In Matthew 25:40, Jesus commands his followers to care for “the least of these.” In fact, he says that whatever we’ve done for the least of our brothers and sisters we’ve done for him. Unfortunately in Israel – a nation with many immigrants, a high cost of living, and high poverty – there are lot of opportunities to follow this command.
I’m so grateful to see The Fellowship do just that. It has been a privilege to be here in Israel and visit some of these projects that identify the most vulnerable and help pull them out of the cycle of poverty.
In Jerusalem, I toured the Fellowship-sponsored Susan’s House, an art studio that employs at-risk young adults, giving them not only an income but also life skills and the confidence to break out of their bad situation. I was so impressed with the hip, high quality studio, and how Avital, the man who runs it, also teaches young people basic life skills, like how to open a bank account.
Avital told me story after story of young people who came from struggling families or lived with an abusive parent or boyfriend, who, because of their time at Susan’s House, had the confidence and capacity to leave.
One day, one of the girls who works in the studio showed up in Avital’s office and announced that she was leaving her abusive boyfriend. As great as this was, it also meant that she was now homeless. Thankfully, Avital has a friend who owns a hotel and let her stay there until they could find a more permanent solution. Avital showed her the small room and said, “Look, this is your room, this is your bed, and your bathroom. No one comes in here without your permission. Only we know where you are. Lock the door behind me. You’re safe here.” The girl’s tears were telling of her gratitude.
Another time a girl continually came to work exhausted. When the staff asked why, they discovered that the girl often had to lock herself in her bathroom for hours late into the night. Her mother’s boyfriend would wait outside the bathroom for her to come out so he could attack her. She had to stay locked in the bathroom until she couldn’t hear him anymore, signaling that he had gone to bed. She couldn’t move out, however, because she had to protect and provide for her younger siblings. Like so many of the kids who work at Susan’s House, this girl became self-sufficient and started the journey of breaking the cycle of abuse and poverty.
One of my favorite projects of those I’ve visited is Fellowship-sponsored Bat Melech, which means “Daughter of the King.” This battered women’s shelter is simultaneously heartbreaking and encouraging. Bat Melech is in a secret location, with security to keep the women and their children safe while they heal. The townhouse is large by Jerusalem’s standards and each family has its own room. The women cook in the large kitchen together and the kids play in the play room with volunteers.
There’s a special, brightly-colored room for the kids to receive therapy, and every week they love to go there. There are games, coloring, books, and even a punching bag spread out over the room with big windows that overlook the city. Six months is the average stay before the shelter helps the women reintegrate into the community. One of the women staying there expressed how grateful she was to everyone who made the shelter possible.
Another woman shared her story about how she was given in an arranged marriage to a man who at first was charming, but quickly turned aggressive and abusive. He cut her off from her family so they didn’t even know what he was doing to her. She had to jump in a cab sent by Bat Melech while her husband was out, telling her kids they were going on vacation. After a while at Bat Melech, she noticed her 10-year-old son sitting by himself, rocking back and forth and looking very angry. When she asked him what was wrong, he explained that if he saw his dad now, he would be able to fight back.
The elderly account for a lot of those living in poverty in Israel. Many of them also struggle with loneliness, which The Fellowship strives to alleviate. The Fellowship matches elderly people with volunteers who visit them in their homes and bring joy and comfort to those who otherwise would not see another person all week. Community centers also bring the elderly together for games and events, such as baking cookies for soldiers.
I visited one of these elderly people this week and got to witness the true love and friendship that has blossomed between this new widower from the country of Georgia and a former Israel Defense Forces pilot and teacher. It was obvious to anyone watching that they truly cared for each other.
As I have been visiting these Fellowship projects that serve those struggling with poverty, it’s been a blessing to see Christians’ obedience to Jesus’ command to care for “the least of these” through their support of The Fellowship. I’m genuinely encouraged to know that people care enough to help those seriously struggling.
Great things can be accomplished when Christians and Jews come together to focus on what we have in common and to work together to follow our God. The Fellowship is a testament to that power, and I know that it will grow as we continue to grow in our God-given love for Israel.
-by Claire Nance, The Fellowship's summer intern in Israel. Read more about Claire's summer in Israel here.