It’s almost two years since I wrote about a shelter for Sudanese refugees, for women and children, in northern Israel run by a Messianic believer called Rita. I often visit this project and now it’s time to bring you up to date on the situation there.
First, let’s remember why there is a shelter in northern Israel for refugees from Sudan! These beleaguered people started arriving at Israel’s southern borders a few years ago during the recent genocide in Darfur, and in the aftermath of the civil war in south Sudan. Israel did not, and still does not, have diplomatic relations with Sudan as it is a Muslim state which considers Israel an enemy. However, these desperate men and women, also victims of persecution in Egypt, look to Israel as a place of refuge, making the dangerous journey across the border on foot and at night to escape being captured by Egyptian security forces. The men are placed in detention centres but what is to be done with the women and children? Some of the women are pregnant when they arrive. Some have been raped whilst travelling through the desert. Some of the children arrive without parents; somehow they have become separated on the way or their parents have died. All arrive exhausted, afraid, and uncertain of their future.
Meanwhile, Rita had been preparing a shelter on Mount Carmel after a prompting from God in 2002 when she had a vision about helping women in crisis. Rita and her husband Peter, are co-leaders of Kehilat HaCarmel (Carmel Assembly) along with David and Karen Davis. As a ministry, they were well accustomed to working with drug addicts having opened a centre in Haifa many years ago. But this new vision involved providing a safe place where women could find refuge and be enfolded in the arms of the Lord and know His love, His refuge and His hope.
Recently I took a group of Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund supporters to meet Rita (details of our next tour at end of this article) and see this work for themselves. We were a group of about 15 people and gradually, as we sat listening to Rita telling her story, some of these Sudanese women started to come into the room where we were sitting. Most of them were carrying babies, and several had young children too.
Rita frequently broke off from talking to us to welcome them before returning to her story.
“We never advertised”, she continued. “In January 2003 we had a phone call asking us to take our first woman; she was from Columbia. We asked the Lord why He was sending us foreign women. But the Lord made it clear from the start that this was for women from a variety of backgrounds in Israel. After Milena, we took in a number of local women—both Jews and Arabs; “sabras” (those born in Israel) and immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, as well as one from India who’d been held as a slave in the house where she was employed.
Then in March 2006 I received a ‘phone call that was to change the destiny of the shelter and as I picked up the phone, the Lord spoke to me, ‘Rita, this is going to be big.’
The caller, from the Immigration Police, told me that a Sudanese woman was at the border crossing. ‘If you don’t take her she’s going to be separated from her six year old child and put in prison.’
At that time there was only one other Sudanese woman in Israel. A couple of hundred men from Sudan had already arrived in Israel and were being held in prison. This was the beginning of a completely new situation for our nation—and for us!
We took the woman in, along with her daughter. Her name was Aida and she was pregnant and traumatised having crossed the desert in the most dangerous of circumstances. Aida was the first of many women to arrive in this way.
Last week a woman was sent to us named Magdas.” Rita started to cry. “They have to pay the Bedouins a lot of money to cross from Sudan into Egypt. Her husband, exhausted and thirsty, drank from a can of gasoline, and died in her arms. We think that she was then raped by the men who were leading them. They risk their lives to come here. Many are asylum seekers; they have been beaten and tortured. Many are nominal Christians coming from a background of tribal occult practices; others are Muslim, and here they find themselves living in a Messianic Jewish community in a Druze village in northern Israel!”
And it’s not just Sudanese refugees who find their way to Rita’s shelter; she and her team of volunteers are also caring for women fleeing from Eritrea (a country with one of the worst human rights records), and some from persecution due to political turmoil in Ethiopia.
“We’re raising many children here,” Rita went on, “we currently have 25 children living in the shelter, including a number of babies who were born to our residents. Here’s Betlehem – she’s recently had a baby, Samson. And we have a 16 year old Sudanese girl with a baby she named “Blessing”. We have two little boys and two girls who have no parents in Israel and we know there are others like them – we want to be able to take in more young people rather than having them live alone on the streets of Tel Aviv.”
What do you do when you are a minority group living amongst people who are hostile to your beliefs? How do you develop a heart of compassion towards those who want to silence or even destroy you? This is the challenge facing both Jewish believers living in Israel and evangelical Arab Christians living in the West Bank in places like Bethlehem.
by Julia Fisher
Despite dire reports and media indifference, the Christian church in Israel and the areas of Palestine is growing among both Arab and Jewish communities. As this happens, Arabs and Jews are meeting, being reconciled, and working together.Meet Me at the Olive Tree tells 16 stories of these new Christians and how they find both forgiveness and new hope in their faith. These stories reveal the powerful childhood indoctrination and great social pressure that encourages the enmity we see on the news each night. But they also reveal the reconciliation and peace that is possible through the cross. These stories will stretch your mind and thrill your heart, as you embrace all that God is doing through both Jewish believers and Arab/Palestinian Christians living in Israel and the wider Middle East.