Kirk-supported House of Grace supports disadvantaged groups in Israel
Published on 2 February 2023 3 minutes read
Rebecca McGonigle, business manager for the Faith Action Forum's Resource and Presence team, reflects on the work of House of Grace, an Israeli halfway house which supports Arab prisoners returning to society. Rebecca, who has volunteered as an observer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme, recently attended an event to hear from Jamal Shehade, whose father founded House of Grace. The visit was co-sponsored by the Friends of St Andrew's Jerusalem & Tiberias. Here, she discusses their work and Jamal's visit to Scotland, accompanied by Rev Muriel Pearson, our mission partner from St Andrew's Jerusalem and Tiberias.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Matthew 25: 35-40
As Christians, we probably all know these words well; they are inscribed on our hearts as an instruction from Jesus as to how we should live our lives. However, for many of us, these are not things that we make room for in our busy daily schedules. This is not the case for Jamal Shehade, from the House of Grace in Haifa, Israel. He, along with his family, has devoted his life to serving those who are often seen as being amongst the very least of society – newly released prisoners.
House of Grace, which was set up by his late father, is currently the only halfway house in Israel for Arab Israelis. It offers an opportunity for rehabilitation, accepting prisoners when they have served two-thirds of their sentence, and has them to stay in the House of Grace for nine months, supporting their transition from prison back into society. The men are given professional counselling, encouraged back into work, and are supported in re-connecting with their families.
Jamal has been in Scotland for the last two weeks, visiting CrossReach projects such as the Dick Stewart Service, Revive and Restore Café and WhiteInch Move On Service, all of which do similar work to the House of Grace.
He has also spoken at a number of Church of Scotland events, sharing his experience both of work with the House of Grace and on the wider context of what it is like to live as an Arab Palestinian Christian who is an Israeli citizen.
As well as working with prisoners, House of Grace has taken on a wider role in engaging with other Arab families in Haifa. Their work in this area sees them supporting Arab communities to find work opportunities, as they are often excluded from many areas of work. Arab communities in Israel face discrimination on many fronts, and this leads to many young people feeling alienated from society. Youth activities, including workshops and tutoring, aim to help young people engage with both Arab and Israeli society in a positive way.
Jamal has been accompanied by Rev Muriel Pearson, our mission partner from St Andrew's Jerusalem and Tiberias. Muriel has taken time during their visits to reflect upon her experience of the Holy Land, sharing stories of her first few months of ministry and the presence of the Church of Scotland. Building relationships, presence, representing the Church of Scotland and holding space for conversation to happen are all key to her service.
The Church of Scotland has supported House of Grace for many years and encourages pilgrimages visiting the Holy Land to go and visit the House of Grace, to see first hand the work that Jamal and his family and colleagues are doing.
You can watch Jamal and Muriel's presentation from Perth below.