The journeys of the sons and daughters of Israel have been varied and far-flung. Because of our wayward hearts, we as a people have been scattered among the nations. But our loving heavenly Father has promised to gather again the remnant of His long lost offspring and return us to the land of our fathers so we might faithfully serve Him there. Natasha's testimony is an example of this reality unfolding in our day.
Natasha was born in Ukraine in 1966 and was raised in a small town called Chmelnik that had a small Jewish population. In Chmelnik there were 5 elementary schools. Four of them were Ukrainian and one was Russian. The Jewish children in town attended the latter, since Ukrainians were generally anti-Semitic. Natasha was a good girl, always did her homework, participated in school activities and stayed out of trouble. Yet she couldn't understand why the Ukrainians hated her and called her "Zhid." (A derogatory term for Jew.) She thought that she was one of only 3 or 4 Jews in her school, only to find out later that there were many. It only serves to illustrate just how non-observant and non-traditional the Jewish community was. Nevertheless, the anti-Semites somehow knew who they were.
At the age of 17, Natasha entered university at Kiev to study dentistry. During the break in her first year she met her husband-to-be. A year later they were married and a year after that Alex was born. She was 7 months pregnant with him, living about 25 miles from the Chernobel nuclear plant when the accident took place there, spewing radioactivity into the atmosphere for miles in every direction. By the grace of God her pregnancy was not affected. (Unless one considers that Alex, who is now 18, is almost 6'7" tall.) Tragically, her husband was unfaithful and they divorced the following year. Natasha returned to school and Alex was taken care of by his grandparents.
A year later Natasha met George. He was from the Congo and a lawyer with the Congolese foreign ministry department. He had come to the Ukraine to further his education. It was very common at that time for Africans to come and study in the Soviet Union. Natasha was 22 and George was 38. However, the difficulty her family had with their relationship was not because of the age difference, but because he was black. In spite of family tensions, they were married and a month later George returned to the Congo. Seven months later Natasha left for the Congo intending it to be a short trip since she was in her last term of pregnancy.
It is a fact of life that one does not know what the fortunes of men and nations will be from one day to the next. Only in God is our future secure and sure, yet even in that there is much unknown.
Natasha arrived in the Congo and the Soviet Union collapsed. Her Ukrainian passport was now worthless and she could not return home. The Soviet embassy was now the Russian embassy and they refused to deal with Ukrainians. Unlike the character in the recent Steven Spielberg movie, "Terminal," Natasha did not have to live in an airport terminal, but she could not leave the Congo. As the wife of a Congolese man she could reside in the Congo and after 5 years could receive citizenship. About a month after her arrival Kiril was born. Sadly she had very little contact with her family still in Ukraine, especially with her son Alex.
Relations with George's family were strained. George's mother did not like Natasha because she was white and blamed her for various conflicts that were going on. She went to a witch doctor to have a curse put on Natasha and Kiril (who was now about 1 1/2) that they might die. It did not affect Natasha, but Kiril became seriously ill and was hospitalized for two months. The doctors could not find out what was wrong or how to cure him. However, George had a relative who was a believer and whose husband was a pastor. He came to the hospital on a Thursday morning and prayed for Kiril while his congregation also prayed. Kiril was healed and was back home by Friday evening.
Natasha knew that God was real and intellectually she wanted to connect with Him but in her heart she just was not able to. She had a friend from her time in the university who was a believer and married to a Congolese pastor. They were living close by and she spoke with them often, but just couldn't break through. She and Kiril attended services regularly, yet something still wasn't right. At the suggestion of the pastor she went to speak to another congregational leader.
This man began to speak to her of all that Yeshua had done for her. She did not say a word. She just listened and listened and something inside broke. She began to weep and confess her sins as she was overwhelmed by the love of God and she opened her heart to Yeshua.
Their marriage was still very difficult, but began improving when Natasha had her encounter with Yeshua and George could see the changes in her life. About a year later George and a friend and his believing relative were working in a field on a peanut farm that George owned. Suddenly a poisonous snake came out of the jungle and headed straight for him. This is highly unusual as these serpents generally avoid all contact with humans unless directly threatened. Yet this one wrapped himself around George's leg and bit him. Needless to say, he was terrified as his leg began to swell. The relative laid hands on him and prayed, claiming the protection promised in Mark 16:18, against serpents. The swelling went down and there was no other evident injury other than the fang marks in his leg. George came to the congregation and confessed belief in Yeshua and gave testimony to the miracle that happened. Both of them were immersed in water and there was peace in their home.
Yet, in another unexpected turn of events, one year later George did die. Through a series of medical mishaps having no connection to the snake-bite he became very ill, developing one problem after another. Finally, in a hospital room with Natasha and members of the congregation around him praying George suddenly spoke in the dialect of the area from which his family had come. His background was a hard one. On his father's side were cannibals and on his mother's side were many sorcerers and witch doctors. But George's last words were, "Do not pray for me any longer. Yeshua is coming to take me with Him." He turned to Natasha and said, "I want to sleep now." He closed his eyes and died.
Natasha received her Congo citizenship. They went to live with her pastor's family, but 4 months after George's death Natasha and Kiril moved to Israel. There they were reunited with the rest of her family who had come 4 years earlier. Through a series of divinely ordained connections she found herself at Ohalei Rachamim and knew this was the right place for them. While there are still many large challenges here, Natasha is an over comer. She has a job that she loves as a bookkeeper for a large cellular phone company and is studying to be an auditor. Kiril just had his Bar Mitzvah this past summer. It truly was a wonderful and dramatic moment in their lives.
In conclusion I asked Natasha for a statement for our readers and these are her words. "You have to be open before God. Whatever situation we find ourselves in now, and it seems that there is no way out, God will give us a way out - plus hope, support and love in the midst of it. With God there are no dead-end streets. He will always make a way."
"And I will bring them out from among the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel." Ezekiel 34:13 (NASB)
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