From the Field: Bringing Peace Through the Local Church

In the wake of the conflict that erupted on October 7, 2023, in Israel, communities near the borders found themselves thrust into turmoil, their inhabitants forced to flee with little more than the clothes on their backs. Amidst the chaos, stories of resilience and solidarity began to emerge, illustrating the power of collaboration in times of crisis.

Across religious and cultural divides, congregations joined forces to extend aid, demonstrating the unifying power of compassion amidst adversity. Here are the stories that local Send Relief partners experienced in the aftermath.

Local Congregations Working Together

When the war broke out, the survivors of the communities living on the borders were loaded onto buses and evacuated in the middle of the night. They left everything behind, walking away with only the clothes on their backs. We had lined up meetings with community leaders to see what needs we could meet. While waiting, we met evacuees and heard heartbreaking stories.

A region in southern Israel has 89 families living in their community, primarily young families. We met the community manager in one of the hotels at the Southernmost tip of Israel. We explained that we are a community of people who believe in Jesus and that we came to help. Through tears, she expressed her immense gratitude.

Due to the extensive damage to the kibbutz and the ongoing war, there is no clear timeline for being able to return and rebuild their homes. Therefore, the government has temporarily moved the entire community to temporary housing in the center of the country.

Within weeks of moving out of the hotels and into their new location, we met again with the community manager. We provided each family with food vouchers to help them rebuild their lives in this new place. As we went line by line and name by name, it was incredible to see how the giving of believers in the US and the local church in Israel would help this whole community.

Since our congregation in Jerusalem is not close to where this community has been relocated, we contacted a congregation in that area to be available for follow-up. It was encouraging to see how our congregations could work together to show the love of Jesus to people in need.

Handmade Dolls for Hope

The first siren sounded at 6:30 on a Sabbath morning. It was a holiday, the end of the Feast of Booths and Simcha Torah, a celebration of the giving of the Torah. While it was unexpected, this was not unusual for this region. Rockets and sirens are an everyday occurrence for the communities on the Southern border with Gaza. Suddenly, messages started circulating within the kibbutzim that armed men had entered the communities and were breaking into people’s houses. The communities affected are now housed at hotels by the Dead Sea.

Ariel* and her husband hid for more than 24 hours with their dog. Even after clearing the area, they refused to come out for fear of being tricked. Ariel and her husband were initially counted among the hostages until they came out of hiding. For two weeks after the start of the war, Ariel could not cope with the trauma. She was given medication to calm her anxiety, but even with that, she cannot sleep through the night.

Claudia* was carrying her handmade dolls and handed one to Ariel. She smiled and asked if she could have more for the children she helped care for in the hotel. Some of the children had lost loved ones, and she knew that this small object would be something that they could hold and calm their fears.

In the hotel lobby was a table with eighteen photographs and an empty chair. Eighteen had been killed that day, and one was taken hostage.

A woman approached in tears as we stood before the table and prayed. She was the mother-in-law of one of the victims, and she was now staying with her daughter and three granddaughters who had survived. She told us of how they had escaped through the window of their shelter while Ben* held the door but was killed when the armed men overtook him and entered the safe room by force.

We cried with her as she recounted the details of that tragic day. Claudia pulled out some handmade dolls for the three granddaughters. One of the dolls was a small dog. The grandmother smiled and said that the dog was especially appropriate because they had a dog named Jumpy that had been left behind the day of the attack. The children loved and missed Jumpy. These dolls would be such a comfort for these three very traumatized children.

Claudia* makes handmade dolls. She is a believer at a local congregation. When the war started, she could no longer go to the markets to sell her dolls. Making dolls is her primary source of income, and without this, she would not be able to meet her family’s basic needs. We were able to buy her handmade dolls to help her and bring some comfort to the evacuated children and families.

Photo: A group of evacuees gather to receive handmade dolls.

Gathering Supplies

We are working through the local congregation to meet the needs of our community, but also sending resources to trusted churches so that they can meet the needs of their communities. We want to strengthen the local body of believers and encourage them to look outward to the needs of people around them. We’re able to do this through food vouchers and food bags. While we cannot meet every need, we can lessen some stressors from loss of employment.

Pastor Sam* lives in Nazareth. When Jewish and Arab evacuees started to come from other cities, he and his congregation immediately started to try to meet these needs. Still, they were overwhelmed by the magnitude of help needed. He called Pastor Matthew* in Jerusalem and said, “Pastor, we have Jewish families here in need of help. Can you help us?” Matthew responded, “Yes! But we don’t just want to help the Jewish families. We will send you resources to meet the needs of the Jewish and Arab people.”

The collaboration between the two pastors to help all people leads to unique opportunities to share the gospel cross-culturally. In a time when all we hear about is division between the two peoples, the gospel message brings unity to the body of Christ.

Photo: Food distribution


Published April 12, 2024