ICEJ Keeping Hope Alive For Israeli Arabs

By Laurina Driesse

As a group of ICEJ staff recently gathered around tables piled high with neatly-stacked boxes of food, they rolled up their sleeves and in no time formed a production line to pack the items into 164 care packages earmarked as gifts for needy Israeli Arab families struggling due to the coronavirus crisis.

Soon, the ICEJ AID vehicle was navigating its way across Israel, from Jerusalem to Nazareth and back to Bethlehem, where the AID team met with local Arab pastors to coordinate delivery of the food packages to the desperate families.

“One Arab pastor in Jerusalem shared how encouraged he was by our support at this time”, said AID assistant Jannie Tolhoek. “Discouraged by a year of dwindling attendance in his church, the call from the ICEJ offering food packages to families in his congregation meant that he had a way to help them in difficult times. It also became a natural bridge to invite them back to church as the country opens up again.”

“We are excited that our gifts will encourage and build bridges amid despair”, added Jannie. “These gifts also show the people that we care and that they are not forgotten. The aid packages gave a touch of heaven, bringing hope to the hopeless and encouraging their hearts to keep trusting.”

Arriving in Nazareth, Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah, felt so humbled as she recalled the encounters with each family and their warm hospitality.

“We came with a gift, but didn’t ever go away without being offered drinks, fruit, cookies or other small refreshments – whatever they could offer in return”, she commented. “One family even offered us cookies from the care gift bag that we had just given to them. The most precious part though was our prayer time together, which often ended with the pastor leading in a song of praise in multiple languages!”

Sitting in a garden, enjoying the aromatics of freshly brewed Arabic coffee, the AID team heard how Mary (originally from Bethlehem) and Kamal (originally from Egypt) have suffered during the past year because of the pandemic. Kamal explained his sadness over having to close his shop selling household items in the local shouk (market). Despite their difficult circumstances, this close-knit family strives to help each other, with one son working to support his brother’s studies.

Meeting Assam and Adalea in their home near the shouk in Nazareth, Jannie and Nicole heard how Assam built their living area overlooking the historic city. But with no funds to complete the work, clear plastic bags still cover the window frames as they wait for better days. Despite their difficult circumstances, they did not hesitate to open their hearts and home with traditional warm Arab hospitality. “These visits not only bless them, but they bless us also and inspire us to remain hopeful, smiling and grateful, even in tough times”, noted Jannie.

Heading to Bethlehem, the AID team met with Pastor Naim Khoury, who shared about God’s goodness to him during his 42 days of affliction in the hospital with COVID-19 and his miraculous recovery. With coronavirus still running rife in Bethlehem, many people are fearful and the curfews and roadblocks remain in place. Nevertheless, the AID team was invited to a special church service to give thanks, following which they handed out the care packages. Jannie remembers that many people came asking her to pray for their family members who are ill with corona.

Pastor Khoury’s wife, Elvira, shared about their many challenges. “We receive not only telephone calls from church members asking for help, but also from other families who are in desperate need. Unfortunately, the need is increasing”, she said. “And we are so grateful that the ICEJ is standing with us, feeding our people, and leaving a beautiful fragrance behind.”

Making a turn to nearby Efrat, the AID team was warmly greeted by the town’s legendary Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Together, they distributed food gift bags to another fourteen local Arab families whose members work at a religious school in the Jewish community. Crossing the line each day, these workers have faithfully served at the local school for between six and 25 years.

Each care package included specially selected food items to ensure healthy meals for the families. The care gift bags were received with humble gratitude, but the message that Christians from around the world care for these Arab families living in the Land of Israel spoke volumes.

Thank you for your kind giving, which makes it possible for us to support these and other struggling families in Israel. Please continue to help us reach many more needy from all sectors of Israeli society who are looking to keep hope alive amid these challenging times.