The four women standing shoulder to shoulder sing together with such precision and clarity you could almost imagine you are hearing four parts of the same voice. These are Tents of Mercy's wonderful back up singers; four ladies from the former Soviet Union who worship with reverence and sing like angels.
The most unassuming of the quartet is Alla Feoktistov. Alla is not quite as expressive as the other singers. Her stead demeanor may shield the casual observer from discovering the deep relationship she has forged with Yeshua.
Alla's story begins in Belarus along the Polish border. World War II is raging. Alla's grandfather and uncle are both engaged in fighting off the Nazi invasion. Alla's grandmother works in a Soviet hospital. As the fighting rages on, she sends Alla's then 13 year old mother, Sophia, to live on a Soviet collective farm far away from the front. Sophia never sees her family again.
All of Sophia's immediate family was killed, but after the war was over Alla's mother re-united with a distant cousin who took her into her home. These were Belarusian Jews whose connection to their Jewish history and culture had been severely marred by their war-time experiences. But in the Soviet Union whether you were observant or not, a Jew was still a Jew.
Alla had been somewhat sheltered from prejudice as a child. She excelled in her studies and was popular with her schoolmates. When she was seventeen she took her first boyfriend home to meet Momma. Alla explained, "He had been so kind to me, but when he met my mother his demeanor changed. Once he knew we were Jewish he became rude and insulting." From that day forward Alla kept her Jewish identity to herself.
This rejection hurt Alla deeply and hindered her from getting close to people for a long time. Ten years later Alla met a man who she thought would love her sincerely. When she became pregnant this same man left her. Once again Alla suffered the deep hurt of rejection.
Alla didn't know it, but another lover, one who would never leave her or forsake her, was moving behind the scenes to draw her to Himself. Alla did not believe in God. Being Jewish was just family history. As she neared her time of delivery a friend told her, "If God exists you will have a son." The doctors who had been caring for Alla assured her she was going to have a daughter. When Alla's son Artur was born she started thinking, "maybe there is a God after all."
Artur's birth was difficult and he remained in the hospital. There was no room in the hospital for Alla to stay with her son. Faced with the prospect of leaving him she called out to this God she really didn't know. Would He reject her too? Against the intransigent rules of Soviet bureaucracy, a doctor had pity on Alla and allowed her to stay with Artur. She knew this was the hand of God and began to seek Him.
Several months later Alla had a dream. "In my dream I saw what looked like a famous Russian painting of Yeshua among a crowd. As I moved close to the scene I saw it wasn't a painting. There were people all around me kneeling and crying out, 'God, God.' I wondered to myself, 'Who ... Where is God?' I didn't see a figure but I could make out a white garment filling up my field of vision. I had an overwhelming sense of dread that if I looked up I would see God and die."
I told my mother about this experience. A neighbor overheard one of our discussions and gave me a Bible. It had a Star of David on the cover and contained the Old and New Testaments. I started reading, but only the Old Testament.
Around this time the Soviet Union collapsed. The economy went into a tailspin and Alla lost her job as a kindergarten teacher. She called out to the God of the Bible to help her. The God who was wooing her once more showed His faithfulness. In those very difficult times Alla managed to find employment as a tutor to the children of wealthy Russian families.
One of her girlfriends noticed Alla was managing when so many around her were not. She asked her, "Who is helping you?" Alla replied, "God is helping me!" A little shocked the same friend inquired further, "What God?" Alla of course replied, "Our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!" Alla's girlfriend was incredulous, "Does Jesus help you?" Alla didn't know what to say. Of course she knew who Yeshua was - Russia is an orthodox country but she had never seriously considered Jesus. He was the God of the Gentiles.
Alla's friend was not a believer but she did her best to explain that Jesus/Yeshua was God's son. Alla was perplexed. "I thought, 'How can God have a son?' That night I prayed, "God, you heard what my friend said but I want to know what you think, have you heard of this Jesus?"'
That night Alla had a dream: "I was in the library reading but when I went outside the streets were deserted. I heard a voice call my name, 'Alla.' I turned around but there was no one there. I continued walking and again heard a voice, 'Alla.' Again no one. I cried out, 'Who is calling me?' The same voice told me to look up. As I did I saw a huge being sitting on a cloud. He spoke to me in Russian and said, 'I am Yeshua. I am your Messiah. I will be with you forever.'"
Ever since she was seventeen years old when that first boyfriend rejected her, Alla had been ashamed she was Jewish. Now Yeshua lifted Alla from her shame and humiliation by His acceptance and love. Here was no capricious lover worried about appearances or afraid of commitment. Yeshua had been pursuing Alla her whole life and now He welcomed her to Himself with the assurance of his eternal love.
Alla has been walking with this Messiah ever since. Eventually this One who promised to never leave her guided her back to her homeland, Eretz Israel. You can imagine how difficult it was for Alla to leave her mother and make aliyah to Israel. This is a woman who was orphaned as a child. How could her only daughter leave her? Yet Alla had learned that the One who had pursued her all those years is faithful. As she wrestled through these decisions she heard His gentle voice tell her: "If you leave, I will bless you." Many have had to leave home and family to follow Yeshua. Though His promise is sure, leaving loved ones is still very hard. Would you pray for Alla and her mother Sophia?
It hasn't been an easy journey, but Yeshua has kept the promise He made His beloved daughter. Alla reflected, "My life has always been so difficult. I don't know how I would have survived without God."
I'll leave the last word to Alla. Here is an English translation of a song she wrote:
Who will cover us with His wings
from storms and troubles?
Who will wipe our tears
when we weep without stopping?
Who will forgive and understand when we fall?
Who will put an invisible shield over us?
You, oh Lord, are my strength.
You, oh Lord, are my song.
Without Your Fatherly love
I would have been
an eternal wanderer.
You, oh Lord, are my hope.
You, oh Lord, are my refuge.
In the shadow of Your eternal wings
I will be comforted forever
Who will bless us?
Who will take us under His refuge?
Who will take us to the streams of water
when we thirst?
Who has given us salvation,
conquered hell with His blood?
Who has become a rock to us
and brought us back to life?
Faithful daughter, rest assured, He will stay true to His word and guide you all your days.
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Also in this issue of the newsletter:
|Dan Juster: The Quest for Jewish Authenticity|
|Moshe Morrison: Judah|
|News from Revive Israel|