Julia Fisher tells the story of how one Messianic Jewish believer found herself providing a refuge for these beleaguered people.

Sudanese Refugees In Israel

"I'd known for years that God was preparing me for something in the future, but I could never have guessed it would involve helping refugees from Sudan!" Rita told me.

I saw Rita recently in northern Israel. Carrying a Sudanese baby, with three or four other little children running around her, she led a group of Sudanese women into the congregational service at Kehilat HaCarmel, a congregation on Mount Carmel near Haifa where Jewish and Arab believers worship together. She looked as though she'd been doing it all her life! But the reality is Rita found herself thrust into a situation of being asked to help these beleaguered people 'out of the blue' just a short while ago.

Today, the question of helping the large numbers of African refugees pouring over the border from Egypt into Israel has become a national issue.

Rita takes up the story.

Sudanese Refugees In Israel

"The tragedy of the days in which we live is that thousands of women are not safe in their own homes, their families, their countries. For this reason, there is a tremendous need for "refuges", places where they can find shelter "in times of trouble." HaCarmel ("Light of the Carmel") operates the only shelter of its type in Israel that is run by Messianic believers. Our desire is to lead these women-many who are in desperate situations-to the safety and love of the Father and the transforming knowledge of faith in Yeshua, our Lord and Messiah. One of the foundational callings of the ministry, which is under the spiritual covering of the leadership of the Kehilat HaCarmel congregation, is found in the verses contained in Isaiah 58:6-12, "to let the oppressed go free . . . to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh."

Our call was to reach out to women in "crisis"-with the focus being on victims of domestic violence, those needing a safe place for their time of pregnancy and birth, single mothers and their children whose financial situations made it difficult for them to live independently, and women with emotional problems needing a place to receive healing and restoration. When we opened our doors in January, 2004, we had no idea who He would bring us-we never "advertised" or sought out women. The Lord began sending us a consistent flow of hurting, broken women from all kinds of backgrounds-Arabs, Jews, sabras, immigrants. To our surprise, He also brought women from the nations, the first being Milena, a Columbian woman who was one of thousands of foreign workers seeking a "better life" in Israel. Her Arab boyfriend had tried to kill her, and she was under police protection, waiting to testify against him. It introduced us to a whole new world of the social services, court system, and the humanitarian aid organizations that seek to help those who are suffering injustice and are ineligible for government help. One of these organizations was to be the instrument to connect us with the immigration police. They were in need of a solution for a pregnant Sudanese woman and her six year old daughter who had entered the country illegally in early 2006 and were being held on an army base in the south of the country. I was told that if we didn't receive her, she would be put into prison and her daughter would be placed in institutional care.

At that time, there were only a couple of hundred Sudanese men being detained in prisons in Israel. They had escaped from the devastation of the twenty year war perpetrated on the southern Sudanese people by the radical Islamic government in Khartoum, and the current genocide taking place in Darfur. Most had sought refuge in Egypt but found persecution and danger there as well. So, risking everything and paying hundreds of dollars to Bedouin guides, they were taken to the border with Israel and left to cross over into the desert in the dark of night. After walking for hours, Israeli soldiers would find the refugees and bring them to the base. As Sudan is an "enemy nation", they were considered a security risk and taken to prison. The army and the immigration police had no facility to care for the women and children.

When I received the call, it was as if the Lord spoke a clear word to me, "This is going to be big." I had no idea that for more than a year, we would be the only place to take in Sudanese women and children and that this work would bring us before Knesset committees and put us on the front pages of the secular media, both in Israel and internationally.

Sudanese Refugees In Israel

On a frequent basis, the calls continued to come from the army-both Muslim and Christian women from a number of different tribes in Sudan were sent to us. Many were traumatized by the crossing into Israel, and by the events they had witnessed previously-the destruction of their village, the killing of family members, rape, imprisonment. Fear continued to be in their lives as they didn't know what would happen to them. Through persistent prayer and consistent application of God's principles, we began seeing genuine spiritual transformation in the lives of women from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds. We witnessed reconciliation between women from Darfur and south Sudan as they walked through daily challenges together. They coached each other in the labour room and shared birthday celebrations, holidays, and prison visits. We truly became a family-with all the challenges that entails!

There have also been friends who found it difficult to understand why we are putting so much of our resources towards caring for African refugees. The act of providing shelter for those seeking refuge is a response to the Biblical admonition in Leviticus 19:33-34 that if "a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him and that stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. . ." This is a challenge to Israelis-including Messianic believers-as we have so many other problems facing the nation and caring for "the stranger" is not a priority. But clearly God, in His word to our people, thinks otherwise. His command is to love the stranger, the oppressed, the fatherless, and to be His Hand of mercy extended to those who arrive at our door."

Having seen firsthand the refuge that Rita has established, I can tell you there are numerous expenditures in such work. I visit Israel regularly and write about Jewish and Arab believers I meet to encourage financial support by Christians in the West through The Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund - a registered charity I started recently to build bridges of support, understanding and reconciliation. Here is another opportunity for Christians to show believers in Israel and the PA that we care and want to stand with them in a practical way. If you would like to support Rita in running her women's refuge, then please send your donation (cheques made out to The Olive Tree Fund) to me Julia Fisher, The Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund, PO Box 850, Horsham, RH12 9GA. If you would like to receive our newsletter please email: enquiries@olivetreefund.org For further information about some of the people and projects we support and news of the OTRF tour to Israel in September '09, please visit our website, www.olivetreefund.org Thankyou. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.