A friend in time of trouble

Dear coworkers,

One reason our community has survived these 25 years is the Father’s gift of a handful of experienced and faithful brothers who have stood by us as board members. I meet with one of them regularly for accountability, encouragement and prayer, and he has a list of pointed questions which he asks me each time. Probably they’re derived from John Wesley’s class meetings which “radically transformed England’s working masses” in the 1700s. The last question each time is: Have you just lied to me?

Well the last couple meetings I’ve felt a bit uncomfortable with one of the questions: Have you handled your finances with integrity? The problem has to do with the bills we still haven’t paid for surgeries in 2019. It was an exceptional year of 91 sponsored childrenand for the first time in my memory we still haven’t yet been able to clear the debt nearly five months after year’s end.

We’re starting to get some matching grant funds in now for 2020 surgeries, and my thought has been to just use that money to zap the 2019 bills and put this embarrassing problem behind us. But the nagging conviction is that these new funds were given for 2020 children and should be used for 2020 children. I don’t know much, but I am learning not to ignore those kinds of impressions. Without the Father’s favor our community will not survive.

So I believe we should keep the 2019 obligations front and center before our eyes. I worked through all the numbers again today and find that we still need about $159,000 (and that’s counting on a lot of accounting grace from our main partner hospital). Do you think we could ask the Father together to help us meet this goal in the remaining six weeks of the first half of 2020?

In the natural this is a terrible time to trust God for funds. (As I’ve shared with you I feel that fear has been the driving force behind the whole coronavirus crisis.) But I’ve been encouraged this week by several surprisingly generous contributions we’ve received. Our coworker Berith from Sweden reminded us this morning that it’s the Father who provides, and he is “so faithful, so good, so merciful–just wonderful.”

He’s helped us this week to reopen our Jerusalem guesthouse, turning it overnight from staff quarantine into a bustling home for three toddlers recovering from heart surgeries and their Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish mothers:

And praise God, just today we were finally able to start booking return flights for some of these families back to northern Iraq on the first flights opening up on June 16.

All this has opened up space in our main Jaffa house for Gaza families! With the blessing of the Ministry of Health, whose officials visited us in Jaffa this week, we’re keeping newborn Ahmed and his aunt in our home until he’s able to have his life-saving surgery next week:

If we couldn’t take him in, Ahmed would have been sent back to quarantine in Gaza without access to advanced medical care. (By the way, this beautiful boy still needs a local leader to advocate for prayer and financial support for his surgery).

Ahmed is one of a flood of emergent Gaza newborns taken in by Israeli hospitals despite the coronavirus lockdown. This week the Hebrew press took notice:

For baby Sham, who was born a month ago in Gaza, there was no chance to survive. A complex heart defect put her life at immediate risk. Even in normal times, hospitals in the Gaza Strip aren’t set up for complex heart surgeries on babies, lacking both expert doctors and infrastructure. Alas the solution for Sham, and ten other babies in the same condition, was found in Israel at the height of the corona outbreak, when hospitals are packed and border crossings are closed.

“The doctors in Gaza wouldn’t even agree to look at my daughter. They had nothing to offer and they simply sent her home to her death,” says Mohammed, 30, the father of Sham.

Each week at least one baby is born in Gaza with a heart defect whose life is at immediate risk, so they say at the charity Shevet Achim, which helps these children receive life-saving treatment in Israel. During normal times, the hospitals prepared to help with this mission are Wolfson, Hadassah, and Sheba. But in the days of the outbreak, the ability of the health system in Israel to help the children of Gaza was called into question.

“The main challenge was to find hospitals that would agree to receive the families and operate on the children,” says Jonathan Miles, the international coordinator of the charity. The difficulty is understandable. We’re talking about complex procedures that endanger the medical staff. This adds more hours of work and danger of infection to those already working under difficult circumstances. So this was a courageous decision, not a simple one.”

In the end it was the Sheba and Hadassah hospitals that took up the challenge, and treated ten babies under two months of age who were at risk for their lives. “I am so proud of the medical staff and the management of the hospitals,” says Miles with passion. “They didn’t close their eyes and did everything possible so that another child wouldn’t die in Gaza, even if nobody was paying attention. There is an Arabic proverb that says ‘In the time of trouble you know who is your friend.’ While everyone is talking about the suffering and distress in Gaza, they understand who is really helping them in their time of distress.” 

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

Jonathan for Shevet Achim