Ten years ago, she was a lonely 15-year-old, consumed in the world of alcohol, drugs and sex. Four years later, she was a 19-year-old single mom, with no education and no hopes for the future.
She turned to God in her distress and now she is about to finish her Bachelor’s Degree, her daughter will soon start first grade, and she has a loving husband who loves her daughter as a father. This is the inspiring story of “Alexandra” (not her real name).
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” (Psalm 40:2-3a)
Alexandra was born in the Ukraine, and when she was two years old, her parents joined a charismatic church, which was really more like a cult. “The pastor sexually abused me and the other young girls,” she confides. “We were there for ten years and my parents didn’t know what he was doing.”
Despite the abuse she suffered, she learned things in that church that she took with her. She saw that God is a living God who hears and answers prayers. “Despite the sins that occurred there, I still saw miracles. I was healed from an allergy when dad prayed for me,” she says.
When she turned 12, she was offered to visit Israel through a program that would let her study in an ultra-orthodox boarding school. “Neither I nor my parents really understood what it all meant, but we had a dream of going to Israel one day, but couldn’t afford it. So when that opportunity came, I went.”
In the ultra-orthodox boarding school, she had to wear long skirts, worry about modesty, and pray three times a day. “I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed until I had done hand washing and prayed ‘modeh ani’ [I am thankful]. It was hard to be away from my family, but it helped me to get out of the circle of abuse I had been in. I realized that what had happened to me was wrong.”
After the program was over, she went back home, but then left for Israel again on a different program, staying for a year in a less religious boarding school. When that year was over, her family made aliyah and joined her in Israel. “At that time, I realized I had been lied to. My entire life I had been told lies about God. I didn’t want to hear about Jesus anymore. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I tried to fit in with society, to find friends, but I was confused, and it was hard. My Hebrew wasn’t very good, and our economic situation was so bad I couldn’t join school trips or join my friends when they went out to a restaurant. I felt like an outcast, so I connected with people who were also outcasts. We would drink, we would take drugs, I would hook up with boys. I thought all those things would help me fit in, but every time, it just hurt me more. Once I passed out drunk and my mother had to come see me in the hospital. I felt so bad.”
She kept searching for answers, but didn’t find any. She experimented with new age and the occult and also went to a synagogue once in a while. “I thought Judaism might be the right way, but I quickly saw that all the emphasis was on keeping the commandments. I didn’t find God there.”
Despite everything, Alexandra still had an ingrained belief that the Old Testament was true, since it was considered holy by so many religions. One day, she talked with her mother about it, and her mom showed her Isaiah 53. She saw it was about Yeshua and assumed it was a chapter from a Christian book. She was astonished when she found the exact same words in the Old Testament she had been given in the ultra-orthodox boarding school. “It was so obvious that it’s about Yeshua, and I asked my mom how come the Jews don’t believe in him. She told me their eyes are blinded until the appointed time. After that, I started reading the Bible more, but I didn’t like what I saw. I saw I was a sinner and I couldn’t face it. I stopped reading.”
She failed many of her high school matriculation exams and dropped out of school. She started to work as a waitress. She got drafted to the IDF like all other Israelis, but cut her service short through the military psychologist. At the age of 18, she fell in love with an African refugee from Eritrea who was Ethiopian-Orthodox Christian. He seemed like a good guy to her. He had a good job and everyone who knew him said he was an honest and responsible person. She thought that establishing a family with him would help her grow closer to God and get out of her situation.
“We moved in together and I got pregnant. It would have been complicated to get married since he wasn’t a citizen, and I didn’t have strength for all that [bureaucracy]. I knew it was sinful, but I kept making up excuses in my mind. ‘God will understand,’ I told myself. And then it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. I moved to his city, far from my friends and family, and I was stuck in the apartment all day while he worked long hours. Sometimes I didn’t see him for days. He’d come home to sleep and go back to work the following morning. I suffered from pregnancy nausea and had no one to turn to.”
She went online and searched for a Messianic congregation in the city and found one. She started to attend, but her husband didn’t want to go with her. “He said it went against the way he was taught. He had a cross around his neck and icons on the wall at home, and certain prayers he would recite, but he didn’t attend any church.”
Shortly after Alexandra gave birth, her husband started feeling bad and had stomach cramps. It became worse and worse, and a month after the birth of the baby, he was admitted to the hospital. His liver had stopped working, but the doctors didn’t know why. He received a liver transplant, but the surgery caused a blood infection, which quickly worsened until he passed away.
She was 19, had a 3-month-old baby, and all she had was 4,000 shekels in her bank account. At that time, the rental contract for her apartment expired and she had to move out.
Her congregation helped her move and secured a donation to help her out for a few months. “I prayed a simple prayer to God, crying out for help, and just a few days later, the congregation told me they had gathered donations for me,” she says. “The pastor and his wife applied to an American non-profit about help for me, and secured another donation, which helped me stay afloat for even longer. I realized that I have a God who hears prayer and I longed to grow closer to him. I asked for a Bible and started reading it hungrily. I had a lot of anxiety, but the Bible helped me through it. I read about the miracles God did in other people’s lives, which gave me hope.”
She wasn’t in a mental state that would allow her to work or study at this point. The donations she received helped her through this period, and she moved back home to the city she grew up in and attended a local congregation there. “For almost a year, I stayed at home with my baby and didn’t have to worry about financial situation. After that year, I started to think about the future.”
During this time, she also dealt with a lot of shame and guilt for her sinful past. “I didn’t know if I could get back to God or if it was too late,” she says. “I felt I needed to become a better person first and maybe then he would accept me.” That’s when she heard a sermon in her congregation about God coming to save the sinners. “They asked, ‘Which sins can Yeshua’s blood wash away?’ I felt I had so many sins in my past, I wasn’t sure they could be washed away, but they answered ‘All sins!’ It gave me so much hope and released me from my guilt. I realized that all I needed to do was to rely on him and repent, and he will work within me. I don’t need to do that myself.”
At this point, she turned to the local municipal welfare office. She was accepted into a program for single mothers, where they guided her about life goals, what she wanted to do and gave practical help. Through their guidance, she started studying to get a full high school diploma.
“I was sure I would fail again. I hadn’t studied since high school and I thought I didn’t have what it took to study. My Hebrew was still not very good, so I would go home and google translate every word I didn’t understand. With time my Hebrew improved and it got better, but I still couldn’t express myself, so for the tests I would just learn all the material by heart and quote directly from the books when I answered questions.”
Unlike the first time, she passed these high school exams with excellence and then started studying for a degree in social work at the local college. As we are speaking, she just finished her last exam, with excellent grades, and only has a final Bachelor’s thesis to write to receive her BA.
“I had grown up learning that if we trust God, he will give us an easy life and fix everything for us. It wasn’t like that at all. It was very hard. I almost reached a breaking point many times. I wanted to quit my studies, I cried. It happened multiple times. I knew I needed to continue, even though I didn’t have the strength. God gave me the strength. He was with me, but I had to do the hard work. I realized that God doesn’t change our life circumstances for us, but he changes us through our life circumstances. He doesn’t give us an easier life, but he makes us stronger.”
A bit over one year ago, just as COVID hit the world, she started praying to God for a husband. “I didn’t dare to do so earlier. I was afraid it would make me quit my studies. Others prayed that for me, but I didn’t. But at that point, knowing I was almost done, I had peace over it. I asked God to pick for me. Only he can see a person’s heart. After about a month, I started chatting to a guy from the USA on Facebook and we realized how similar we were in worldview, faith, God, everything. He spoke Russian, because he was adopted by a family in the US from Ukraine when he was young. We are even similar in appearance – people say we look like twins. We even did a DNA check, just to make sure we are not related.”
Despite the COVID restrictions, they were able to get married in Ukraine on November 2020, and now they live together in Israel. He owns a small business in the hi-tech sector and has started to learn Hebrew. Since he was adopted as a child, he grew up learning that being a parent requires love and not DNA. “He accepts my daughter as his child one hundred percent. He even once had a dream that he would adopt an African child and it came true through me.”
What does the future look like now? When you have your BA, will you start working as a social worker?
“Since I’m going to work with touching people’s lives and souls, I think it’s important I know God better first. To know him really well. So I have decided to first go to study at the Bible College in Netanya. I grew up in a cult that taught me lies and I need the truth.”
How can the readers pray for you?
“That God will show us our place in Israel, where we can serve and not just be idle. We also want to grow our family – we have a heart for adoption and we are looking up those options, even if we also want biological children.”
Any last thoughts to share with us?
“I first thought that if I just turn to God, he will fix my life. He will turn me from the insecure suffering Alexandra I used to be, to an Alexandra whose life is in order. I realized it doesn’t work like that. Success is built from many small steps. To reach something big, you need to start small, work hard, and not give up, even when it seems impossible. If God has chosen a way for you, he will also be with you the whole way. God gives supernatural strength. He also taught me I can’t control anything. I’m always scared of falling back to where I was, so I try to always be in control. But we can’t control our circumstances – all we can do is to trust God. I’m not in control. He is. I just need to trust him. I also learned that God is not here to solve our problems – he changes us through our problems and guides us through them. He works with our hearts and changes us.”