“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin..” Zechariah 4:10
I read that verse the other day and marveled at how true that is. I have seen so many small beginnings in my life. Ministries that began because of a seed the Lord planted in one person’s heart.
We visited a tribe out in the middle of the desert in Israel. Their tribe name is Abu Juda. In Arabic, abu means father. So, the original father of this tribe was Judah. These people are Bedouins, and they have been living in this particular place for 80 years.
There are two women from Nazareth that serve as “missionaries” to the tribe. This surprised me because these groups are very closed off. They have one leader, the Shah, who is the village chief. He has two wives and 20 children. There are about 3000 total people in the tribe and they are all related. No one new comes and no one leaves.
So, how did two women gain “missionary” access to these people?
It all started with one woman.
A woman at a church in the city nearby noticed all of these Bedouin people coming and going. Her heart was burdened for them and she and her church began praying for a way to reach these people. The trouble is: the city is Jewish and they only spoke Hebrew. The tribes only speak Arabic. So, they prayed. Finally, the Lord sent them a woman who spoke both languages. But, there was still no connection, no way to reach this tribe.
So, they prayed.
One day in the supermarket, the woman from the congregation who spoke both languages met one of the wives of the Shah. They struck up a conversation (in Arabic) and at the end of the talk, she was invited to the village. And from there, the work began.
This is in Negev and when we arrived, we were given a brief orientation. We were told that these were forgotten people. See, the government of Israel does not recognize these tribes, so they are not provided with anything. No running water, no electricity. Nothing.
The work that was begun there was a kindergarten for the children. If the kids want to go to school, they can. But they have to find a way to get there and it is 20 minutes away by bus. The kindergarten was a good ministry. They were able to meet the children and work with them. But, no mothers would come. Finally, they sent a note home with the children saying if their mothers came, they would receive a gift. The mothers came and that was the beginning of their women’s ministry.
Soon after, the Israeli government “asked” for the kindergarten to be shut down. (The alternative option was that the two women would be put in prison.) But, the Lord had already opened the door to minister to the women. So, they began teaching the women to read, which is how they minister now.
They are not able to openly share their faith (as per Israeli law), so they do so in secret. Currently, there are 3 secret believers in the village that they do Bible study with. 3 believers. Out of 3000.
The men and women are separated. No pictures were allowed to be taken of the people. We were told that if a man takes a picture of a woman, she can be killed. We shared tea with the Shah. He was dressed in all white, with a white head covering. He is the “peace leader” among a few different local tribes, so when there is a conflict, he is called in to hear both sides and decide on the solution.
We were able to visit openly with the two women who minister here and we asked them questions about the situation and their needs for ministry. They said: “The harvest is white, but the workers are so few. The same as in the time of Jesus. We need men to minister to the men. The men of the tribe request that all the time. Someone to help them, to teach them. And we need people who know the Arabic language.”
As I have said, these women work with the children and we asked about their conditions and what their lives were like. One of the women said: “We asked the kids what their dream was? Most of the girls said their dream in life was to clean house like their moms. One boy simply responded: my dream is to have a toothbrush.”
I have a hard time in these situations. I question myself, I question God. What can I do? Am I doing enough? There are so many people in the world, so much hurt, so many in need of healing. And time and again, I get the same answer. “Seek Me. Do what I call you to do each day. I will take care of the rest.”
These may be considered a forgotten people, but the Bible assures us that no one is ever forgotten in the eyes of our Lord. Of that, we can be assured. He sees us. He hears us. He cares.