Waiting for transformation

Friends, brothers, and sisters,

Greetings from those of us in Ashdod.

After a month spent in the United States, I’ve finally returned to Israel. Being back with Shevet feels simultaneously foreign and familiar; but this is often what happens when you take time away from a place like this. The routines remain largely the same—despite not touching a manual transmission car for over a month, driving it comes back easy—but there are new people and new relationships, which means new learning as well. There’s a new climate, too! I forgot how hot it gets in Israel in the summertime.

zech arrivalWith all this newness comes the opportunity for a new spirit as well, at least in myself. I’ve been riding the wave of momentum that brought me back to make sweeping, long-awaited changes: behold our newly rearranged living room as a prime example.

new living roomAnd I’m seeking to present a renewed spirit here to the world, to my coworkers, to our families: a quieter, gentler spirit, slower to hardness, faster to love.

Readers of prior letters will know that our dear little Eva has been on ECMO heart-lung support for the last nine days, after her body rejected the Glenn surgery done the week before. Doctors spent this week trying to wean her from that device.

eva sleepingThe first couple attempts were unsuccessful but seemed promising; after Thursday’s test doctors realized that although Eva’s heart is pumping well, her body was not receiving oxygen, so they ordered an immediate CT scan to investigate.

doctors with EvaTo their relief they found the cause: severe narrowing in the conduit connecting her lungs to her heart; oxygen-rich blood simply wasn’t able to pass through. This morning Eva was rushed in for an emergency catheterization to try and resolve this issue.

eva to cathThe catheterization was a success with a stent placed in her left pulmonary artery. However, Eva has also been bleeding slightly since this morning, and the cardiac surgeon was unable to resolve that issue during the procedure. Eva is back on ECMO for the time being, but the doctors will try taking her off it again soon. Please pray for her! Pray that the stent will have resolved the issues with oxygenation; that the bleeding will stop; and that the doctors will have wisdom as they continue the treatment of this precious, delicate girl.

eva and motherAnd please pray for her mother as well. She is tired and weak and experiencing health troubles of her own, likely exacerbated by her severe stress. I spoke with her on the phone last night briefly to plan for the catheterization, and she told me of her anxiety in this whole situation.

eva mother tiredShe knows about God’s faithfulness and his love for Eva; she’s seen it demonstrated. But she told me that even though she knows this, when she sees Eva connected to the machines she fears anyway. This is a very hard time for her. Please intercede on her behalf.

Sohaib and his mother have been models of patience for us, waiting for weeks without complaint for Sohaib’s surgery date.

sohaib and motherThey’ve seen Eva, Rozh, and West Bank kids all go into surgery while they wait. She told me on my second day back that she’s only happy for them—and then she said she’s even content waiting, because she knows when the surgery actually comes she’ll be very afraid! Today we heard from the hospital that the surgery will likely be Wednesday of next week; pray for Sohaib’s health till then, and for courage for him and his mother. (Sometimes he encourages us by making the sign of a heart with his hands.)

sohaib heartRozh from Kurdistan continues to recover and regain strength, although she also contracted a cold this week. That cold has done nothing to weaken her though, and indeed, it’s comforting to see her navigate sickness so unaffected. Viruses can be dangerous for our patients when they return home, so this is a reassuring sign.

rozh examI’ve regretfully seen very little of Rozh; she seems shy and mostly keeps to herself. We praise God for her healing, and we expect she and her mother will be on their way sometime next week.

Early Sunday morning, Montaser from the Bethlehem area went in for his long-overdue surgery. It took the doctors about six hours to recreate a pulmonary artery after damage done to it in a previous poor surgery at a different hospital. They will watch the growth of that repaired artery; it will take at least six months, and possibly a year, to know if it was a successful project.

montaser postopThe day after surgery Montaser was already taken off the ventilator, and he continues to recover. He is very weak after his surgery, and his body is having some struggles in adjustment: but overall, his trajectory is good, praise God.

montasser postopPray that he’ll continue to recover well, be discharged soon, and that the repair done to his artery will take hold. $2680 is still needed toward the hospital costs.

There’s one more important matter this week. On Thursday, after just shy of one year of service, we said farewell to our sister Keyla. Keyla has been a faithful servant of Messiah in this year, and a faithful friend to us here at Shevet. She has spent most of the war holding things together in Bethlehem with our Gazan families, a role it seems that she was uniquely prepared by the Lord for. She showed herself trustworthy for the work of God, and she will see her reward for it.

keyla leavesBy the grace of God, we’ve come a long way since it was just Keyla, Max, and I here in Ashdod in the weeks after October 7th; but we will miss her here. Please pray for our sister, that as she returns home to Peru she will go with God, and that she will be blessed in whatever work she sets her hands to next. And pray also that we’ll find a good way of interacting with and looking after the Gazan families in her absence; although they’ve largely become self-sufficient at this point, we still want to maintain a present relationship with them.

On Wednesday the Jewish people observed the Feast of Weeks, the last of the three major feasts given within the Torah, after Tabernacles and Passover. Lesser known is the Feast of Firstfruits, which falls during Passover week on the day we designate as Resurrection Sunday. Paul points to this in his first letter to the CorinthiansBut in fact Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

From that feast the scripture instructs to count down exactly seven sevens (weeks) from the day after the Shabbat of Passover week—a biblical image of completion—and then comes the Feast of Weeks, which lands on the day we call Pentecost. It is debatable whether Wednesday of this week was the intended day from the Torah; a straightforward calculation suggests this coming Sunday instead, and that is when our community will remember and observe Pentecost this year.

The Feasts of Tabernacles and Passover are largely explained in the biblical text—that is to say, we can understand purely from the Torah what the points of these holidays are, even if they are also fulfilled in the Messiah. But the Feast of Weeks, this festival whose timing implies completion, has little explanation given within Leviticus 23, where the feasts are laid out. And indeed, only after the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples and brought to fullness and completion God’s plan of dwelling within us, did the significance of this feast become more clear.

But there is one clue, I believe, within the text. One of the marks of Passover is the eating of unleavened bread, which symbolizes the purging of old ways, old spirits, from the hearts of the people. Paul points to this in his first letter to the Corinthians again:

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the Festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The Feast of Weeks, however, makes a point of the opposite: its instructions include the presentation of fresh loaves specifically baked with leaven, to be waved before God. And if we accept Paul’s image of leaven representing spirits spreading within our bodies, then the Feast of Weeks suggests the presentation of new bodies filled with a new Spirit. And indeed, such is Pentecost.

loavesAlthough the day has already passed for our Western brothers and sisters, this Sunday our community will gather to sit and to worship at nine in the morning, just as the apostles did nearly two thousand years ago. We will sit humbly before God, waiting for him, waiting for his presence, waiting for the fulfillment of his promises—waiting for the transformation that comes from his Spirit, even over lifetimes, into his untarnished image.

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

Zechariah for Shevet Achim