Oh, you really are Jewish! But you are a little dark,” the young woman said. I was wearing a Jews for Jesus T-shirt and distributing broadsides while speaking to a woman on the streets of New York. I answered, “I’m from Ethiopia.” And she replied, “Now I understand, yes, I know there are Jews in Ethiopia.” I smiled at her and said, “All Ethiopian Jews are dark.”
Both my parents are Ethiopian Jews. Most Jewish people in Ethiopia live in the rural area, not in the cities, because they are considered outcasts. Most of them have jobs making pots and crafts. But my father was a policeman and my mother was a policewoman. They met at work, married and began raising their five children in the Jewish faith. But six years later, my mother committed her life to Jesus.
She began to teach our family about the Messiah. My father was very opposed to Christianity. When my father received a job transfer to Gonder, a part of Ethiopia heavily populated with Jewish people, we moved. However, after we arrived, I joined a group of teenagers in an Orthodox Church. I was attending Sunday School classes at my mother’s church every Sunday, but I didn’t understand much of what I was taught. The kids in my youth group weren’t committed believers like my mother, and I was having difficulty deciding what I really believed.
In April 1986, three friends and I went to a local evangelical church. At that time, the government was Communist, so the worship was “underground.” There, I received Jesus as my personal Savior and Lord, realizing that although I had heard the Bible and gone to church for many years, I didn’t know Jesus for myself. That day, the Holy Spirit confirmed in my heart that I was born again.
I was 13 years old at the time. A year after my commitment, I started to serve the Lord by leading the teen Sunday School class at my church. I then served as our youth Bible study leader and eventually became the regional youth director for our denomination’s youth ministry. My mother, my three brothers and my sister participated in the church too. For the past 14 years, I have seen the great power of the Lord helping me to grow in His grace.
When I gave my life to Jesus, my father still would not believe in Him. While I was praying for my father’s salvation, the Lord put this word in my heart: “I am calling you to be my witness to a people who have hardened their hearts to my Word.” I understood that God was calling me to witness to my father’s nation, to my Jewish people. I couldn’t resist the call on my life. I studied and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from the Evangelical Theological Bible College in Addis Ababa. I graduated in June 1998 with a major in Evangelism and Church Planting.
My local church gave me my first full-time assignment. I was deployed to the southwest part of Ethiopia as a Bible School teacher. After five months in full-time service, I sensed the Lord telling me to go out of the country for a short time. I felt that the Lord would do something very special for me during this brief time of travel. I had received an invitation from Campus Crusade for Christ International to attend a youth outreach in South Africa. I saw a door opening and I’m glad I walked through it!
While I was in Johannesburg, I met Jews for Jesus missionaries handing out broadsides on the street where I happened to be walking. I could not believe my eyes! A divine encounter! I volunteered to help them with their January outreach in Johannesburg and spent the next two weeks serving the Lord with them. It was amazing!
After returning to Ethiopia, Jews for Jesus in South Africa sent me an application for the New York Summer Witnessing Campaign. I prayed and fasted about my application for eight days before sending it in. I was accepted! It was a great experience and blessing to be part of the summer ’99 Campaign. I saw many Jewish people come to the Lord. This Campaign was a prerequisite for full-time missionary work with Jews for Jesus, which I then knew I wanted to do.
I filled out an application to come on staff. Again, I prayed and fasted. The next training class didn’t begin until January. But I stayed busy. First, I went to work in South Africa as a volunteer with Jews for Jesus. After two months, I went with one of the staff on a fact-finding mission in Ethiopia.
In all these experiences, I was blessed to see Jewish people coming to know Messiah Jesus. Now, by God’s grace, I am part of the new training group in New York City. When I look back, I see clearly how God has worked in my life. I feel that I know why the Lord led me to South Africa. Since I have been in contact with Jews for Jesus, I can now begin to heed the Lord’s call on my life to witness to my Jewish people.
And my father, who was the last holdout in my family and remained a very observant Jew, after many years of resisting the gospel, received Yeshua into his life just five days before he died. God is faithful to His promises!