The hammer of coronavirus restrictions fell heavy on our community today. The government in Gaza closed the crossing into Israel in an effort to protect the population there; our partner hospitals Sheba and Hadassah banned our community members from entering cardiac wards to limit potential infection; and as of tomorrow neighboring Jordan has banned all flights for the rest of March, cutting off the last travel route for Iraqi families.
Thank God the mother of baby Mohammed was able to fly home on Wednesday, after her little one was gathered into our Shepherd’s arms in the hospital on Monday, and buried Tuesday on “Skull Hill” above the Garden Tomb. You may go here for the whole poignant story.
Before the borders closed we were, by God’s grace, able to bring in enough families to keep the hospitals working until the coronavirus crisis has passed (as a leading Israeli virologist named Jihad assures us it will). In addition to five Iraqi children waiting with us for surgeries, our Gaza team of Yousef, Amar and Lindsay worked around the clock this week to rush three more Gaza emergencies into Israel, the first one Motasem on the Purim holiday, and the last one Wasim on Friday night as the Sabbath was already upon us. Both still need a local leader to advocate for prayer and financial support for their surgery in Israel.
We saw a profile in courage today at Sheba Medical Center: 16-year-old Imdad has seen more than one child, including his peer Mustafa, who did not survive their complex heart surgeries. Today it was his turn to say goodbye to his mother and walk into the operating room alone:
Georgia has the outcome of Imdad’s surgery here.
Meanwhile the fear of the coronavirus shakes the world. As with all shakings allowed by our Father, there is from the pain also a working for good. The nations of China and Iran have been particularly hard hit, in part due to the initial lies and obfuscations of their ruling idealogies which both deny the truth of the scriptures. As the bankruptcy of these regimes is exposed, the hunger for truth will only grow; the young whistleblower doctor in Wuhan who later died from the virus, Li Wenliang, was known to the churches in his city as a seeker.
And we in our own countries are being shaken and tested as well. Do we hold our treasure in earthen vessels, or have we made the earthen vessels our treasure? I’ll end with this excerpt from a letter written to the youth of his church this week by my son Joshua, who led our Jerusalem community for five years before returning to the US:
Early records document Christians, at no small risk to themselves, caring for sick and dying people during extreme pandemic conditions. During the Antonine Plague (165 AD), some five million people died. The plague of Cyprian (251 AD) spread from Africa throughout the known world, killing almost 50% of all who were infected by it. An estimated 5000 people a day died from the plague at it’s height. Can you imagine a 50% mortality rate and the fear that would have caused?
During each pandemic, the results were predictably the same. Government officials and the the social elite would flee the cities to avoid contact with the sick. The poor and needy would be abandoned to die. But it was the Christians who remained behind, taking on the role of caretakers and living examples of Christ’s call in John 13:34-35:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Bishop Dionysus of Corinth wrote this of the Christians at those times:
Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves, and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.
As I consider these accounts, I’m humbled. It can be argued that it was the love and dedication displayed by the Christians in caring for their neighbors during times of sickness that had significant social impact; the selfless and Christ-like actions of the believer in the face of death and disease that played no small part in the rapid spread of the Christian faith throughout the known world. This is the example of the Christian. This is the example of the sojourner in the land; the one who knows his true home is a better place.
Friends, we’ve been given a fantastic opportunity in this time. Not that we’ll necessarily be called to take to the streets to care for the sick and dying, but that we’re being given an opportunity to show and reflect Christ’s love for our fellow-man and for our neighbors in Fort Wayne and beyond! Maybe instead of fretting away the hours in doubt and anxiety, we can be brainstorming for ways that the Christian can show Christ’s love through this time! Instead of despairing and worrying we can be equipping each other for good deeds and galvanizing each other to be lights in times of great darkness! Maybe the last thing we should be doing right now is being angry or suspicious with each other, holding each other at arms length, and developing an “every man for himself” mentality! Instead, while we can and should be still practicing due diligence, hygiene and caution, can we find ways to extend love, grace, and care to those around us? Can we be thinking proactively on how to be Jesus’ hands and feet to the world around us? And with all the restrictions and cautions in place perhaps it will take some creative thinking!
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky from the B’nai David-Judea congregation wrote:
The very last thing we need right now is a mindset of mutual distancing. We actually need to be thinking in the exact opposite way. Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another must become a thought as to how we might help that other, should the need arise. Let’s stay safe. And let’s draw one another closer in a way that we’ve never done before.
“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).
Jonathan for Shevet Achim