Our shared unworthiness

Friends, brothers, and sisters,

Greetings from those of us in Ashdod.

I write to you at the end of a week of transition. On Sunday we decided, after many weeks of deliberation, to go ahead with leaving our home in Jerusalem. The bulk of our work in these last few days was thus spent packing up all our odds and ends into big cardboard boxes, bringing them to Ashdod, assimilating what we needed, and preparing the rest for transit to—somewhere. Perhaps Bethlehem, if we can successfully procure a house there, in place of the temporary guesthouses we are using for our Gaza families.

I was surprised, packing up our Jerusalem house, how sad of a process it was. I’ve spent very little time there in the sum of my work at Shevet. But it was a beautiful home, full of love and memory, and I will miss it.

It had a lovely garden too, full of trees and plants and flowers; I regret the loss of that garden even more today, as our neighbors in Ashdod have just cut down the large trees which shaded and characterized our driveway for the last years.

ashdod homeBut all the same, we thank God for the work he accomplished in and through that Jerusalem home and the people who made it.

Our move out isn’t quite complete. We still have to settle the matter of the chickens and their coop, which is solid and well-constructed. These chickens have been faithful suppliers of eggs for several months now, but we’re unsure of whether to try and sell them or transplant them to Ashdod.

The month of Ramadan ended on Tuesday, and on Wednesday began Eid al-Fitr, three celebratory days to mark the end of communal fasting. Our Muslim friends buy new clothes and beautify themselves, visiting friends and family nearly nonstop through the three days. To them Eid al-Fitr represents a time of new and fresh life after the fasting and self-cleansing of Ramadan.

breakfastWe had a huge breakfast and dinner with our Kurdish families here in Ashdod on Wednesday to celebrate, and Thursday our whole present community—which is four people—went to Bethlehem to visit with our Gazan families.

bethlehem visitIt was my first time in Bethlehem since Christmas Eve, nearly four months ago, and I marveled at how much the babies there have grown. It’s worth marveling at: Hur, Loai, Abeer, all of these children were so sickly and small when I first met them. But now they’re large and happy and hungry, each of them a miracle of God.

gaza kidsI held Abeer on my lap while she chowed down on a banana. She has a tremendous appetite now! It was a joy for me to see her and the others, children and guardians, and to break bread with them.

Pray for those families in Bethlehem. As the war drags on they grow more and more tense, and more and more they (mostly) want to go to their families in Gaza, even with full awareness of the difficult situation within the Strip. The tightness of their surroundings doesn’t help that matter; although we’ve been grateful for the hostel they’ve been staying in these last five months, it gives them very little room or privacy. So they are on edge and easily perturbed by one another. Pray that whatever house we end up renting will have room for them to spread out a little and perhaps ease their tensions.

Our sister Keyla, who has been faithfully looking after them in Bethlehem for these last months, has taken her first break since it all began; she’s in Denmark now visiting with some friends over a long weekend, and we pray it’s a restful time for her.

keyla and kidsShe has certainly earned it. In her absence, Bethany has temporarily left our Ashdod community to keep an eye on Bethlehem. Pray for her time there, that she will bless and be blessed as she spends time with the Gazan families.

And speaking of departures, we are losing one of our small number in Ashdod this week. Andrea, who has been a faithful servant and sister, is returning home to Switzerland tomorrow, God willing.

andrea and shalawWe are grateful for her diligent work in these last months; she has been a joy and a blessing to our community, quick to help and slow to complain. We will miss her. Pray for her, that she’ll have safe travels home and a glad reunion with her family there.

We received good news this week for little Jan. At long last, after more than a month of waiting, his catheterization has been scheduled: he’ll go in this Wednesday for his procedure on Thursday.

jan crawlingPray for him up till and especially on that day. Pray that he’ll be carried through safely, and that his healing will be completed. His mother is eager to return home, and if all goes well with his cath, she should be able to within a few weeks.

Eva, however, continues to wait. She had an echo on Wednesday which was inconclusive and is now scheduled for another in two weeks. Her doctor is hopeful though that after those two weeks she’ll be ready for the next steps of her procedure: a catheterization which will make clear if she needs a large Glenn surgery or a smaller alternative.

eva and momHer mother was disappointed at the extra wait; indeed, Eva’s been having echos every two weeks for over a month now. Pray that she’ll remain well in these two weeks and that at the end she’ll be able to move forward with her treatment.

We’re approaching the start of Passover in just 12 days. It’s not lost on me that, like Eid al-Fitr for our Muslim neighbors, the Jewish people see Passover as a time of cleansing and renewal (witness the cutting down of our neighbor’s trees in Ashdod). The house is also thoroughly cleaned in preparation for being made new, and all leaven and leavened products are gotten rid of. At the end of the holiday, new leaven is brought in: the new year begins.

And alongside these two holidays—or after, if you follow along with our brothers in the Eastern church—comes Good Friday, the day the Messiah covered us with his cleansing blood. And then Resurrection Sunday, the day we recognize as the great day of renewal; the day when the Messiah was raised from the dead, when death was crushed, and we all who believe in his name receive the promise of new and everlasting life.

All three of these deeply intertwined beliefs recognize the essential cleansing of sinners before God. The Abrahamic tradition is a tradition of recognizing our unworthiness. This is our common ground.

And the way of Messiah offers a wonderful solution to our shared dilemma. Our cleanliness is offered to us through the sacrifice of another, like spotless wedding garments paid for by the master of the house, and we need only put it on. And though we can certainly be dirtied once cleaned, we can ask from our hearts to be restored once again. No fresh ritual is necessary, no new sacrifice, no new payment; across all time and space, cleanness has been given to those who would accept it.

All praise be to our Lord Jesus Messiah, who by his sacrifice and death, did just that for us. Through him, we who were dirty have become clean; through him, we who were unworthy have become worthy. Worthy of what—of communion with God. And God welcomes us into that communion. It is the beautiful fulfillment of the Abrahamic idea.

The last six months in Israel have been dark and uncertain; now, with the looming threat of a strike from Iran, they seem even more so. But friends, we need not fear. Our eyes are not on earthly powers or principalities; they have no power to harm or protect us beyond what has been permitted them, for a time, by God. And they have no power to take from us that imputed cleanness, because it is a cleanness which transcends this world, and so it is higher than them.

But I do ask you all to pray. Pray first that the war will quickly end, and that those who are suffering will be comforted, and that those who have been separated from their families will be reunited. Pray then that the Lord will work a miracle in the hearts of the peoples here, peoples united by the blessing and curse of Abraham, that they will recognize their ancestral brothers and turn from their hate and their fear.

And pray last for us and our little community here; that even now we might have the courage to be light in the darkness, and that we will face whatever comes with the grace and conviction of those who have made clean by the blood of our Lord Jesus Messiah.

May the God of faith, hope, and love be with you all,

Zechariah for Shevet Achim