Our only comfort

Dear friends,

Nine much-loved coworkers were forced to leave Israel this past week, over concerns that the ongoing collapse of international air travel would have kept them from returning home as required in the coming weeks and months:

Anne and Don to the UK on Monday; Almuth, Johanna, Jana, Joela and Lisa to Germany on Thursday; Joseph and Brianna to the US on Friday. Yes there were tears–but just as Job did when he lost those he loved, the German women took their pain and turned it into worship on our last night together:

Even as the last of their planes was taking off on Friday evening, back at the Jaffa home Iraqi refugee Khalid came down with high fever, chills and difficulty breathing. He was less than three weeks after his open-heart surgery at the Sheba Medical Center, which is also ground zero for Israel’s response to the new coronavirus. Alena writes that when she and Georgia took Khalid to the ER he was rushed into quarantine as a suspected case of COVID-19:

There were many makeshift rooms that were glass from top to bottom so we could vaguely see him as he had blood drawn, and eventually laid down with a blanket under the heat lamp. He was there for the duration of the night as we waited for the results of the coronavirus test.

For seven hours Khalid’s dad, Georgia, and I alternated between sitting in the car or braving the cold night rain to ask if there were any updates. The lab running the test for COVID-19 virus was closed, but around 4:30 in the morning the kind nurse at the desk outside the ER let us know that the doctors didn’t think it was COVID-19, and therefore were willing to discharge him so long as until the test came back he and his dad remained in isolation…

Today we got the results, or as we called them the golden ticket, which confirmed that he was, thank God, negative for the virus.

As we drove to the hospital at 9:30 that night, for the first time I was confronted with the reality that if Khalid has this virus, then most of us at Shevet likely do too. Many people throughout history would be familiar with the feeling of ‘plague dread,’ as if the virus is closing in and doom is impending. But the Heidelberg Catechism, though written in the 16th century, is timeless in its veracity and extremely relevant to our current day. It asks: What is your only comfort in life and death?

The Answer: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head;  indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Amen.

Friends, this is exactly the response Josh wrote to us about in last week’s letter: how the early Christians “heedless of danger…took charge of the sick, attending to their every need in Christ…drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.” What an encouragement to see that same holy spirit is still within the church!

Likewise our friends at Samaritan’s Purse flew into the eye of the coronavirus storm this week in northern Italy to open a field hospital alongside the overwhelmed local facilities:

Kelly Suter, the medical director for the  Samaritan’s Purse Respiratory Care Unit in Italy, said that medical professionals in the community are “grateful that we’ve been willing to come and fight beside them.”

“Almost every person that I talk to almost breaks into tears,” Suter said. “They’ve felt abandoned. They’ve felt helpless. They’ve been looking for a miracle and they are absolutely grateful that we’re here and ready to fight alongside them.”

And Michelle and I are grateful and proud of our daughter Rebekah who is at ground zero in New York City, joining the coronavirus battle as a medical student and, when that failed, falling back on her nursing credentials to still try to get to the frontlines:

Friends, wherever we are in the world we are likely under some level of lockdown tonight. It’s pushed us back into a defensive posture, and we find that the fears of those whose hope is in this world only are just as contagious as the virus itself. So let’s grasp the moment now to examine our hearts, and listen to what the Father is saying to us. This time is a gift; if someone asked me a few weeks ago if I’d like to put aside all non-essential work and have time at home with the Lord, I’d have said “If only!”

Here’s how Josh describes it this weekend in a follow-up to last week’s pastoral letter:

I think it’s been eight days since normalcy fled our region. Our family’s been indoors for much of those eight days, venturing out for walks and sunshine and doing our best to stay active and creative during the long hours of the day. When I’m not working on sermons or lessons, I’m listening to pundits, talk-show hosts, and other opinionated characters. The more I listen to them, the more I hear a common tone developing of impatience, anger, and frustration.

I don’t blame them. When something enters our lives to disrupt our daily routine, the initial rush and adrenaline of adaptation wears off quickly, and in its place grows irritation, resentment, drudgery, and unmitigated concern over a growing list of problems, real or potential…

So, we find ourselves at a point where we’re forced to choose either to continue kicking against the goads or to embrace and exercise with vigor this idea of steadfast patience! That wonderful fruit of the Holy Spirit! Patience with our government! Patience for answers! Patience in waiting for resolution! Patience in seeing if we will or won’t get sick! Patience with our loved ones, suddenly in close proximity to us, driving us crazy! Patience in waiting for normalcy! Patience in waiting on the Lord to move! Patience! Patience! Patience.

And this isn’t a patience that should be confused with indifference. It’s not lackadaisical. It’s not nonchalant. The patience that comes from the Holy Spirit is better viewed as a lighthouse, standing firm on a foundation of stone, impervious to any crashing wave, completely unshaken as it draws from the source of its light.

Nor should this patience be viewed as just enduring something endlessly. Instead I think it’s more about obedience to the will, words and promises of our Father. It’s more about a willingness to be stretched, to be made uncomfortable, and a willingness to wait with eager expectancy to see what God will do, knowing that his sight, understanding, and purposes are far beyond our own. And it’s about recognizing that our time is in his hands, that our purpose is his will, and that we can have the blessed simplicity of being still in his hands. Oswald Chambers puts it well:

A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and he stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says – “I cannot stand any more.” God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly.

Maybe this is the trust we’re called to have. Maybe this is the patient waiting to which we are called. Maybe this is abandoning ourselves in the hands of our loving Father, and saying, “Lord, I don’t like or understand what’s happening right now, but I trust you, and I will wait for you, and I will wait on your promises. Even if they seem slow coming, I will trust you to bring them to fulfillment.”

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

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