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Importance of the Lost Tribes to the JVMI mandate

by Jonathan Bernis
July 09, 2021

The Re-Gathering

God promised to scatter Israel to the “four corners of the earth.” But he also promised to bring them back. We can join that effort!

When you think of a “Jewish person,” what comes to mind?

Perhaps there’s a synagogue in your community. Maybe you’ve seen Jewish families walking there together. Many orthodox Jewish men and women wear black clothing or may wear “payos” — long sideburns that curl near their ears.

Or perhaps you’re thinking of Israel, where Jewish culture thrives unlike almost anywhere else.  Maybe the term “Jewish” makes you think of a Star of David, or a Menorah brightly lit at Chanukah.

These images are wonderful. But my friends, the global community of Jewish people is so much bigger.

From the very beginning, after God had called Israel to be a “people unto Himself,” He told them they would one day be scattered around the world: “Adonai will scatter you among all peoples from the one end of the earth to the other, and there you will serve other gods—wood and stone—that you and your fathers have not known” (Deuteronomy 28:64).

God made good on His promise: He did disperse the people of Israel among the nations. Today, Jewish people can be found on almost every continent and in almost every nation of the world.

But God is also following through on His promise to regather the people of Israel. “He will …  assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isaiah 11:12). Here at Jewish Voice, we believe we are called to join that effort: to reach the scattered Tribes of Israel wherever they may be found. That means sharing the truth that Yeshua, Jesus, is the Messiah for all Jewish people throughout the nations. As it turns out, they can be found in some unexpected places!

Meeting the Lost Tribes

In 1998, after several years living in Russia and sharing the Good News with Jewish people in Eastern Europe, I traveled for the first time to Gondar, Ethiopia with a friend. What I saw there will stay with me forever.

That was the first time I had the privilege of meeting members of the Beta Israel tribe. (“Beta Israel” translates to “House of Israel.”) These were Ethiopian Jewish men, women and children – families who looked nothing like the European or American Jewish communities we know well – but yet who had preserved their identity. The Beta Israel observed Jewish customs, celebrated Jewish holidays, and maintained a strong oral history as descendants of the people of Israel. And they did all this at great risk.

Ethiopians living near the Beta Israel didn’t – and still don’t – consider them truly “Ethiopian.” The Beta Israel (and other Jewish tribes we’ve come to know in Ethiopia, like the Beta Abraham and Gefat) have faced alienation from their neighbors and even, in some cases, violent persecution.

Of course, the state of Israel had, by this time, known about the existence of Jewish people in Ethiopia for years. In fact, between 1984 and 1991, the Israeli military airlifted over twenty-thousand Beta Israel from Ethiopia to Israel. These Ethiopian Jewish families were escaping dangerous persecution. Ethiopia, at that time, was ruled by a brutal communist dictator and many Ethiopians were being slaughtered. In addition, Beta Israel were persecuted and not allowed to marry outside of their community. And they were not permitted to leave the country.

Those operations (Operation Moses, 1984 and Operation Solomon, 1991) were daring rescue efforts on the part of Israel. But many members of the Beta Israel were left behind. Others stayed behind in Ethiopia by choice and remain there today.

In fact, over the past decades, we at Jewish Voice have connected to two other Jewish tribes in Ethiopia: the Gefat and the Beta Abraham. The men, women and children in these tribes face many difficult challenges and they remain alienated from their Ethiopian neighbors. They face persecution, including ancient folklore that demonize them. Sometimes they are violently attacked. Many members of these tribes are still unrecognized by the international Jewish community as truly Jewish. But perhaps the most pressing problem facing these Jewish communities is the need for them to know their Messiah, Jesus.

At Jewish Voice, we see these people groups as members of the scattered Tribes of Israel. As we’ve dug deeper, we’ve found that these “Lost Tribes” live not just in Ethiopia, but all across the globe. And we consider our call to reach these scattered Tribes with both physical aid and the spiritual truth that Jesus is the Messiah as central to our mandate, which is to “preach the Gospel to the Jew first, and also to the nations.”

“From the Four Corners of the Earth”

That’s why Jewish Voice has also been providing spiritual and physical care to the Lemba in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia. We’ve provided Medical Outreaches among the B’nei Menashe, in Manipur and Mizoram, India. We’ve connected with the Kaifeng Jewish community in China. We’ve provided humanitarian care for the Yizak and Yibir tribes in Somaliland. And, the list goes on!

While these “Lost Tribes of Israel” are truly “scattered among the nations,” they have one thing in common: they are in need. As I mentioned before, many face stigma not only from their own neighbors, but also from the global Jewish community. Recently, I read an astounding book that addresses this phenomenon directly. Nathan P. Devir is an Associate Professor of World Languages and Cultures at the University of Utah. In his book New Children of Israel: Emerging Jewish Communities in an Era of Globalization, Devir writes:

“An unprecedented wave of self-defining Jews from the developing world, who will complicate, enrich, re-envision and stretch the traditional parameters of God’s covenant with Israel, will be modern Jewry’s next watershed event. The changes in the character of Jewishness brought about by the influence of these “new Children of Israel” as they have been often referred to, will happen with or without the acknowledgment or support of officially recognized Jews from the outside world. Indeed, we should make no mistake: these changes are already taking place.”

I can’t tell you how excited that makes me! The world is discovering what God has been revealing to me and to our team at Jewish Voice for many years now: that Jewish communities exist today all over the world. That God has preserved a much larger remnant of Jewish people than we might ever have imagined. And that no matter what others say about them, God loves them and wants to restore them to Himself and to their land!

Earlier I mentioned Isaiah’s prophecy that the people of Israel would be scattered. In that same verse, God also makes this promise:

He will lift up a banner for the nations, and assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
— Isaiah 11:12

I believe this “gathering” is both physical and spiritual. Every descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, be they Jewish people living in Israel, the United States, Eastern Europe, or the most remote villages of Africa, remain God’s Chosen People. Even if they are not known or accepted by the mainstream Jewish community, they are known to God.

That’s why we’ve recently announced a bold 10-year initiative at Jewish Voice: We want to reach all unreached Jewish communities of the “Lost Tribes of Israel.”

This is a leap of faith. But when I read the Bible, I see that it must be done! Paul says, in Romans 11:25-26, that though it’s a great mystery, “all Israel will be saved.” God’s heart longs for the return of His people Israel; and that means a turning to belief in Yeshua, Jesus, as the Messiah. Only then, Scripture tells us, can Jesus the Messiah return.

We take this very seriously here at Jewish Voice. That’s why, for example, we’ve spent years now bringing both physical and spiritual help to many of these tribes in the form of Medical Outreaches. By bringing together volunteers, doctors, nurses, dentists and optometrists from abroad and from the local communities where these tribes live, we’ve given tens of thousands of people the medical, dental, and eye care they so desperately need.

We’ve also prayed for members of these communities. We’ve shared the love of Jesus with them. We’ve told them the Good News. We’ve even planted Messianic congregations and remain in relationship with local leaders, whom we train and raise up to lead their people! To date, over 150 of these congregations are now growing and flourishing in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

We do this because of a truth I’ve tried to live by, ever since our first Hear O’ Israel! festival in Russia back in 1993: “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” By providing for the physical needs of these “Lost Tribes” in remote corners of the world – many of whom face alienation and persecution because of their identity as members of the House of Israel – we earn the right to minister to their most basic need: to know their Messiah.

That is my heart, and the heart of Jewish Voice Ministries. It is the Lord’s desire that “all Israel would be saved.” And we share that desire. And since Israel is scattered across the world, that’s where we’re going! Won’t you join us?

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