She looked down to see a viper–Israel’s deadliest snake–and knew it had bitten her. As the ambulance began to climb a hill, it stalled. Minutes mattered at this point, and no one could explain why the ambulance wouldn’t start. The paramedics continued to fight to keep her alive.
Birgitta was 12 when her family left Estonia and landed in Israel. It was her seventh time there, and this time they were moving for good.
Seven years before, her father had been gripped with a love for his ancestral homeland. He wanted to move his family but found many obstacles on the path to this dream. As he watched the U.S.S.R. collapse, he felt a strong sense he was living in the days prophesied by Jeremiah:
Therefore, surely the days are coming, says the Lord, that it will no longer be said, “As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,” but, “As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands wherever He had driven them.” And I will bring them again into their land that I gave to their fathers. Now, I will send for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall fish for them; and afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and out of the holes of the rocks. Jeremiah 16:14-16
To their family and many others, the fishermen were the voices who would entreat the Jews to return to the land of Israel. The hunters, on the other hand, would harass and chase them there. It was God’s plan to bring His people home as promised, and God always keeps His promises.
Wanting to play their part in encouraging the Jewish return, her parents began working with a singing group that traveled to Jewish communities throughout the former Soviet Union, raising awareness of the call of Jews to return to their homeland. Recognizing their daughter’s talents, at eight years old, Birgitta began occasionally traveling with her parents and joined the singing group.
Within a few years, some political leaders from Israel saw all the work her father was doing in furthering the cause of returning Jews home and the doors miraculously opened up for Birgitta’s family to make aliyah as well. So in the early 2000’s they moved to a suburb of Jerusalem and started their new life.
Understanding the controversial nature of the Messianic community in Israel, Birgitta was encouraged to keep quiet about what she believed. If asked point blank, she should never deny her love for the Lord, but she should also not bring it up, either. So, at the very beginning of the forging of her new identity as an Israeli, a disconnect was created between her reality on the Sabbath, that was spent among believers–and the rest of the week that was spent with people who knew nothing of her relationship with God.
Charming as she was, Birgitta had no problem making friends and at the age of 16 auditioned successfully to become one of the contestants for Kochav Nolad– Israel’s version of American Idol. Though she didn’t win, she was a whispered favorite among the judges according to news outlets. The attention that came from that exposure was all-consuming and she found herself less and less interested in her secret God-life. Having grown up with the Lord, her conscience bothered her the entire time. However, she found it hard to say no to what the world had to offer.
When the army draft arrived, she was offered a place in the army band. She spent the next year with the band, traveling and singing to IDF soldiers in bases all over the country.
About ten months before her army duty was completed, she was invited to go on a trip to Galilee with a group of young adult believers. She had been pondering why she bothered with juggling her everyday life with this secret faith of her childhood, when she could just leave that whole part of her life behind and be done with it. It had been seven years since she had gone on any “believing” outings, but she had some friends in the group, so she decided to go.
The Dark Day
The young adult group spent an evening together by the Jordan River. After eating and running around a bit, several from the group took up some instruments and began singing worship songs. Birgitta had always been sensitive to the presence of the Lord during worship so it was a strange sensation that, as they played, she felt absolutely nothing. It was getting dark when Birgitta and a couple of her girlfriends thought it would be fun to swim in the river. They got permission from the group leader and headed out.
As they walked down to the water Birgitta stepped on what felt like a branch and then felt something scrape her leg. She looked down to see a viper–Israel’s deadliest snake–and knew it had bitten her. The three girls started screaming for help and called the ambulance immediately. No one was near enough to hear them and the operator told them the ambulance could arrive in an hour.
At the time they didn’t know the identity of the snake, but this particular viper’s venom causes its victims’ blood pressure to rise to a high level and then drop suddenly. This causes the blood to coagulate which can collapse the organs and lead to death within about 45 minutes. Unless, of course, you happen to be allergic to the venom–which she was. In which case, the venom could prove fatal in just 20 minutes.
Birgitta and her friends tried to get back to where the group was but within a minute or two of the bite her leg was swelling and she couldn’t walk. The girls with her tried to drag her but she was too heavy. Then suddenly they saw headlights coming down the road. They waved frantically to get the attention of the driver–who turned out to be one of their group leaders. For some reason he had decided to go fill up his gas tank–at 10pm. He drove them in his car to a nearby station where some emergency vehicles were packing up their shift.
While the team leader explained the urgent situation to the paramedics, Birgitta knew she was nearing the end as she couldn’t breathe and started blacking out. The paramedics later told her she was minutes from death when they began treating her.
On the way to the hospital, Birgitta continued going in and out of consciousness. Then, as the ambulance began to climb a hill, it stalled. Minutes mattered at this point, and no one could explain why the ambulance wouldn’t start. The paramedics continued to fight to keep her alive and for no recognizable reason, about five minutes later, the ambulance started again. By the time they arrived at the hospital, though, Birgitta was already in a coma.
Though she was largely unconscious during the ride to the hospital, Birgitta remembered the experience vividly:
“Every time I went under I found myself in a dark, empty space. I remember knowing how close I was to death and being really scared. I started to pray and tell God that I was sorry, and that I knew I hadn’t fulfilled what I had been put on earth to do.
I fully expected to suddenly see a white light or feel God reach down and rescue me. Me being foolish and God saving the day was how things worked. It had always been that way. This was the part where God would step in and warn me to, “Choose ye this day whom you will serve,” and I could come running back–again.
But this time, no one came. I could hear voices and people crying around me but I couldn’t see anything. It was then that I realized, even on my bad days I had never known life without sensing God somehow nearby. Now, there was only darkness and the terrifying absence of God. I had made my choice to walk away from Him and was now utterly alone with my decision.”
Birgitta stayed in a coma for three days with her family by her side. During those three days the doctors talked about amputating her leg to save her life, but were holding off as long as possible. When she finally woke from that dark place, she had tubes attached everywhere and her vocal cords wouldn’t work. She motioned she wanted to communicate so they gave her a paper and marker. On the paper she wrote one word– חטאתי. In Hebrew it translates, “I have sinned.”
Birgitta spent the next three months in the hospital, as the only way to save her leg was to leave an open slit in her foot and wait for the poison to slowly drain out. The process was agonizing, so they kept her sedated most of the time. By the time she was released from the hospital she had only a few months left in her service. She was still weak and her vocal cords had been damaged from the venom and heavy medications, so the army discharged her.
Birgitta needed a clean break from her old life and the army discharge came just in time for her to attend a Bible school in Sweden. It was a perfect opportunity for her to take a year to nurture and solidify herself in God. “This was the period where this “relationship with God-thing” became my relationship with God and not just the thing I believed in because my parents said I should,” she recalled. There she would meet her future husband and together they returned to Israel.
Newly married and back in Israel, Birgitta managed to bring two children into the world while picking up university degrees in education and political science. Upon completion of her school, Birgitta took the reins of running a local believing Kindergarten called, “Little Hearts Preschool,” where she still works today.
It took a lot of hard work to nurture her vocals back to health, and she found it difficult for a while to reproduce the previous intensity she was known for in her singing. Still, the invitations for her to sing kept coming–especially abroad. As travel overseas was difficult with babies, she utilized the time to record an album of traditional Jewish songs and later a second album of Messianic songs she wrote herself.
The Song that Changed Everything
When at home, Birgitta co-led worship at King of Kings congregation in Jerusalem. Then with their kids old enough to stay with their daddy, she began traveling a few times a year to sing at various events in the U.S. and Europe.
“I was on tour with Miqedem in the U.S. when I hummed a melody into my phone and then found several scriptures to plug in for lyrics. I offered the song I titled Melech to some people in Israel who had a worship project they were working on, but they didn’t feel it was good enough and turned me down.
“Gabriel, who was Miqedem’s drummer at the time, also managed the Fellowship of Artists studio back in Jerusalem. He overheard me talking about my disappointment and told me he saw potential in Melech and would take it on himself to produce. That was essentially my introduction to the Fellowship of Artists, Birgitta recalls.
“As soon as I got back to Israel, Gabriel and I sat in the studio and worked through the song Melech, adding a bridge and developing an arrangement. I had recorded many times in my young career and had quickly found the music industry to be a brutal one where often the art of the music itself is lost in the push for commercialism. The FoA, on the other hand, valued the creative process and the people involved in the project. As far as they were concerned, if they were in God’s will and prioritized the Kingdom, the rest would follow.
We released Melech in December 2019 and since then it has been heard over 2 million times online –an incredible feat considering the song is in Hebrew and Israeli worship is not yet a widely appreciated genre.
“The commercial success was great; however, from the beginning I saw the approach at the FoA came from their passion to see the restoration of the ancient calling of Israel in worship –as with the Levites of old. Their practical application for this was to use every resource they had to help musicians, singers and songwriters who would otherwise have no way of developing their giftings on a professional level.
“FoA would help train promising musicians from a young age (through Music Making for Kids), mentor them spiritually so that the level of their skill and the depth of their character developed simultaneously–and when the time comes, release their worship to the public. This vision was very moving to me, and the more involved I got, the more I felt a sense of awe at this holy work that is being done. The absence of God’s presence was a very real thing to me and it’s overwhelming to consider that most Israelis go through life without ever experiencing God. I could see how our worship would become a tangible way to demonstrate the reality of God to Israelis.
“In between lockdowns last year, we released a second song called Ne’eman (Faithful) and are now working on a full album. Seeing how much FoA was pouring into me with what they had, it felt natural to want to give back. I had experience in vocal training and now come regularly to work with the singers.
“It’s an interesting thing that the Levites in the Old Testament were never given inheritances directly from the Lord to build homes like the other tribes were given. Rather, God gave ample land to the tribes and then instructed them to allocate parts of it to the Levites. God wanted all His people to take an active role in caring for the spiritual aspects of their nation.
“This plan also made the Levites vulnerable. They would have a place to call home only if the tribes followed God’s plan. Today I see so many gifted Israeli believers–modern-day Levites, if you will–who are struggling in their pursuit of fulfilling God’s call of worship on their life. I’m so thankful for those around the world who have inherited blessings from the Lord and have chosen to share it with us. I know I can speak for myself and others here in Israel, when we come to the FoA studio to fulfill our calling as worshippers, it feels like home.”