On another trip, Lightle and a team of international intercessors stood outside the Moscow office of then-president Mikhail Gorbachev and repeated words that the Old Testament prophet Samuel spoke to King Saul of Israel: "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you as king" (see 1 Sam. 15:26).
As they walked along the walls of the Kremlin and noticed a large red star perched atop a tower, one of the intercessors was reminded of Revelation 8:10-11, which describes a great star falling from heaven.
Later, the men took a midnight walk to the Moscow River where they tied a stone to a Bible, in which they had marked passages about judgment, and threw it into the icy water.
Four months later, in April 1986, an explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine sent a lethal plume of radiation over the Soviet Union's prime farmland and water supply. As news of the disaster spread around the world, the intercessors read a New York Times article about a prominent Russian writer who had made a link to the judgment falling on the Soviet Union. He cited the same chapter in Revelation the prayer team had read months earlier in Moscow, how a star called "Wormwood" would turn bitter one-third of the water (see v. 11).
The writer explained that the Ukrainian word for "wormwood"--a bitter herb used as a tonic in Russia--is chernobyl. Gorbachev later admitted that the disaster shook the country, calling it "a turning point."
In December 1989, as the Soviet Union began to dissolve, Gorbachev issued a reform to ease restrictions on Jewish emigration. Within 13 months, nearly 200,000 Soviet Jews had made aliyah.
The Doors Open
In 1991 the exodus gained momentum when Gustav Scheller, who operated a tour and travel company in England, founded Ebenezer Emergency Fund. The name is Hebrew, meaning "thus far the Lord helped." Scheller says God inspired in him a vision for the ministry while he was attending an international prayer conference in Jerusalem during the Persian Gulf War.
As Christians around the world responded with prayer and finances, Ebenezer Fund began transporting Jews to Israel by chartered planes. The ministry then completed three sailings, transporting Jews from Odessa to Haifa. Today Ebenezer Fund has volunteers scattered throughout the former Soviet Union to locate Jews, teach them God's promises and encourage them to make aliyah.
Scheller died in February at age 70, but his work continues. In his book, Operation Exodus: Prophecy Being Fulfilled, Scheller compares the exodus today with Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. He says God the Father's heart is broken and that He longs for His children to return home.
"Then He showed me the elder brother," Scheller writes. "We are the elder brother--because the overwhelming majority who live in the body of Christ do not care about God's chosen people, do not care what is happening with Israel. The Father is grieving over the attitude of the elder brother."
Deborah Kellogg adds: "The Lord told me He's calling the church before He comes back to become a servant to the Jewish people," she says. "Jesus wants us to help them come home and be restored. Serving is a low position in man's eyes, but not in God's."
But the serving does not stop when the refugees arrive in Haifa. Once in Israel, as legal immigrants, they receive assistance from both the government and humanitarian organizations. For some, new challenges begin when they step off the plane or the ship.
"Some come with certain social problems," says Barry Segal, a Jewish believer who with his wife, Batya, operate a charity in Jerusalem called Vision for Israel. "There is a high rate of divorce, stress and family breakups. It's not enough just to bring Jews home from the nations of the world to Israel. We need to provide humanitarian aid to make their absorption successful."
Segal's organization includes the Joseph Storehouse, an aid center that distributes emergency supplies to Jews and Arabs. "We are trying to be the Wal-Mart of humanitarian aid in Israel," he says. "We feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give out vast amounts of medical supplies. We're trying to be a reflection of God's love to the people here."
From Fear to Joy
Back on the docks of Odessa, the sight of Christians working with the aliyah has surprised and confused many Jewish refugees, who have a perception of the church inflicting only pain and suffering. As they board ships in the Ukraine, Jews sometimes weep when they see Christians carrying their luggage and comforting passengers frightened by abusive customs agents.
Cruel and intimidating reprisals by customs officials against Jewish families waiting to board ship are not uncommon. Lightle and Kellogg recall how one Jewish woman had the flesh torn from a finger as an official stripped off her wedding band. An 11-year-old girl had a Star of David necklace ripped from her neck.
"Children would become hysterical when they came into the customs area," says Kellogg, who was the Ebenezer Fund's U.S. coordinator before beginning her own ministry. "They were afraid something would happen to them. These people had already faced persecution. I'd hold fearful ladies in my arms and comfort them. That's what we're called to do."
Yet they say the refugees' fear and anxiety melt away as they sail out of port. Fear turns to laughter for children as they play in the pool on board. For Lightle, the most moving scene is when the coastline of Israel comes into view.
"When their eyes first catch a glimpse of the seashore they just burst out in joy," he says. "People are cheering. I've never been to a New Year's Eve party that can compare with it. Everyone runs to the bow to see the shore."
Yet the joy of seeing Israel's coast is only a part of the fulfillment of God's plan for the Jewish people. Segal believes God also is removing spiritual blindness in Israel.
"We're seeing an opening of the heart of the Jewish people to their coming Messiah," he says. "More Jewish people are coming to Yeshua [Jesus] now than any other time since the days of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit."
Christians working to help make this possible pray that all the church will see the aliyah for what it is--a homecoming that, like the prodigal son's, thrills the Father's heart and is worth celebrating. *
Jeff King is a freelance writer and newspaper design editor in Seattle. He lives in Marysville, Wash.
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