| by Moshe Morrison |
From motorcycles to ...
Yura and Lyda met and were married in a congregation in Russia. They immigrated to Israel six years ago from a small town at the far eastern end of Russia. They came with 3 children, ages 17, 8, 2, and Lyda was 7 months pregnant. They came as believers in Yeshua and they came because Yura was a strong Zionist.
Before she became a believer, Lyda was a fearful person. In order to hide her insecurities, she compensated by doing radical and dangerous things. She worked as a marine engineer on a Soviet submarine, racing motorcycles in her spare time. In spite of sleepless, anxious nights before each race, she won most of them because of her zeal. Then she crossed the entire Soviet Union --- a 20,000 kilometer journey --- on a motorcycle! Wrestling and parachute jumping added further excitement. By the time she had two kids she concluded that it was time to hang up her helmet.
When perestroika began opening up the USSR, the military was scaled down and Lyda lost her job. She became a social worker, first with the elderly and then with children. She started a foundation for handicapped children and opened a boarding school for children with social problems.
Lyda directed the school for three years before coming to Israel, serving a total of 300 kids. After aliyah she wanted to do the same thing here, but found that the Orthodox Jewish establishment had restrictive control over such institutions.
Then, providentially, Lyda came across a newspaper article that spoke of the need for families to take in foster children. They applied and after a year of being checked out they were accepted. The first child they took in was a 17 year-old girl who had been thrown out of her home. She stayed with them about a year. Next they took in the 9 year-old son of drug addicts, for about six months. Two years ago they opened their home to three children, two brothers and a sister who had come to Israel with their widowed father. The father subsequently returned to Russia, but the three children are now very much permanent members of Yura and Lyda's household.
Volunteering in Israeli prisons
In 2001 Lyda and two other women from Ohalei Rachamim attended a conference on the subject of the trafficking of women from the former Soviet Union to Israel for the purpose of prostitution. It was an eye-opening experience. Because she had attended the conference and her name was on the registration list, she received an invitation from an Israeli women's organization to get involved in visiting these women, who were in prison. The organization was very secular and liberal. But Lyda, as a volunteer, had access to the prison and brought three more believing volunteers with her. Oddly, the other volunteers dropped out, leaving Lyda and her three friends as the primary workers.
It's important to point out that it is forbidden for them to speak to the prisoners about God. All religious propaganda, be it Jewish, Christian or Muslim is forbidden.
Lyda asked the Lord why they were there if they were not allowed to speak about Him. He reminded her of the passage in Matthew 25:36 where Yeshua said, "I was in prison and you came to me." NKJV) Lyda says that they can pray, they can encourage, they can give them humanitarian aid, give them legal information, and support in court cases against traffickers. And they can say that they themselves are followers of Yeshua so that the women understand who it is that is reaching out to them.
These women are not in prison because they are prostitutes. Technically, prostitution is not a crime in Israel. They are locked up because they are illegally in the country and waiting to be deported. There is a rapid turn over. Two weeks to a month and they are gone.
A tale of modern slave trade
The following is a description of how they got there. It is not the story of one girl but a composite example of numerous female victims of this horrendous slave trade to whom Lyda is reaching out.
Ludmilla was 18 years old, from a small town in the center of Russia. She managed to finish high school, but there was no work for her in town. She had no father and her mother could not find a job. Her little brother was hungry all the time. She saw an advertisement in the newspaper promising to provide jobs abroad earning as much as $1000 per month. Ludmilla knew she could be a waitress or take care of the elderly as the ad described, so she went to the agency. She was told she qualified, but must go to their office in Moscow where all the paperwork must be done. Then she would be sent to Israel where she would be placed in the job.
She and other girls from around the country arrived at the Moscow offices where fake papers were prepared. Her age was listed as 20 and her family name was also changed (which would make it more difficult to find her). When she received her papers and plane ticket, she discovered her destination was Egypt. She realized that something was wrong. But what could she do? She had spent all her money to get there and the people at the agency told her if she left she must pay them $1000 for all their work - she was trapped. Ludmilla flew out with the other girls. Some realized, like her, that something was amiss and some still hadn't figured it out. Though it's not easy to get into Israel from Russia, entering Egypt on a tourist visa was not a problem. The girls were assured that they would be able to travel from Egypt to Israel.
What they did not know was that it could take up to two months, because they would be smuggled in. All their papers and belongings were left in Egypt and they were taken by bus to the desert to armed Bedouins who would smuggle them across the border. But the conditions were not right. There were different groups of Bedouins warring with each other over who would get the lucrative business of transporting these girls. The girls were beaten and abused along the way. Some never made it. They were raped and murdered. The girls had to crawl under barbed wire fences and hide under false floors in jeeps and trucks until they arrived in Tel Aviv, half alive. They were allowed to rest a bit, but then they were quickly sold as slaves to pimps and brothel owners.
Ludmilla was caught in a raid on a brothel. She had no papers and no visa. While she was not charged with prostitution, she was arrested for being illegally in Israel. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to prove much against those who are trafficking these women. The girls were sent to jail to await their deportation. Some wanted to go home. Some were fearful of being caught by the criminals again or having to return to the conditions they came from. Some would have preferred to stay in prison.
Lyda's Inspiration to reach out to "Ludmilla"
As a congregation, we recently helped Lyda fly to the USA to attend a major conference sponsored by believers, dealing with just these issues of international human slave trade. There she met people from all over the world who are seeking to help young women trapped in the sex industry. Lyda was greatly encouraged and especially so by meeting former prostitutes, now following the Lord and seeking to rescue others. She received a greater understanding of the work God is calling her to do here in Israel.
It broke her heart to see Israel on the list of places where the trafficking of women is a major problem. What a grievous thing, that this nation, called by God to be a holy nation, should be listed among the others for such a thing.
Lyda said she saw the connection between her work with children and with these women. The former being like the roots of a tree and the latter like the upper branches. When disadvantaged, deserted and dysfunctional children are given a chance at a better life, they will be less likely to find themselves trapped in degrading circumstances later in life. Lyda sees just how much the Lord loves those who are in such difficult straits, and desires their deliverance. The Scriptures are filled with graphic examples: the woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman at the well, Miriam of Migdal, and Israel as a nation, so often accused by God of being an adulterous wife. Lyda feels honored to be a part of such a work. We at Ohalei Rachamim are honored to have Lyda as one of our representatives in this area of ministry. It is all part of the vision of this congregation and ministry to see the redemption, rescue and restoration of Israel to its God-ordained calling to be a light to the rest of the nations.
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