’s mother and I got in the car at 3:00 am and drove along the near-abandoned roads to Sheba hospital. We wept for the next few hours all of us together. Andrea and Asmeen’s mother held Mohammed’s mother while I filled out the necessary paperwork; then we waited for the ambulance to take Mohammed’s body to the morgue. The ICU was quieter and emptier than I had ever seen it before, as if it had been set aside for the grief of Mohammed’s mother.

We drove back to the house as the sun rose. It was a tender and beautiful sunrise. The rest of the day she and our community grieved. It was a long and heavy day. The next morning Mohammed’s mother departed on the road to Jordan.

She and her son came to us just before the war began, and they are the first Kurdish family to leave us here in Ashdod since late October. It is a great sorrow that we had to say goodbye in such a way. But even here the grace of God is evident; although normally it can be very difficult to return a child’s body to Kurdistan, they reached home and family just 48 hours after Mohammed’s death:

arrival in erbilThank you to all who interceded on Mohammed’s behalf this last month. We trust that our prayers were not in vain, that our longing for Mohammed’s restoration will be realized on the last day, when he rises again fully healed and fully known.

Wednesday afternoon, the same day Mohammed’s mother left, travel permission finally came for Lya and Sibar. So that evening we had a farewell dinner with cake and decorations and gifts, even in the shadow of grief, and we watched the video Max produced of Lya’s healing process:

Sibar’s farewell dinner was held the night before in our Jerusalem community:

sibar farewell partyThursday morning, I drove both families to the Jordan border. It was a great honor for me to escort them through the border security, as far as I was permitted to go. I said goodbye to them and waved at their departing bus with a little white tissue according to our community custom; early this morning they boarded their flights in Jordan, and now they’ve reached home.

sibar and lya airportWe praise God for their safe delivery and reunion with their families. And I thank again all of you who interceded in prayer on Lya and Sibar’s behalf.

Also on Wednesday morning, one day after Mohammed’s passing, precious little Yazan from the West Bank arrived at the hospital in preparation for his surgery.

yazan admissionHe was placed in Mohammed’s old room, about thirty hours after Mohammed was taken from it. Friends, I will tell the truth, it was difficult for me to enter that room, to stand there and talk with Yazan’s parents and the doctors and smile. As I played with Yazan there, looking at the bed that Mohammed died in, I confess that I felt a hopelessness in some corner of my heart. But we praise God for letting us witness redemption:

yazan postopYazan had his surgery on Thursday and it went well, and now he’s healing and recovering. That same bed, in just three days, was redeemed from a coffin to a cradle. Thank God.

At the same time as Yazan’s surgery, little Eva went in for her long-awaited diagnostic catheterization, after arriving via emergency transfer from Kurdistan four weeks ago:

eva precathThe mothers of Eva and Yazan and our coworker Corry all sat together during the procedures, waiting and hoping and praying; and we praise God that Eva’s catheterization also went well. During the relatively short procedure, the doctors learned that Eva’s heart holds too much blood due to her dilated veins; this causes excessive pressure in both the heart and the lungs. With the knowledge they’ve gained they’ll be able to plan a surgery. Pray for a quick date of operation and for Eva’s steadiness until then.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Mir had his final echo and pacemaker examinations, and both yielded good news–he’s free to be discharged to Kurdistan.

mir relaxingHowever, Mir has been having urinary troubles, and on Wednesday evening he developed a very high temperature. Thursday morning, in addition to his pacemaker clinic, we had him examined at the ER. We’re awaiting results from a urine culture which may reveal a pacemaker infection; pray that it doesn’t! If the test comes back clean, Mir will be able to go home to Kurdistan next week.

We had a brief scare with Milad earlier this week as well. His chest swelled out substantially and he began refusing to drink his milk; both of these are potential signs of heart deterioration. We took him to the ER, and after two days of hospitalization, the conclusion came this morning: Milad is teething! And his heart still looks good. So, we praise God for an easy resolution of that issue. As I write, our sisters Bethany and Andrea are on their way to retrieve him from the hospital. It seems increasingly likely that discharge to Kurdistan is near for Milad, after more than four months in Israel. Pray that it might be so.

We also had a thankfully-brief fright with Shalaw at the beginning of the week. He started complaining of pain in his chest and difficulty with climbing upstairs, and we decided to bring him into the ER for an urgent examination. It’s not the first time he’s been in the ER; our community guideline is when in doubt, go to the ER!

shalaw in erShalaw is no lover of Sheba, despite its role in his healing, so he was very unhappy at being examined and being hospitalized overnight for observation, but praise God, the fright ended up being a one-off, with all his echoes and examinations looking good. Sunday of this coming week he’ll have another echo, and then we expect he too will be discharged. Pray for him!

And keep Asmeen in your prayer this week as well. She successfully performed her MRI this week, but based on the results now doctors are uncertain whether she needs surgery for her large and often painful hernia.

asmeen post mriI’ll meet with them on Sunday to discuss what her next steps of treatment will be; pray that we’ll find a quick and conclusive solution for this sweet little girl and her mother, who are approaching ten months spent in our community.

This week also saw the return of our beloved Hur from Bethlehem—we believe she and her aunt may be the first residents of Gaza to re-enter Israel since the war began, and their presence alone was a miracle:

hur arrives shebaHur has grown incredibly in the last couple months. For the first time since I’ve met her, she was able to really engage with me as I held her and played with her, and this was a great joy for me. Her echo on Sunday led directly to an interventional catheterization on Monday.

hur back at sheba 2Praise God, although it lasted much longer than we anticipated, the catheterization went well, and Hur made good forward progress. It also however made clear that she will need further intervention relatively soon in the future. Please pray that God will continue to hold open the door she entered by this week.

And lastly, remember also little Ali, who now waits in Jerusalem with his mother for his next surgery. We learned that he’ll be called in next week to repair an aneurysm on the patch doctors placed in his heart seven weeks ago:

ali nachoFriends, I wrote last week about learning to hold grief and joy together at the same time; about the importance of seeing both the hard and the beautiful. This week demonstrated that intensely. Mohammed’s death and the circumstances surrounding it weighed and continue to weigh on me and the rest of our community here. I still hear the wails of his mother. We are all weary here at the end of the week.

At the same time, we had the joy of sending Lya and Sibar back home; and although Sibar’s treatment was relatively straightforward, Lya’s was anything but. As I was standing with her at the Jordan border, I pointed her out to a security guard I was talking with and I told him, “This healthy girl here? Two months ago, she was on death’s door.” It was difficult to believe, looking at the happy, vibrant little girl.

When I was just starting in the Shevet community a year ago, I think I would have wrestled with the events of this week differently. I suspect that my thoughts would have turned in a cynical and doubting direction: Why Lya, and why not Mohammed? Is there only so much healing to go around? And indeed, the juxtaposition of these departures, just about on top of each other, invites a tragic comparison.

Friends, it is not my heart now to make such a comparison, and I will tell you why. Lya will go home to Kurdistan, and she will live with her family as she ought to, and then she will die eventually. This healing, miraculous as it is, is not an eternal one; though we rejoice at Lya’s presence and mourn at Mohammed’s absence, we know this is not the complete story.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but Lazarus went on to die again. We are all of us now awaiting the final healing of Mohammed, and in the same breath we are awaiting the healing of us all. My question is no longer Why not?; my question has become When, Lord? When, Lord, for us all?

So now we continue, we wait, and we look. We continue in the task and life that has been given to us, weeping when it is time to weep, and laughing when it is time to laugh. We wait for the day of resurrection and healing, when the dead will rise again. And we look for the completion of the Messiah’s work, which will redeem the world from a coffin to a cradle.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Zechariah for Shevet Achim