by Rev. Christine Smith
Isaiah 58:7 New Living Translation (NLT)
7 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Earlier this year, my husband and I, along with 20 other delegates of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, were privileged to go on a missions/tour trip to the Holy Land, Israel. We were invited by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
In addition to the wonder of seeing all of the breath taking sights and “walking where Jesus walked,” our hearts were torn as we learned of the abject poverty, pain, and abandonment many face in Israel. Unlike America, where we have a number of government-sponsored programs and charitable organizations to assist those in poverty (yes, I realize that we still have a long way to go in this area!), there are no “official” safety net programs in Israel.
Many poor Israelis are left to beg and suffer on the streets. Among the most vulnerable are women and children in general, and Ethiopian Jewish girls and women in particular. Having traveled from their native land of Ethiopia in hopes of reconnecting with their Jewish heritage and a better life in Israel, many have been deeply disappointed. According to the Fellowship, “72 percent of Ethiopian children in Israel live below the poverty line, and the high school dropout rate is double that of the Israeli average.” As a result, many cannot find work, and thus exist in very poor conditions.
In a major effort to address these problems and to fulfill the mandate of God’s Word to “share food with the hungry and give shelter to the homeless…” the Fellowship has launched several programs. Two such programs are the Home for Ethiopian Jewish Girls and the Nishmat Ethiopian Women Job/Education Training Program (NEW).
In Israel, all youth ages 18 and up are required to serve 2-3 years in the military. As an alternative, girls may choose other forms of service such as working in hospitals, elder care facilities, and community centers. The Ethiopian Jewish Girls Home prepares orphan girls for these opportunities. It provides shelter, education, warmth, compassion, and support for girls who may otherwise be left on the streets. Many of the girls in the home were abandoned by families that could no longer afford to care for them, abused and neglected. In addition to providing the basic necessities, the Home also offers them an opportunity to gain skills and form relationships that will prepare them to stand on their own, find some form of employment, and become self-sufficient in the future. You can read more about this project by clicking here.
The other project is the Nishmat Ethiopian Women Program (NEW). In 2000 the Nishmat Ethiopian Women (NEW) program was launched to give Ethiopian young women a better chance at success. The program is designed for Ethiopian girls who have finished their national or army service and find themselves at a crossroads in their lives…
The one-year NEW program enables these young women to continue studying by providing food, housing, and a monthly stipend so they can devote themselves fully to their college preparatory studies and receive an education that will allow them to break out of the cycle of poverty. The program also includes counseling, private tutoring, and weekly workshops on computer applications, family budget management, and coping with violence against women.
To read more about this program, click here.
For more information about the programs offered by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and/or to offer support, visit www.ifcj.org
Rev. Christine Smith is senior pastor of the Covenant Baptist Church of Euclid, Ohio. You may find her website at www.shepastorchris.org, and subscribe to her blog.