A year of recovery

Dear coworkers,

The LORD has pruned us drastically since the start of the Simhat Torah War nearly eight months ago. The kind of pruning that leaves you wondering if the tree or bush is even going to survive.

In 2022 and 2023 we brought about 100 children from Gaza, the West Bank and Iraq each year for open-heart surgeries and interventional catheterizations in Israel. Over 20 active cases at a time routinely appeared on our website. Tonight there are only seven; by the end of the year we may have brought only 35 children in all to Israel. We’re one-third of what we were a year ago. Isaiah would call us a hut in a garden of cucumbers.

And I’m increasingly grateful for it. I felt it this weekend when we had only Eva and Sohaib and their mothers with us in the Ashdod community. We’re able to share meals together every night. We watched Pilgrim’s Progress in Arabic on Erev Shabbat. And this morning, before Eva and Sohaib were both hospitalized for the next stage of their treatment, we had time and space to remember together how faithful God has been to them, and to give him praise together.

This never would have happened in previous years. We were always working beyond capacity just to keep up with the deluge of children. It was so much harder to form meaningful relationships. And we were overcome by the financial responsibilities as well.

At the same time as today’s morning meeting, Max and Kate were waiting for Osaid and his parents at the checkpoint outside Hebron. Now 100% Muslim, it’s reported that many of the main families in Hebron were once Jews who converted to Islam centuries ago. They speak Arabic with their own unique melodic accent. The name Hebron is derived from the Hebrew word haver, and the city is called Khalil in Arabic, both meaning “friend,” in memory of Abraham, the friend of God, who is buried there with the rest of the earliest patriarchs and matriarchs (except Rachel).

Michelle and I had time to swing by the hospital this afternoon to see the parents of Osaid, who returned for a check-up after his second surgery in Israel two weeks ago. I wanted to tell them that their beautiful son was alive because of their faith; many doctors advise parents not to treat a child with hypoplastic left heart syndrome like Osaid, but instead leave him to die.

And even though workers from Hebron haven’t been allowed into Israel since the start of the war, Osaid’s father kept his commitment and brought with him about an eighth of the cost of his son’s surgery, gathered from family and friends. As part of our pruning this year, our goal is to only bring children for surgery when their costs are fully sponsored by all of us working together. To my amazement we’re now at the end of May and still have not incurred any new debt this year.

It’s encouraging to see how responsive people have been when they hear about a child’s need in real time. And here too it bears fruit in relationship and in increased prayer for each child. Tonight Eva’s mother shared with me a video she received from the local leader in Switzerland, our coworker Andrea, who is advocating for both prayer and financial support for Eva’s treatment:

What a blessing! And here I want to share another big prayer request for our community. We read in yesterday’s Torah portion of the command to release all in Israel from their debts in the Jubilee Year. We’re praying that this year of pruning will also be a year of jubilee and recovery for our community. That not only will we add no new debt, but by our Father’s power we will cover our still-outstanding commitments to Israeli hospitals from those busy years of 2022 and 2023.

As the Lord helps us, we will set our faces toward paying off 2022 by the end of June, and if God prospers our way then seek to pay off 2023 by the end of the year. At this hour $360,000 remains to be paid toward children’s surgeries in 2022.

And friends, we must pray for the peoples of Israel and Gaza as the war grinds on. Tonight the owner of the little cottage where Michelle and I stay in Jerusalem shared with me the despair that many in Israel are feeling. They see no yeshuah (salvation) on the horizon, the world is turning against them, and they have no hope in their political leaders. They wish they had faith to comfort them.

And indeed the zealot anarchy in Israel is increasing yet again this week. Still greater violence in the streets against trucks bearing aid to the people of Gaza, as the Israeli police stand by and do nothing.

road violence 2And most shocking to the nation was an open call by an army reservist, shared widely by the prime minister’s son, to disobey the orders of restraint toward Gaza civilians from IDF commanders, and to only listen to the prime minister:  We want to take apart those who remain here. Those who celebrated when they slaughtered us. All the little children who stepped on the heads of our brothers the soldiers as they stepped on the soil of Gaza. All of these we want to kill. Not one will remain alive. Whoever injured the people of Israel, whoever injured our brothers the Jews, the Druze, the Bedouin, we want to destroy them.

Compare that kind of rhetoric to the moving profile by our friend Lazar of one of the IDF commanders in Gaza, whose battalion this month heroically and self-sacrifically recovered the bodies of Israeli hostages:

Rotem

“My soldiers are Israelis, and they grow up with values from the home — a sense of mission, a love for the homeland, and love for fellow man,” he said.

“We’ve encountered a lot of enemy forces,” he continued. “We’ve taken a lot of detainees. I haven’t heard of a single instance where soldiers did something out of revenge or abused them in some way or another. I saw them operating with determination, with professionalism, and especially with proportion.”

“I know who my soldiers are, and I know who their commanders are.”

Friends, these last two accounts are a perfect contrast of what is going on now in Israel. The righteous values of the old Israel that we knew and loved, still embodied by much of the IDF, are in grave danger at the hands of the zealots empowered by the current government.

More and more Israelis and Jews worldwide are waking up to this, from the Jerusalem Post editorial board today (“Israel cannot afford becoming a pariah state“) to the recipient this week of the humanitarian award from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles:

“Netanyahu has tarnished a legacy that does not belong to him,” he said, a comment that received a round of applause. “For the good of Israel, he should go, so should the extremists in his cabinet, who are inciting violence in the West Bank and are trying to undermine democracy in Israel.”

“There is no contradiction in saying Israel is justified in fighting to free the hostages and destroy Hamas, that we should mourn the deaths of Palestinian civilians and to minimize casualties, that we should bring to justice the settlers who commit violence against Palestinians in the West Bank,” he added, receiving more applause.

The missing voice is that of the body of Messiah, both Israel’s Christian friends and Messianic believers worldwide. This is a critical moment of testing of our relationship with Israel. Do we walk with both hesed (loyal love) and emet (truth)? As the battle rages for Israel’s soul do we blindly recite the justifications of yesterday? Israel too needs a year of recovery.

Pray that we be found faithful, the kind of brothers who David said will rebuke when necessary:

Let the righteous man strike me; let his rebuke be an act of loving devotion. It is oil for my head; let me not refuse it. For my prayer is ever against the deeds of the wicked.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).