In the picture: Stefanos from Beresheet (Genesis) congregation.
Last month I told you the story of Desu, one of the three “boys” who, together with Pastor David Safafa and his wife Tigist, make up the leadership of Beresheet (Hebrew for Genesis). It is one of the youngest and fastest-growing congregations in Israel. And by youngest, I mean both natural in age—and young spiritually, as the majority of the congregants have come to the Lord in the past few years through David Safafa and Beresheet’s outreach.
At first, I attempted to squeeze a summary of all three of their testimonies into one article. But I quickly realized each was unique and it would be so worth taking the time to share the testimony of each of these young men. So without further ado—here is testimony number two!
I was born in Wonji, Ethiopia, near a larger town ironically called Nazareth. We lived in a small home built from mud bricks in a neighborhood of homes that looked much like ours. We had a yard of dirt. Nothing grandiose but it gave us room to run around and play. My father worked as head of the guards at a paper mill and my mother took care of the kids at home.
I knew of places that existed outside of Ethiopia, but Israel was not one of them as my parents told me nothing of my being Jewish. This was largely because my mother had left home at 13 for the promise of a family who said they would fly her to the U.S. to further her education. In reality, they kept her in Ethiopia and made her into their housekeeper. So, at the age of 14 she ran away from them and took on various jobs until she married at the age of 18. She never went back to her family and thus abandoned anything having to do with her Jewish heritage.
Then suddenly I remember as a child, there began this chatter between my parents on the topic of Israel and our Jewish heritage—and making Aliyah (immigrating)! And before I knew what was happening, at the age of 10, the fifth of 6 children, I was stepping off a plane and into my new home in Jerusalem.
As with most Ethiopian arrivals, we began our journey in a caravan absorption neighborhood with programs designed to teach us Hebrew and integrate us into Israeli culture. After learning Hebrew, I was placed in a religious Jewish school and within two years we were granted benefits to help us purchase our own apartment. My mother stayed home with us kids and my father took on cleaning jobs. My dad loves cleaning. He’s 80 and he still cleans and is always looking for more hours to clean!
“On paper” as they say, I had it better than most Ethiopian Aliyah stories because I had both parents married and living at home. But paper is paper, and reality is always more complex than paper.
I passed each grade somehow, but never did well in school academically and of course by the ninth grade smoking weed was the standard pastime of everyone around me. My final three years of high school were spent in an agricultural boarding school where I learned to work the land and care for farm animals. Like my dad, I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with hard work, so I did well in that setting.
When army time came, I wanted something challenging, so I requested to be placed in the Golani combat unit. Unfortunately, they didn’t see me as a good fit and gave me an incredibly mind-numbing job. After two years of struggling in this position the army released me into civilian life.
For the first time, entirely on my own and without any formal skills or licenses, I landed a job as an assistant to an electrician. It was a good job. But two years into it, a friend of mine connected me with an entertainment production company and I jumped at the opportunity. The next amazing five years of my life I spent building stages for huge events all over the country.
I loved the dynamics of this job. I got to work with my hands and every day we were somewhere else building something different. These years had many good memories, but the constant weed smoking took its toll on my mind. I lost motivation and one day, at the age of 26, I just left the job and never went back.
Between the ages of 26 and 32 I lived the life of a common criminal. I didn’t even have to try. Everyone in my neighborhood lived like that; it was how normal life was done. I was arrested several times and had my house searched by the police more than once. Of course, they found stuff, and I eventually spent a year in prison.
Around the age of 30 I met a woman named Masret. We developed a relationship quickly and by the time I was sent to prison we already had two kids together. Masret had her own addiction problems but while I was in prison, she put herself through a rehab where she was not only delivered from her addiction but came to know the Lord!
That year in prison, away from my family, tamed me. Once I got out, I didn’t want to do anything that would risk me going back to prison. But I couldn’t seem to give up smoking weed. I got a job as a mover (which I still do today) and did everything I could to be around at home for the kids.
I had a friend named Desu I had known from my trouble-making years. We were always together doing the craziest things. Then sometimes we’d be smoking weed together and Desu would bring up reading Scriptures. I would tell him I wasn’t interested because my mind was so hazy I couldn’t even understand what he was talking about.Then, just before I ended up in prison we had a big fight, so it would be a while before I’d see him again.
About a year after I got out, and just before COVID hit, my sister, who had been a believer for a long time, came to me and asked me if I would go with her and pray with Pastor Tal, an Ethiopian pastor in Jerusalem. I have no idea why I agreed. I was high and my thoughts were fuzzy so I just thought to myself, “Sure, I guess it can’t hurt.”
I met the pastor, and he asked me to read the verses— from Ephesians about not wrestling with flesh and blood. I read it but I didn’t really understand what it was talking about. Then suddenly I began crying with no idea why. The experience was powerful and I left that place born again! When I went home that day, I wanted things to change. We would start over. It was like getting to know my children’s mother all over again.
As part of turning my life around I tried attending Pastor Tal’s congregation. However, as amazing a man of God as he was, the members of his congregation were older and the meetings were in Amharic which I could understand, but couldn’t read or write as I had been educated in Israel. So sitting through the services was difficult for me.
Then one day I went to the grocery store and bumped into Desu. It had been over a year since we’d had our big fight and it seemed we both felt it to be a good time to make up. We started talking when I realized Desu was witnessing to me. I laughed when I realized it and told him, “I’m already with the Lord!” It was a strange conversation since we had both known each other from a world of drugs and troublemaking and suddenly both of us were using phrases like “God is good!”
I told him of my struggle with finding a congregation where I could be with likeminded believers but who spoke Hebrew. He got all excited and started telling me about Beresheet (Genesis), the new congregation his brother David was planting in his home. I was all in. Since then, our congregation has moved three times because we’ve grown so fast. I spend all my free time helping any way I can. I go anywhere I’m asked to help anyone who needs it, and I love using my skills to fix anything in the congregation’s building where we meet. I even had the privilege of helping Ari and Shira pack up their home when they were moving to be closer to where Kobi and Shani live.
It took another year or two as COVID hit right around this time, but as we grew in our faith, Masret and I spent time getting counseling and stabilizing our lives and just this spring officially tied the knot before the Lord and all our friends and family.
Every time Desu and I look back on our journey together we just can’t believe how far we’ve come and ended up on the same team! But of course, if you noticed in the photo there are three of us on David’s leadership team—Desu, myself and Assaf. And you could argue that Assaf’s story is crazier than both of our stories combined.
To Be Continued…