Michelle and I are gathered on the shores of the Mediterranean with some 300 other ministry leaders and spouses for the Joshua Fund’s annual “Shepherd the Flock” conference, which kicked off tonight with a message from Acts 15-16 by Rich Chaffin:
All you need to know about Rich’s heart can be gleaned from the way he starts his bio: “He has been in full time ministry for over 30 years serving as janitor, a youth pastor, an assistant pastor and then as senior pastor for the last 26 years.”
He indeed encouraged those starting out among us to be faithful in whatever small tasks may first be given us, pointing to youthful Timothy who was already “well spoken of by the brothers” when Paul met and recruited him at Lystra to join his traveling team.
Rich then pointed out that this fateful second journey of Paul–which brought the word of God into Europe–started with the sharp division over John Mark, and continued through lengthy confusion as door after door was closed to them. Only at the “end of the road,” in the port city of Troas, did the Spirit’s call to Macedonia become clear. And there too Paul seemed to find the chronicler Luke, as the “they” narrative of Acts suddenly switches to “we.”
The lesson? It’s ok to say we don’t know what we’re doing. The one who waits on the Lord will never be put to shame. The road to resurrection must first run through death. And our place of failure is where we may find our Timothy and Luke.
Let’s consider two stories of trusting God from our community life this week. Colin was with baby Rafif from Gaza on Thursday when the long fight for her life came to an end:
The last few days, Rafif’s body struggled with sepsis–a systemic infection that tackled her organs. With her complex congenital heart defects and overall health state, Rafif entered into heart failure. In the morning the doctors, with sad hearts, announced that they expected for Rafif to only live for the next few hours. Since July they have poured their hearts and efforts into our little Fifi. I cannot express the amplitude of my gratitude for their kindness and advocacy for her life.
When I saw Rafif, her heart rate was sixty beats per minute, a very low heart rate for her young age. It was now simply a matter of waiting for her heart rate to slowly decrease. It seemed as if her room was filled with pure silence. The lights were dim, and everything seemed still in comparison to the lively movement of people outside and life-saving attempts occurring outside her room. Unable to change the situation, all I could do was to trust in a God who can change every situation according to His will.
I had a desire to hold her and cradle her in my arms, but the various machines and lines created a barrier. The next hour was spent simply stroking her head and holding her little hand. Tears were forming in my eyes, and I managed to form the words:
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
Slowly her heart rate decreased to thirty, and then one by one decreased to zero. Her heart waveform flattened as she entered into eternal peace. Her death was peaceful and painless, with the medications and machines. At her last heartbeats and breaths, she was not alone.
No words needed to be said as the doctor and I both looked at her vital signs monitor and then at each other. Soon later another came by the entry to her room and was also at a loss of words, but said “It is finished.” At this moment I remembered the word tetelestai, Greek for “It is finished” – Christ’s last words on the cross. Together as we removed the multitude of lines and machines from Rafif’s frail body, I could not but think of Christ’s body bruised and battered for humanity.
As I gazed upon Rafif I did not see her matted hair, the jaundiced complexion, the bruises, rigid tone, but a beautiful daughter who deserved to be cared for with utmost respect and dignity because she reflects the imago Dei.
Her body was still in the hospital room when we set out to return her to Gaza, so I simply wrapped her prepared 2.2 kg body in a light blue hospital blanket and carried her to the car. It felt as if I was carrying a precious newborn home, and I was comforted that Rafif was already peacefully in her eternal home.
On the way to Gaza, a beautiful sunset painted the sky…
As written in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we continue to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all circumstances. God is good. To God be the glory.
In our community we are so often saying “Lord, we don’t know what to do, except to trust in you.” And we’re finding a growing joy and peace in that. Listen to Georgia’s testimony of searching this week for an essential medicine which was out of stock nationwide:
As there was no date in sight for when Shahad would be called back to the hospital, and the time was running out before we really, really needed the medication, I realized that we had another of what we are fondly coming to know here at Shevet as an “impossible mission.”
Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
So, as we had the task of being the last people in the hospital before the medicine would run out, here was an opportunity for me and Alena to receive the gift of faith on this day! Firstly I prayed for favor with…whoever it was who could help us. Within the next minute, I found Shahad’s cardiologist in his office, without any patient, with the door open and ready to help. He (as always) was willing to assist when I explained our situation. He even called our pharmacist to try and organize a different prescription or whatever was necessary, only to come to the same dead end; the medicine is not available in Israel at the moment. I was reminded firmly and without any doubt of the prayer which Diana my lovely friend and our head nurse last year would pray and declare every day in English and Spanish:
Nothing is impossible with God.
So, as the pharmacist called his contact in Ramallah (unsuccessfully) and I tried to contact the internal hospital pharmacy (already closed for the day), Alena and I relaxed into the task we had of waiting for one of our other children to come out of surgery. We sat outside the doors to the operating room, spoke about faith, and prayed.
My father is always working.
I had a few phone calls that day from Coby, who is our nurse in Jerusalem, and the last call brought the news that outside of any striving and struggle from us, God had provided the medicine, right at the last minute. Dr. Uri who used to work at Sheba Hospital is now working in Hadassah Hospital, and through him it had been possible to get hold of the medicine. All the while that we had been waiting at Sheba–exactly in front of us outside the OR–there was Uri’s picture on the lifts, reminding everyone to use anti-bacterial hand gel, a smiling reminder to Alena and I that God our Father is sovereign over everything:
We laughed so much and sent the photo of the “three” of us to Coby to share with him when she collected the medicine.
Praise God that we don’t have to struggle in our own strength, but everything is possible for Him. Praise God as well for good friends who encourage us to look to Jesus and have faith.
Two very different stories, but with a common ending: resting in the Lord, and giving thanks in all circumstances.
I’d also like to share tonight how grateful I am for a very special gift to me and to our community. Last week my parents Don and Judy joined with us again around the table for the Shabbat evening meal:
They’ve visited many times over the years to encourage us, but due to health concerns weren’t sure they would make it back to Israel again. Friends Johnny and Stacey and Gerry and Holly came along to strengthen their hands, and it meant so much for our patriarch to give us his blessing over our last meal together.
Finally this week, I want to make sure you didn’t miss this photo snapped from the International Space Station by a Jewish astronaut, in memory of her father’s journey out of Iraq:
You recognize the triangular Sinai peninsula, and at the center of the picture the sun is shining off the Dead Sea…a little further up the Jordan Valley you’ll see the Sea of Galilee. What a tiny land, under the watchful eye of our Father in heaven until all that the prophets have spoken will be fulfilled.
Jonathan for Shevet Achim
“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).