The path set before us

Dear friends,

Each week so many challenges are unforeseen to us, from late-night ER trips to extended hospital stays to last-minute trips to Jerusalem. We can’t make a schedule for the week and expect it to stay the same, but we can sit at the end of the week and look back to see what God had planned for us, and how much more beautiful our life is because of it.

A part of His plan finally coming to fruition is Asmeen’s discharge. Asmeen and her mother have been in Israel for nearly 10 months; almost a year without seeing their family (including Asmeen’s new baby sister, who was left with family in Kurdistan just 18 days after delivery). We are sad to see them go, of course. Asmeen has taken on the role of a little sister to me and many others here, and little else brings me more joy than her smile.

asmeen smileHer mother is also indispensable and has become the Kurdish mother to not only me but many other Shevet staff and families. She has held the family house together in all sorts of conflict, fearlessly joined us in our work, and worked to support everyone best she can. Whether it was cooking, translating, or giving emotional support and love, she has not just been served by us but joined us in serving, in such an indispensable way.

asmeen and zech Asmeen came here with a hole in her throat from a tracheostomy, unable to make much noise, and now she is laughing, crying, making noises, and maybe even saying a few words in Kurdish and English! I was especially touched the first time I heard her cry out of simple want. She would never cry; she couldn’t make a noise and no one noticed, so it did her no good, and she often just endured. But a few weeks after her surgery, I saw her crawl up to her mother, try to get picked up, and then begin to cry. It was her voice; Asmeen finally had a voice, a way to speak for herself, love, and be loved how she wants. We praise God for her healing and the impact she and her mother have had on our community.

Mir was also cleared to return to Kurdistan this week, after a pacemaker check and some blood and urine cultures to eliminate the possibility of infection. Mir looks good and healthy, able to run and play without hindrance, and recovering from the pain and difficulties following the pacemaker switch. He has an infectious and loud laugh that will certainly leave our homes and lives a bit more dim and boring.

mir partyLast night was Mir’s party; he spent the night playing with volunteers (he found flicking our ears and blaming others very fun), watching his goodbye video over and over again while laughing, and repeating all the new Arabic, English, and Hebrew words he learned while in Israel. We will miss that energy dearly and pray to see him continue to grow into a strong, loving man of God, filled with the joy of heaven, and using his gifts to spread the light God has given.

mir party maxWe were actually expecting to see a group of three fun and lively boys leave together just as they came together, but the discharges of both Shalaw and Jan have been delayed. Doctors were pleased with Shalaw’s results on his echo Sunday; however, they want to see if his heart can manage without support of a medication he’s been taking. So we get to keep Shalaw for another week or so, and we will definitely cherish that time with him.

shalaw fountainJan’s echo had acceptable results as well, but doctors want to consult the mother on doing a bit more. They are fine with sending him back to Kurdistan, but they could also open up his pulmonary valve a bit more, which would allow more blood flow and generally be better. Doctors want to be extra cautious and avoid risks for Jan’s safety, and his mother agreed with the doctors wholeheartedly, expressing her desire to return home, but firmly stating that her duty to do the best for Jan comes first.

jan and momJan will have his catheter scheduled soon, hopefully within the coming week, meaning Jan could be home in as early as three weeks! We are praying that we can see Jan and Shalaw return home soon so they can grow up doing what little Kurdish boys do best: running and playing, making friends, learning, and causing trouble.

Last Thursday saw the long-awaited surgery of Yazan from the West Bank city of Ramallah. His surgeons seemed pleased with the job they had done, but they struggled to get him off the ventilator. It turned out that the right side of his diaphragm was severely weakened, which is not uncommon after surgery, but definitely not something to take lightly.  Doctors planned to give him medication to see if his diaphragm would heal slowly and regain its function, and if not, they would be forced to perform surgery. However, God seems to have intervened, and neither of these happened.

yazan postop 2A few days after getting the news of the weakened diaphragm, doctors came back with the news that it was actually healed! The first x-ray showed it was weak and unable to get air in and out of the lungs, and by the next he was recovered. We are truly grateful for this intervention; a slow and difficult healing process has been replaced with Yazan more active and strong by the day.

And little Eva, the emergency transfer from Kurdistan, finally had her first surgery Wednesday. Doctors placed a band around her pulmonary artery to shrink it and restrict blood flow to the lungs, and so far it seems to be a success. Eva has not shown signs of rejecting the changes in her body, praise God! We should soon see this very little girl get a big increase in appetite, resulting in weight gain and growth.

eva postopThis is the first of three surgeries for Eva; the second will happen in a few months, God willing, and then Eva will come back to Israel for her last surgery a few years from now.

Next week we have one surgery scheduled at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, and we are praying it can go as well as Eva and Yazan’s; our little Yazidi boy Ali needs a follow-up surgery to enlarge the pulmonary valve that doctors created from his pericardium tissue in the first surgery last month.

ali jacket
Ali’s so active and energetic that it’s hard to imagine him needing another surgery; but doctors say he is at risk of sudden death without it. Please join us in praying for him on his surgery day Tuesday.

Milad is also getting close to a potential discharge next week, but is still recovering from some secondary issues with eating and digestion. Since his discharge, he has been refusing to drink his milk, leading to a short hospitalization and a meeting with a nutritionist, which led to us giving him a new type of milk. He seems to enjoy this, and he is eating more, but still has some trouble.

milad carseatThus he will stay here with us a bit longer until doctors see some weight gain. We are praying daily for his healing and growth, so we can see him get to go home to Kurdistan, happy, healthy, and heavy.

In Bethlehem, our moms have taken up embroidery, learning together to stitch beautiful and intricate patterns. In fact, soon we hope to announce quality and affordable Shevet Achim embroidered merchandise; we need to put these Gaza moms to work!

embroideringThey are also going out to dinners with friends, joining their neighbors in various activities, and our Peruvian coworker Keyla has taken up showing Arabs how a South American plays football (or soccer for my American countrymen).

While our Bethlehem community is growing deeper roots and embracing their community, our coworkers in Jerusalem are considering leaving the Jerusalem house, and coming to live with us in Ashdod. This would help relieve our financial situation, cutting costs significantly, but it will also mean less capacity for both staff and families–including Israeli families who stay with us while having treatment at Hadassah.

We are generally considering our future a lot, with money owed to the hospital ever-present on our minds and hearts. We want to pay the debts and be wise with our finances, but also save as many lives as we can. We firmly believe no amount is worth more than giving a child even five more minutes of life. We are praying for a breakthrough in this, keeping faith in God’s provision and faithfulness to the children we serve.

With fewer surgeries and appointments, and more long-term volunteers able to be trained to do more, we are actually seeing a bit more free energy and time in our day-to-day lives, and many of us have been dedicating that to prayer, study, and spiritual growth. This week Zechariah spent a few quiet days of contemplation with our friends at the community of the Jesus-Bruderschaft above the Latrun Monastery site:

view from latrunBethany has focused on reading Christian literature and teachings, and I myself have been emphasizing prayer and fasting during Lent. We are seeing a lot of fruit and spiritual growth in our community from this, a powerful morning meeting about confession being the clearest result of it this week.

We can focus on our works and disciplines, but that is not how we are sanctified. We are sanctified by following the path of the Messiah. A sheep will not find the pasture by wandering but by walking in the footsteps of the shepherd, and this is true and apparent on every level of life at Shevet. We do not know how our weeks will end, and each day carries surprises. We could not juggle it all; we could not come up with a solution for everything instantly. There is no time to plan or think often, but rather we can follow the path set before us. We rely on the lessons God has taught us in the past and walk these paths.

Paul wrote that we ourselves are crucified with Messiah, following him from his cross to his resurrection, which he shares with us. Every day we are not forging our own path, we are not navigating chaos with only a small guide of sense, but we are walking the path of peace made for us, a path that leads us to the meadows of our work, life, love, and joy.

In Messiah,

Max for Shevet Achim