“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Consistent with the call for positive investment in peace, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace is launching an effort to identify and support grassroots mission projects that go hand-in-hand with advancement of Middle East peace. We seek efforts that build bridges and heal hearts, and that individual Presbyterian congregations can directly engage in and support.
The first mission opportunity we urge you to consider is built on the collaborative efforts of Christians, Muslims, and Jews. This effort, involving multiple charities, brings children from the Palestinian territories to Israel for life-saving heart surgery. While its first priority is the healing of physical hearts, an equally important benefit is the healing of spiritual hearts.
The Christian relief organization Shevet Achim ( www.shevet.org ) began its work in 1994, founded by Jonathan Miles, an American journalist who was at the time volunteering for another Christian relief organization. In 1996 Miles and his family moved to the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where they lived in the Shaburra refugee camp. Responsibility for health care had been turned over to the newly-formed Palestinian Authority, and many Gaza children who needed urgent medical care could no longer get referrals to hospitals in Israel.
Dr. Ami Cohen was starting his work with the Israeli charity Save a Child’s Heart ( www.saveachildsheartus.org ) which helped non-Israeli children undergo heart surgeries at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel. Dr. Cohen wanted to reach Palestinian children but had difficulty making connections with the bureaucracy in the Gaza Strip, so Miles began to find the children with congenital heart defects and bring them out to Israel.
How does a child with a heart defect from the Gaza Strip receive open heart surgery in Israel? There are four phases of treatment:
1. Diagnosis in Gaza
2. Confirmation of diagnosis in Israel
3. Heart surgery, followed by a week in the hospital
4. Follow-up examinations to ensure proper healing
Shevet Achim’s work originally began with children from the Gaza Strip, and Gaza remains the most important area of operation for the organization. Each week, Shevet volunteers assist on average five to fifteen children in phases two through four, transporting them between the border and the hospital (often via intensive care ambulances), and visiting throughout their treatment with meals and encouragement.
Shevet Achim is a community of people from diverse backgrounds who live and work together in the same building – 29 Prophets Street, Jerusalem. Their volunteer staff shares living space, work assignments, meals, and daily prayer and scripture study.
The children and parents who have turned to the hospitals of Israel for life-saving treatment also reside at 29 Prophets Street. The upstairs of the building is their home while in Israel, with sleeping quarters, a large kitchen, dining room, and recreation room. As volunteers, children, and parents all live together in the same building, the hope is to see the promise of “Shevet Achim”, which means “brothers dwelling together” in Hebrew.
We urge you to visit the websites of both Save a Child’s Heart ( www.saveachildsheartus.org ) and Shevet Achim ( www.shevet.org ) , and prayerfully consider inclusion of these important efforts in your congregation’s mission and peacemaking commitments. For more information, or to connect with Presbyterians engaged in supporting these efforts, please feel welcome to contact us at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. We will be reporting regularly through our newsletters on progress toward building a targeted mission network focused on peace and reconciliation in Israel/Palestine.