Newsletter 2015, Agnes' Letter

Dearest Friends and Benefactors,

An entire year has passed since our last newsletter. Much has happened in that time, and here is an update concerning House of Grace and our work in the community.

Visits in prison:

Last January, our Bishop, Georges Bacouni, and a delegation of priests and volunteers visited the Chief Rabbi of all Israel. Long have we hoped to strengthen the religious services we offer Christian prisoners, and during this visit we were assured by him and Chief Rabbi Wizner (Director of the Israeli prison system) of their goodwill and support. They also promised to ask the other rabbis in the prison system for their support as well. This is an encouraging development as we continue in our work to serve the oft-neglected prisoner population.

New Volunteer:

Shortly after Easter, we received a German volunteer named Nina. She is working with Organization AGEH, and is a prohibition officer who will be serving alongside us for three years. She has settled in quickly, and is proving to be a valuable help and much-loved addition to the House of Grace family.

Training:

August marked the end of a ten-month long training program for every staff member. An organizational consultant named Dr. Zeidan came in and revealed to us both positive and negative aspects of House of Grace, and helped us adapt our services to the changing landscape of Israel. We are already beginning to see some positive effects of this training. 

Visitors:

Of course, we have received many visitors in our 33 years of existence. This year was no different, and some notable names included the Finnish and Swedish Ambassadors.

Celebrations:

On the 8th of September, we celebrated the feast of the house. Bishop Georges Bacouni and other priests led mass, and many dear friends were able to join in the festivities. In the following month, we commemorated the 75th memorial of the late Archbishop Gregorios Hajjar, who is buried in our church. His life was given in service to the people of this region, and as a result he remains deeply loved to this day.

Projects:

Our three foundational projects, (1) prisoner and ex-convict rehabilitation, (2) at risk family service, and (3) at-risk youth education and programming, are continuing on. The mission and vision of House of Grace are tied in with these programs, and we give our best to each of them. Furthermore, we are currently partnering with professionals in order to implement updated programs that aim to empower the weakest members of the community in more effective and meaningful ways.

Project for the Released:

The project for working with released prisoners (ex-convicts) developed in the last two years. Here, these men receive high-quality rehabilitation. But, most important, at House of Grace they also find a family. We house fifteen men at a time year-round, and it definitely keeps our unique home lively. Every resident maintains that the personal and group talks with social workers, counselors, and volunteers have helped them greatly in their journey to true and lasting freedom. Our staff aims to guide them on the right path and empower them to maintain their way. These men often express a measure of fear when facing the daily challenges and temptations that come their way. With support, however, they learn how to fight this fear and win their life back from their addictions and destructive choices. Some have even joined in serving through our food distribution activity. One man powerfully shared, “For the first time in my life I climbed unknown stairs not to steal, but to give.” This is our hope for each of the men that pass through these walls. Each of these individuals has something valuable to offer, and they only need to have the opportunity to discover their talents and true desires.

Award:

In October, the Minister of Welfare bestowed upon us an award for exemplary service. The applicant field for the award was full of strong candidates, and therefore it meant much for us to receive such an honor.

Rehabilitation Committee/Funding Crisis:

For two years we have been receiving support from a governmental committee that covers about 2/3 of the cost of housing the ex-convicts that grace our walls. Two short weeks after being honored by the Ministry of Welfare, we received a notification stating that all funds would be cut off at the end of the year. This is disastrous news for the House of Grace family. If this funding is lost, we will have to evict the men in our program and release six of our staff. Our main mission of serving prisoners and ex-convicts will cease. Furthermore, the Arab community in Israel will be deeply wounded, as we are the only rehabilitation center serving this vulnerable population.

We are doing all that we can to prevent this from coming to pass. Two lawyers have agreed to take our case, and are utilizing their many contacts to put pressure on the government. We are calling for everyone who partners with us and identifies with our mission to serve the “least of these” to pray and lend us your voice in support. We have not lost faith, and trust that the God who has carried us these thirty-three years will not let us down.

Christmas is close.

The atrocities and terrible realities of our broken world have been weighing heavy on our hearts. This brokenness has led us to anticipate the birth of the Lord of Peace more than ever, and our prayer is that he gives you the insight to feel the peace that resides in your hearts and the strength to live it out in this peace-starved world.

From all of our heart we thank you for your understanding, care, trust, and sharing. Through it you convey true and enduring Joy, Hope, and Strength. It means more to us than you know, and we are extremely grateful for your partnership.

All the staff workers, family, friends, and I wish you a happy Christmas and a blessed New Year