Perhaps you have heard about the thousands of Syrians who have been treated in Israeli hospitals, or the field hospital Israel set up at the Gaza border for Palestinians? Israel has excellent medical care and is generous in sharing that expertise with the world, and even with those who are hostile to the Jewish state. One organisation dedicated to helping to bless Israel by serving her neighbours in this way is called “Shevet Achim”; a ministry based in Jerusalem that coordinates travel, visas and medical appointments for children with life-threatening heart problems from the nations surrounding Israel.
The name “Shevet Achim” comes from a verse in Psalm 133 which talks about brothers dwelling together in unity. As they bring Syrian, Kurdish, Iraqi, and Gazan children into Israel to be treated, these servants of God help to make links of love and peace instead of fear and enmity.
The initiative began over twenty years ago, and today around 40 children are brought to Israel each year for life-saving surgery.
“Fundamentally”, they tell us, “Shevet Achim is an expression of God’s grace… we are people in need of grace interacting with people in need of grace.” Their vision is to love their neighbour’s child just as they would love their own.
Initially, the focus was on bringing children from Gaza to Israel for treatment. Now, not only have they orchestrated the provision of life-saving care for over 1000 Palestinian children, but the work has expanded to other countries.
Here’s how they describe what happened the first time a child was brought into Israel from Iraq:
“It was amazing to watch the Baghdad cardiologist, a relative of Saddam Hussein, pick up the phone to discuss the case with Israeli cardiologist Akiva Tamir. With the help of the Israeli embassy in Jordan, within a week the baby was at the Wolfson Medical Center”.
The staff and volunteers work hard to raise the funds, liaise with the necessary authorities to secure visas and travel, arrange medical care in Israeli hospitals, and look after the children while they wait their turn. Each child is brought with an accompanying parent, and stays in the Shevet Achim base, situated in the heart of Jerusalem. There, the team and those who have come for medical help all live and “dwell together in unity”. I heard several different languages spoken at the homely community, and although not everyone is able to understand each other’s words, the non-verbal communication spoke of love, acceptance and even joy in the midst of tension and pain. The children quickly find a place in the hearts of the staff and volunteers, who become so fond of them that it can be hard to say goodbye when they are finally restored to health.
It is an inspiration to hear the stories of individual lives that have been transformed by the treatment they would not otherwise get… to hear of the love shared between them, and the impact that they all have on one another as they live together in community.
The ministry goes ahead regardless of people’s attitudes towards Israel, Yeshua, or anything else – the love and help is offered unconditionally. But the director, Jonathan Miles, has recently communicated,
“I find on my heart the desire to speak with our Muslim neighbors about the people of Israel. To give them, finally, the opportunity to see the Jewish people as they really are: chosen by God to bless all the peoples of the earth, their regathering to this land a welcome sign of God’s faithfulness, and of the coming redemption through Messiah of the whole earth. Farfetched? Indeed.” But Jonathan also sees this ministry as connected to the prophetic word in Isaiah 19, which gives “hope that we’ll see a healing highway open up between Israel and Egypt”.
The staff and volunteers are often tired and worn out but happy to see such wonderful fruit from their labour; the work of Shevet Achim brings rich rewards as they watch precious children given a new chance at life.
To find out more, visit www.shevet.org