Losing our lives for his sake

Dear friends,

In chapter 27 of Matthew the gospel writer goes into specific detail of the events of Jesus’ death. In particular he mentions accessories with which the Romans sought to mock Jesus: the scarlet robe, the crown of thorns, the reed in place of a scepter, and the plaque above the cross which read “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

I had always read these details as merely the sardonic humor of ancient Roman soldiers as they executed someone who, to them, was the hilarious antithesis of any ruler, let alone a king. And while I believe Matthew included them in his Gospel because that is what the Roman soldiers actually did, probably for reasons not so different than what I just described, I think there is more going on with these symbols of kingship intersecting with the death of the self-proclaimed Son of Man.

If you look at Deuteronomy 17, you see the paradigm of kingship Moses outlines for the people, and the main point (as Israeli philosopher Micah Goodman says in his book on Deuteronomy) is not teaching the people to obey the king. It is teaching the king to obey the Torah. Here Goodman goes on to say is the larger theme of the Bible: only that which we give up can ever truly be ours. Any king who clings to his power above all else is not fit to have it, but the one who recognizes a higher power will in the end find that he stays in power. The laying down of power is an integral part of truly possessing it.

The New Testament is filled with paradoxical statements like this. Jesus states in Matthew’s gospel, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” So the long-awaited King–who is exponentially more powerful than any mere human–is not just king in spite of his death, but king because of his death. The cross doesn’t just proceed the throne, it is a type of throne. Jesus is the embodiment of the power dynamics of the Hebrew scriptures, and maybe Paul had thoughts along similar lines when he wrote that the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God’s words to Paul are evident every day at Shevet. It is most often in our paucity of resources or strength that we find the infinite capacity of God to bring about the impossible. In the same vein I want to start this letter with a prayer of thanksgiving. A few months ago I wrote about a twenty-five-year-old man named Alaa from Gaza. His first heart surgery at Sheba Medical Center in 2004 was not through Shevet Achim, but his family contacted our Gaza team hoping that we could help him return for a second major cardiac surgery:

Because of his age we’ll need to find extra funding for Alaa’s surgery, and I felt compelled by the Lord to look for this. Our coworker Debi, a cardiac nurse who is currently volunteering in Jaffa, suggested applying to a ministry called “The Lord Sees” which is affiliated with a church she knows in Oklahoma. We applied last week and yesterday morning she received an email that the grant is approved. Between this donation and $1325 dollars that was donated through the generosity of individuals who saw my posts on Facebook, there is now full funding for Alaa’s surgery!

I am so beyond thankful for this. I’ve known countless stories of the Lord providing financially for those who step up to be local leaders for children at Shevet, but as I contemplated the thousands of dollars needed for Alaa to have surgery I was baffled as to how God would show up in this endeavor. In May I wrote in my journal these words, “With Alaa, Lord, I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know the future, but I know my orders, and as salvation was your prerogative from first to last, then this will be too.”

Please keep Alaa in prayer as he waits for a surgery date, as well as the people of the Gaza Strip. With coronavirus cases rising there. I think of really vulnerable cases like little Mohaned who is in quarantine after returning from his surgery, and also Hassan whose body is so fragile. May the Lord have mercy on them and the others like them who are especially susceptible to any infection. There are currently six Gaza children at Sheba and one at Hadassah, so please also keep their families in prayer, too, as all of them have spouses and children back in Gaza.

Saif’s mother told me about her family when we first met, proudly showing me pictures of each of them on her phone. A few nights ago she also sent me a photo from Sheba of Saif with his tracheostomy, but now awake and off of sedation:

He had to have the trach due to narrowing of his airway, which inhibited his ability to effectively breathe. He has gained a little bit of weight now, but has yet to learn how to feed orally. Please keep this beautiful boy and his lovely mum in prayer. They are very near to our hearts.

Both Toleen and Mariam have been extubated, but they also both have fevers and are receiving antibiotics. Please pray that soon both of them would be well enough to be transferred out of the ICU to a general pediatric floor. It has been a gift to know both of their guardians, Toleen’s father and Maryam’s aunt.

When we visit them it is a time to know them more and also to be ambassadors of the love of God through Jesus; His love extends to them and it is a privilege to share that with them.

Please also keep Zakaria in your prayers. He is on an ECMO to do the work of his lungs and heart, and his body has been unable to cope without it. We’re told that only about fifty percent of children on ECMO can be successfully weaned, so please bring Zakaria and his mother before the Lord.

All I can think is that I don’t want to see another mother lose her baby, I don’t want to hear again the heart-wrenching sobs of a parent who has outlived their child. I pray that God would protect Zakaria and that he will grow and spend time with his family, that he will know his father and his siblings waiting for him at home.

Baby Ghada from Jerusalem has had a challenging week. Since Thursday she has been unstable due to sepsis which caused many complications for her. It culminated in her return to the ICU on Sunday, but yesterday she was moved back down to the pediatric ward, where hopefully she will stay and continue to improve.

Her mother was so happy to leave the ICU and see her daughter getting better. We pray for Ghada’s life, that her body will grow strong and be able to fight future infections. Thank you Lord for the family who are so invested in her care, you’ve blessed her with incredible parents.

Ziad has been at Sheba for almost four months and is now awaiting a therapeutic catheterization. It has been really heartening to watch his recent  improvement to the point where he is interacting and responsive. His strong mother has been so patient and faithful; the time has been wearing on her, so we pray that after this cath he will be well enough to be released from the hospital. May God bless this family.

Please pray for little Qusai who is at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. He has had a long road and though his heart function is good, the doctors are struggling to keep him extubated due to an infection which is compromising his lung function:

Lord, we ask that this infection will respond to the antibiotic treatment he is receiving, so that he can breathe again on his own. Please guard his life and enable him to flourish as he was made to. Bless his mother who is there with him and may our staff be ministers of your love and hope as they visit her.

And lastly, please pray for Kenan, a five-day-old infant who came urgently from Gaza to Sheba hospital tonight for treatment of a single ventricle. God knows every step in Kenan’s journey although it is all unknown to us now, but we trust in God’s unequivocal goodness:

Thank you for praying for these beautiful children and their families,

Alena for Shevet Achim