Deut. 8: 2 "Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert..."
A young Ethiopian Israeli soldier caught Webigig's attention as she got on the bus. It was a regular day for her with no exceptional events. She was tired and burdened with the weight of modern life in Israel as a single parent of 3 Israeli-born children. Drawn to the young soldier, she sat down beside him and appraised him with a mother's eye. Her own firstborn son would be going into the army soon, and she wondered if others would be encouraged by the sight of him as she was by this Ethio-Israeli soldier. Although young, he exuded bravery, dignity and resolve.
In the traditional Ethiopian way Webigig asked the soldier "What family do you belong to?" The soldier answered respectfully, and she smiled, knowing the family and what they had been through together. "Son, where were you born?" He hesitated and then said simply "I was born in the wilderness of Sudan on the way to Jerusalem." Webigig's heart leapt into her throat and her thoughts flew back to her own fateful journey from Ethiopia to the Promised Land.
The journey began at night. The elders of the Jewish Council had given each family notice when to depart. On the appointed night 27 year old Webigig, her father and three of her 7 siblings set out to meet the guide whom they had hired at the price of one cow and a 50 Birr ($5) wristwatch to lead them through the desert. They were filled with excitement. The dream and the longing for Jerusalem that had been passed down through the generations were finally coming to pass.
Leaving the familiar outskirts of the village in the darkness, barefoot Webigig stumbled and fell. Her little four year old sister whom she had been carrying in a sling flew off her back and landed in the bushes. Webigig searched frantically but couldn't find her until she cried out. It was only after Webigig drew her close to her chest to quiet her, that she noticed the large and bleeding gash in her leg. Fearful of the desperate, barbaric night thieves, she carried her sister in her arms for some time so that the thieves wouldn't hear the child's cry and come after them.
The excitement and novelty of the journey carried them swiftly along the path that first night. As the light of the sun began to appear, Webigig could see hundreds of clustered families from her village and other surrounding villages trudging along determinedly. Looking back, the homey familiar village already seemed a lifetime away. The sun shone brightly and was already hot at seven in the morning as they all stopped to get some much needed rest and to hide from the bandits. Webigig helped her brother and sister find a secluded corner in the wilderness to rest their heads and they fell into a restless sleep as the sun rose higher.
After a fitful sleep, they woke and prepared for the night's walk, eating a small meal from the dried meat, dabo kolo (cracker-like snack), honey and water Webigig had prepared before the trip. When they had eaten and finished the last of the coffee from the clay coffee pot, they tied the food bags back onto the donkey. For an extra measure of protection in the night, they wiped the charcoaled bottom of the coffee pot and spread dark streaks on their faces. This homemade camouflage blended their faces into the darkness and also distorted any physical beauty or pleasantness that could appeal to the desperate appetites of the night thieves. When everything was ready Webigig lifted her six year old brother onto the family horse and hoisted her little sister back up into the sling on her back.
For six weeks Webigig and her family followed this same routine, night after grueling night, day after blistering day. When they walked at night, the sound of snakes, lions, hyenas and other wild beasts sapped their courage. In the day when they slept the sun beat down, drying out their exhausted bodies and baking the earth they slept on. Day and night the bandits besieged them, stealing, assaulting and even killing. The more they walked the farther the travelers got one from another.
One evening Webigig sat with her aunt as they ate the evening meal and then they set out on their way. After walking a short distance, Webigig noticed that her aunt was no longer beside her. She went back and saw to her grief that her aunt had collapsed dead on the path. The family wept and stood in reverence for a moment. As they walked on, they saw other grieving families. At that same time they also heard the cries of a woman in labor walking with a family beside them. The family cried out in joy at the birth of a sweet new son, and Webigig was awed at the cradling of death and life together on the path to Jerusalem.
The physical adversity of the journey did not weaken their deep faith and desire to reach the Promised Land. This will all be worth it, Webigig thought, because when we arrive at Jerusalem the Promised Land we will wipe our feet with oil and draw milk and honey out of the earth. Webigig and her family envisioned a land of righteousness, and she and all the other journeyers determined that even if our hands and legs are cut off and our eyes cease to see, we will be content to reach the Promised Land!
In the middle of their journey, right before they reached the Sudanese border, the robbers took the donkey and horse and all the food they had. Webigig was separated from her father and brothers and the guide. She was alone with her little sister. Her shoulders and stomach were chafed and bleeding from the rope and leather sling. Her feet were raw from walking on the sun beaten ground. Sometimes, to give her sore feet a rest, she would crawl with her sister riding on her back.
Standing in the wilderness, for the first time Webigig began to regret the decision to leave. She asked bitterly "God, where have you brought us?" and then she collapsed. She lay on the ground holding her sister, both of them unconscious. Providentially, her eighteen year old brother found them lying in the path. He thought they were dead and wept over their bodies. He walked away in grief, but after a few miles his heart was filled with regret. Wondering if they could be alive, he returned with a gourd full of water from some fellow travelers. They were alive! He put water on Webigig's tongue and gave water to their baby sister. They rose, saved from the brink of death.
As soon as Webigig was revived enough to go on, they found merchants who could lead them to the city of Doka on the Sudanese border. By God's grace and with the heroic help of Webigig's brother, they made it. In Doka they met up with the guide, her father and younger brother, whom they had thought were lost and dead in the wilderness. There they were given food and lodging and then the Sudanese took them with the guide to the refugee camps in the city of Qadaref.
Although the perils of the journey by foot were passed, Webigig and her family experienced new dangers in Sudan. Any hint of their intended destination was reason for imprisonment, torture and even death by Sudanese officials. Conditions in the refugee camp were much worse in many ways than the challenges faced on the way. The refugees received both lentils and flour. The flour smelled so bad that her brother refused to let them eat it. Many, ignoring the stench, ate the rotten flour and died. More people died from food poisoning in Sudan than on the way, approximately 200-300 people. Starvation and corruption was rampant.
Now sitting in the camps, physical pain from the journey overwhelmed Webigig. Every bruise and wound sustained on the way was felt twice over. Death was very close, all around. Every little pain made Webigig sure that it was now their turn to die. Jerusalem and the Promised Land felt far and unreachable. The dream had faded.
A neighbor family in the camps became sick with food poisoning. One morning they went to visit them and found all of them dead - with the littlest baby dead at its mother's breast. When Webigig saw the tragic sight, she vowed to God: If You bring me to the Promised Land, I will spend the rest of my life worshipping You.
After 9 months in the refugee camps, Webigig and her family, were secretly air lifted along with hundreds of other Ethiopian Jews. Right before they boarded the plane many pregnant women went into labor. Babies had been born on the way, in the camps, on the "runway" and finally on the very plane that carried them to Jerusalem.
"Auntie, are you Ok?" The soldier's question broke into her reverie. Webigig smiled warmly at the young man. "I too came through the wilderness of Sudan; my family walked together with your family." As he spoke she realized that he was the baby born just moments after her aunt's death. Webigig's eyes filled with tears at the thought that so many of these brave families were now filled with unrest and despair in the "Promised Land." New resolve flooded her heart to pray for her people, that they too would meet Yeshua, their Messiah who would beckon them into the eternal Promised Land, the New Jerusalem, a city of righteousness indeed.
Webigig came to faith in the Messiah 3 years after her arrival in Israel. She is a faithful member of Tents of Mercy congregation, a vibrant worshiper, a loving mother, and a devoted and humble woman who rejoices and takes pride in the opportunity to work cleaning the house of God (congregational building).
* In the late 70's and early 80's, approximately 12,000 Ethiopian Jews walked through Sudan to reach to their divine destination - Israel. This was called "Operation Moses" and was a prophetic fulfillment. This journey claimed some 4000 lives.
* Webigig is our relative. Like her, many of our other relatives made the same journey. She completed her fateful journey in receiving God's gift of Redemption through His Son as promised for the returnees of Zion. She is an integral part of the ministry for Ethiopian Jews that we are establishing at Tents of Mercy.
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Also in this issue of the newsletter:
|Dan Juster: Re-Interpreting Scripture|
|Leora Mazurovsky: Back to the Future|
|Betty Intrater: Come and Let Us Go Up ...|
|David Shishkoff: Sudanese Refugees in Israel|