I met Donna Petrel ten years ago while on a trip to the US to speak about helping Gaza children with heart surgeries. When I flew back to Israel a week later, I was detained at the airport by the Interior Ministry, a victim of the policy to limit visiting non-Jews to a maximum stay of five years in the land.
My wife and children were still in Israel in our newly-rented center on Prophets Street, and a Jerusalem city councillor offered to file papers with the High Court to block my pending deportation. Somehow I knew though that I should not resist, and after an overnight lockup I was flown back to the US. My family and I soon resettled in Jordan. It proved to be the first step toward reaching into Iraq, and also the beginning of some time aside in which the Lord could work on my heart.
Donna at that time agreed to help establish Shevet Achim as a non-profit registered in the United States (we’d been registered eight years already in Israel). Eventually she came and spent nearly five fruitful years serving herself in Jerusalem and Kurdistan. Finally this year she too ran into the five-year rule.
After much discussion and prayer, I concluded that again we would not fight this decision, and that this may be Donna’s time to step aside to be with the Lord. She accepted this difficult transition with grace, and prepared to leave Jerusalem Thursday night.
Donna has invested heart and soul in building relationships with families from Kurdistan, so I was delighted to see the following scene during her last lunch with them on Thursday: little Rawand as an emissary of the Lord, wrapping arms of love around Donna.