Ethiopian congregation reaches out to its community

Pastor Kokeb Gedamu and his wife Menalu, leaders of Amud HaEsh congregation

The freshly renovated ministry center of the Amud HaEsh, an Ethiopian Jewish congregation in downtown Jerusalem, has a simple and practical, warm and welcoming feel to it.

A member of the King of Kings family of ministries, Amud HaEsh (Pillar of Fire) provides a central base for outreach with the Good News of Yeshua to Ethiopian Jews in Israel. The recent renovations to the sanctuary and surrounding rooms provide for a central and attractive space that lends itself well to reverent worship of the Lord and to discipleship.

With a strong desire to reach broken families and marginalized youth in Israel’s Ethiopian community, the congregation was in the middle of a week of prayer and fasting for revival at the time of KNI’s interview with senior pastor Kokeb Gedamu.

“So many Israeli Ethiopian Jews (also known as Beta Israel) live in spiritual darkness, poverty and confusion,” Gedamu told KNI. “Ethiopians are the second largest people group in Israeli prisons. This is a huge percentage, especially when you consider there are only 150,000 Ethiopian Jews in a country of 8 million people.”

Gedamu said that young Ethiopian Jews who continually face racism and rejection frequently turn to crime and drugs in a state of hopelessness. Many of their parents and elders came to Israel from rural Ethiopia during the largest immigration waves of 1984 and 1991. The older generation still identifies with their African culture and still speaks Amharic. The younger generation suffers an identity crisis as they were born in Israel, speak Hebrew and identify as Israeli Jews. They are often unable to relate to their elders.

Amid HaEsh congregation in Jerusalem
Amid HaEsh congregation in Jerusalem

Many of the younger generation feel misunderstood on all sides, and unable to fit in at home or in the community at large.

“At Amud HaEsh we focus on helping the young to come out of the darkness and to accept Yeshua. We also try to heal the divisions in Ethiopian Jewish families,” Gedamu explained. “Families often break apart because there is no unity.”

Highly experienced in pastoral ministry to Ethiopians in countries as diverse as Sudan, Egypt and America, Ethiopia-born Gedamu first immigrated to Israel with his family 23 years ago.

Serving in leadership with six Messianic congregations in Israel at that time, Gedamu recalls that “20 years ago there was much more hostility, much more persecution against the believers than there is now.”

Gedamu moved his family to Canada for a time in order to further his education. There he received his ordination as a minister. In due course, however, it was time to return home to Israel and serve the Ethiopian Jewish community here.

Upon returning home Gedamu found a remaining reluctance among his people to accept the Lord.

“They are Ethiopians who identify strongly as Jews. They think they are denying their Jewishness if they accept Yeshua,” he said. “We try to convince them from the Tanach. We hold seminars, Bible studies and conferences for them.”

One of the many needs the congregation has is for its own vehicle in order to be able to bring people to meetings on Shabbat. At the same time, however, an important aspect of ministry is visiting families and single mothers in their homes.

“We also have our own Gospel tracts which we hand out,” Gedamu added.
Gedamu is encouraged that there is more openness to the Gospel in Israel than there was 20 years ago.

“We still get disturbed from time to time by Yad L’Achim (an ultra-Orthodox anti-missionary group), but we find the Jewish people more willing to hear about Yeshua now.”

Amud HaEsh has been at its location in central Jerusalem for two years. With assistance from King of Kings and foreign supporters of its own, the congregation was able to spend some $25,000 on renovations, including a small classroom for computer and language studies for children after school.

An important need of the congregation is for tutors to come in and teach children and youth after school at the center.

“We want to be a bridge between the older and younger generations,” Dr. Muluken, a medical doctor and senior member of the congregation, told KNI. “Many of the older generation, like my father, are happy just to have food to eat, but the younger generation needs better education and more opportunities.”

Amid HaEsh congregation in Jerusalem provides a computer room for children to study after school
Amid HaEsh congregation in Jerusalem provides a computer room for children to study after school

“As Ethiopians are the second largest population group in prison, there is a need for us to go deeply with our young people. We need to disciple and educate them and prepare them for life as adults,” Muluken said.

Amud HaEsh has a big vision for their people. Hoping to expand much further, the congregation already has sister congregations in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheba.

“Even though there is still persecution in the land, but we will continue to spread the Gospel,” Gedamu affirmed.

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