The back-breaking work of clearing stones from a field in Tach Gayint, Ethiopia, has been for the JVMI team both a prophetic picture and our prayer for a new frontier of ministry. An advance team of 20 people spent a solid week in January 2016 removing rocks from a piece of land in order to ready it for the more than 200 people who’d be camping on it the following week. A JVMI team of 54 medical personnel and a support crew of 150 Ethiopian nationals made the journey from Gondar, Ethiopia, the home of our long-established ongoing ministry to the Beta Israel (Northern Ethiopian Jewish community), to the rugged rural highlands of Tach Gayint.
Our outreach to this area came nearly two years after our Gondar-based staffers and leaders in the Messianic community first connected with some of the leaders of approximately 6,000 Jewish People from the Tach Gayint Beta Israel Jewish community. They heard a chilling string of stories of continuing intense persecution of the tiny minority Beta Israel by the surrounding majority, most of whom consider themselves part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
One man’s tongue was cut out of his mouth in public because his neighbors believed he spoke a curse against them. Beta Israel homes—and in a couple of cases, people—were set on fire without provocation. There was constant threat of violence against them. If someone in Tach Gayint became ill, the Beta Israel people were often blamed for the sickness. Generations of superstition, suspicion, and scapegoating made the Jewish People pariahs. They subsisted on the margins of a deeply impoverished community. Many work long hours in challenging conditions simply to feed their families.
Though we’ve heard many stories of anti- Semitism over the years, we were shocked by the intensity of the hatred the Beta Israel in Tach Gayint were experiencing at the hands of their neighbors. We knew God was calling us to act.
We knew from serving the Beta Israel people in other places that when we saturate our efforts with prayer and come alongside them to provide practical medical care to them and their sometimes- antagonistic neighbors, our presence transforms the way the rest of the community views the Beta Israel people living among them. We always make it clear that we come to a region because there are Jewish People there. As we seek to relieve immediate physical suffering of all who live in a community in the name of Yeshua on behalf of their Jewish neighbors, the Beta Israel people begin to receive respect where they’d often encountered only scorn—or worse.
The persecution of the Beta Israel of Tach Gayint was among the worst we’ve encountered in more than two decades of outreach to the Jewish Lost Tribes people groups. In our early conversations with leaders in and near Tach Gayint, we learned that the Beta Israel had learned not to hope. So many people had hurt them. So many had broken promises to them.
We were determined not to disappoint them. But first, we needed to remove those rocks so our medical outreach team could pitch tents. Isaiah’s ancient prophetic Messianic promise became our prayer: “Go through, go through the gates. Clear the way for the people! Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Lift up a banner over the peoples” (Isaiah 62:10).
The rocks in the field symbolized for us the many obstacles we’d faced in the 18 months leading up to the arrival of our medical outreach team. The spiritual warfare was among the most intense we’d ever faced leading up to and during the outreach. We saw God contend for us again and again... sometimes in ways we never could have dreamed.
For instance, we learned that our 60 applications for visas had been buried for months under a literal mountain of other applications. There were 10,000 visa applications waiting to be processed in the same office. As the date for our trip grew near, Mezmur, our JVMI Africa Director, received permission to comb through the paperwork in order to locate and expedite ours. He found the paperwork after about four hours of combing through the piles. Finding the paperwork was a miracle, but we were completely stunned when our 60 visas were approved in a single day. Our prayer team received word of the approval just minutes after we’d gathered for prayer over the matter that morning. God had gone before us!
Though we’ve served in Ethiopia for more than two decades, this first-time outreach to this region unleashed what seemed at times an avalanche of spiritual opposition each step of the way. Community leaders delayed or denied us permits. A couple of weeks before our team was scheduled to arrive, we were told that the partially-finished hospital space where we were going to run our clinic was not available to us. Mezmur engaged in some very careful negotiations with local authorities. We prayed for favor and supernatural wisdom for him, and God worked through him to secure the space.
Locals spread rumors about the Beta Israel community... and us. Jewish leaders faced threats from their Gentile neighbors. As the outreach moved into high gear, the oppositionintensified. We faced difficulty gettingdrinking water, and atone point, had our prayer room shut down. Our prayer partners went to battle for us every step of the way, and we saw God move on our behalf. We were gripped with awe in the midst of the challenges and hardships we faced. God gave our team testimony after testimony of His incredible faithfulness. And He gave us opportunities to demonstrate the nature of God’s persistent love and goodness even to those who opposed us.
Yeshua told us if our mustard seed-sized faith is in Him, we could tell a mountain to move (Matthew 17:20). What is a mountain but a giant rock? We asked our prayer partners to join us in moving the rocks of opposition and preparing the way for the proclamation of Yeshua as Messiah—to the Jew first, and to their Gentile neighbors as well.
We treated more than 11,000 people during our week-long outreach. We saw God heal both through the dedicated work of our medical teams and through the mountain-moving prayer of those on our support teams. Though we treated everyone, we prayed that God would allow us the honor of ministering to the Beta Israel community in the Tach Gayint region.
A group of us headed to some of the far-flung groups in the region. These efforts required driving more than an hour from our already-remote campsite, followed by a three kilometer hike to reach the Beta Israel group who’d been driven out of the community by persecution. We felt as though we’d hiked to the ends of the earth, but were stunned when the elder of the group met our JVMI team with the words, “Take us to Israel.”They’d maintained the core of their Jewish identity through generations of dispersion and suffering.
When we traveled out to another village, an elder told his people of a vision he’s had for years. “I was on a dark road, then the light came,” he said. “I was so full of joy I danced in the light.” He gestured at us. “The light has come.” Messianic Rabbi Matt Rosenberg shared the Good News about the light of Yeshua, and the entire village responded, indicating that they wanted Yeshua.
JVMI is in Tach Gayint for the long term. We’re currently distributing LifeStraws, the water purifying tool, to families across the region. We’re planning another large-scale outreach, possibly as early as January 2017, and we’re prayerfully considering how to best respond to the needs for practical support expressed by community elders.
In the wake of this first remarkable trip to the region, we at Jewish Voice Ministries International are praying the questions: “What is God already doing among the people of the region? And how are we to partner with Him in His work?” Won’t you join us in seeking Him for His answers?
We moved rocks. God moved mountains. And together with the prayers and support of our partners, we are looking forward to the privilege of partnering with Him to bring salvation and dignity to the Beta Israel, while raising a banner proclaiming that Yeshua is Lord to the entire community in Tach Gayint.