We went to Gaza yesterday for the first time since the soldier was kidnapped from his post outside southern Gaza. It was a day filled with a lot of emotion. Crossing the border was easy. We zipped along in a taxi with a driver that we have known for a long time. We were chatting and catching up on Gaza news when all three of us realized at the same time that not another car was on the road. Bad sign. Abu Yosef slowed down. Just about that time we saw militiamen on the sides of the road....ready for whatever was going to happen next. Then we saw probably 100 men on the left side of the road almost in a line...were they hiding from the Israelis? Hard to know. Abu Yosef got us through that portion of the road and then pulled over to ask what was going on.
The Israeli army was inside the area just to our left. I read this a.m. that 23 people were killed in that area and in Jabaliya yesterday and last night. sigh.
Just past that neighborhood we turned off to the right and found life going as if nothing was happening just four or five blocks away. Right away I noticed friends greeting one another with big smiles. What a stark contrast to the deserted streets we had just driven through.
Abu Yosef dropped me at the Deaf School. Everyone there was doing well. They were having a big sale for the in house staff. I was welcomed to buy but things were being sold very cheaply and I thought it best to leave them for the Palestinians who otherwise don't make enough to purchase items from the Crafts Shop. I have always been struck by the fact that the men and women work so hard to create the crafts and are never able to purchase anything in the store because their paychecks are the only ones in their homes...and must go for other necessities instead. I saw many of our friends. One of our dearest friends had gone home. He is the father of 8 children. The incursion was very near his home and he left early to be with them. I discovered that Gerry Shawa, our friend and director of the school has taken a break and gone to America. She was one of about 85 Americans and Palestinian/Americans who got out recently when the American government help them all to leave at one time. We saw Suhad, one of our old Nursing students. I assured her that all of her old teachers were praying for her daily.
P went to the bank to conduct our business and then we headed for the compound. As we drove through the city, I thought Gaza looked as bad as I have ever seen it...at least in recent years. The garbage has won. It is always a challenge for the city to keep up with it...but it's apparent that it has now won --hands down. Those of you familiar with the area will remember that the garbage near the compound was always rank...but entrails were everywhere. My thought was how terribly unhealthy it was !! Many times during our visit there, I wondered how we lived there for eighteen years. I also wondered why I am not living there now. The need remains so very great.
Everyone was thrilled to see us. We were welcomed with open arms. Most asked why we didn't come before. Well... everyone who was NOT in Gaza is asking why we went this time !! We could hardly find out how everyone was coping because they were too busy asking about us ! NEVERMIND about us, we live where everyday is a vacation in Jerusalem. We wanted to know about them. We were reminded again of just how gracious and wonderful Palestinians are. They are so tenacious. Almost everyone was doing well, ilhumdulillah.
(praise God) A few admitted to being afraid "...but what can we do? " It's true. What CAN they do ? Nothing except try to find a bit of normalcy in their otherwise abnormal lives.
Death is a constant companion. One foreign friend who has just returned spoke of attending a wedding recently. During the wedding celebrations, five loud booms erupted. Nothing changed, no one stopped the celebrations. The next morning he heard that five people had been killed. He was struck with the complexity of celebration amid death. He is confused as to how to manage it all. It is completely a life of living out Scripture as he rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who are weeping....except that it is happening all at the same time. Admittedly, it is a lot to manage emotionally.
The food distribution program is moving on. P spent a long time working with the men who are managing the program now. We continue to encourage them to give out the food in a good way....with a visit and significant conversations.
It is a challenge just now to do that. Of course, the need is overwhelming and they could give out food all day long and not meet the needs of just the desperately poor. Our goal remains not to just distribute food, although that is a worthy goal, but to distribute food with Hope.
The Lighthouse School is preparing for the coming year. The new classrooms are almost ready. Teachers are being selected for the coming year for the two new classes. Volunteers are there leading a worshop for the teachers. That is pretty amazing !! Parents were at the school-- begging for a place for their children. Of course, classes are already filled. It is exciting to see that one bright spot in all of Gaza.
The Compound in general is okay. We have lost several windows due to the tremendously loud sonic booms. The Israelis have quit that for the moment. Thankfully. We are not bothering to replace the glass until this seems to be over. I asked was there any glass left in Gaza. They laughed and said "yes."
As we were leaving, we visited our friend Mahmoud. His continues to be one sad situation. Of the five brothers, he is the only one working. He is fortunate, he works twelve hours per week with the UN. Even teachers who use to consider themselves fortunate to have a constant job, have not been paid now in five months. Mahmoud's wife has literally gone crazy and is now with her family in the middle camps. Mahmoud is left with four great kids. I noticed that the children are all very thin now. That has not always been true. We will see about getting some food packets to them this week.
Finally, we drove to the Library and spoke to Isam. He and his family are doing well. What could we do except tell them that we are praying for them daily.
It is the most significant thing we can do...and yet seems not enough.
His response was that they could really tell we were praying for them. His eyes teared. My eyes teared. Neither of us dared.... If we started crying, we'd probably never stop.
Leaving Gaza was just about as scarey as entering. We eventually found a safe road to drive on and were able to skirt the problems. The frightening thing is that you don't know what you will find just around the next turn. We left with a lot of emotions. Joy in being able to walk through our fears with the One in whom we trust, Grief in seeing our friends struggle to live a tiny bit normal life.... Gratefulness to the Lord for His blessings to us personally.... Guilt that I am not there with my friends in Gaza sharing their burdens.
We feel all these things. Our friends who just left Lebanon and Syria feel all these things as well. Thank you for your interest in our lives and in His work among our people. We continue to covet your prayers for our adopted countries.
Posted by HL
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