Open Doors in a Divided Land
Jamal Shehade has never broken the law, been arrested, or served time in jail. Yet for most of his life, he has shared a kitchen with convicts. "I grew up playing with thieves and former drug addicts," he says. "My first babysitter was a murderer."
Jamal was born into his parents' ministry, a halfway house for ex-prisoners in Haifa, Israel. The House of Grace began after Agnes Bieger, a Swiss national, arrived in Israel to work with mentally disabled children. She met and married Kamil Shehade, a Palestinian Christian citizen of Israel.
Kamil died of cancer in 2000, but he lingers in almost every conversation. The ministry visionary, Kamil was by all accounts a charismatic figure with an enthusiastic faith. In the picturesque port city of Haifa—proudly known as a place where Jews, Muslims, and Christians have long lived together peacefully—the newly married Shehades were offered a deserted church and crumbling compound by the Melkite Catholic archbishop in 1982. In Kamil's eyes, it was the perfect place from which to address the plight of ex-prisoners.
As in other societies, ex-prisoners are among the most marginalized people in Israel. Kamil believed that the best way to help marginalized ex-prisoners was first to give them dignity by welcoming them into the couple's home, even as he and Agnes began their family.
"Kamil saw the face of God in every human being," says Agnes. Once angry and frustrated, as a young man he had a profound encounter with God. Recognizing him as a visionary and a leader, Melkite archbishop Raya of Haifa sent Kamil to Canada for a year of training in spiritual disciplines and social services.
Upon his return, Kamil learned that the ...