by Dr. Theresa Newell
In 1982, I had the honor of meeting the Rev. Eric and Mrs. Christine Payne who had served with CMJ in Ethiopia among the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) for many years. It was Christine’s father, Frederick Flad, who had been the third generation of workers among the group sometimes known as the Felasha.1
Workers from CMJ and other missions had traveled to Ethiopia since the 1820s as the first Protestants to work there. How Jews came to be in Ethiopia is traced to a ninth-century man from the tribe of Dan who crossed from Arabia to the area. Because they were cut off from Judaism and its practices, the Beta Israel used only the first eight books of the Bible as inspired. They knew nothing of the oral law written into the Talmud and Mishnah after AD 70. As a result, they continued the office of High Priest and animal sacrifices, circumcised their sons on the eighth day after birth, and kept the yearly feasts.
Three names stand out in the early work among the Ethiopian Jews:
- Samuel Gobat, who became the second bishop of Jerusalem after his time in Ethiopia
- John Martin Flad, whose family remained involved for four generations
- Henry Aaron Stern, a Jewish believer and CMJ’s pioneer Ethiopian worker.
Gobat, a French-speaking Swiss, served under the Church Mission Society from 1826- 1838. The Bible had been translated into Amharic earlier, and Gobat brought Bibles in that language into the country. By the 1850s, Flad arrived in Ethiopia after being married at Christ Church Jerusalem. He established a boys’ school where the Bible was taught. It was a difficult assignment due to the extreme terrain and weather. Several workers died of cholera and sunstroke during this period.
Henry Stern was born of Jewish parents in Germany in 1820. He traveled to London and there became a believer in the Jewish Messiah through services held by CMJ. After studying in the CMJ training school, he was sent to Jerusalem to work under Bishop Michael Solomon Alexander2 who ordained Stern. From there he went, in Arab dress, to Baghdad, Persia, Saudi, and Yemen preaching among the Jews.
He was commissioned by CMJ to go to Ethiopia in 1860 where he had great success and reported to CMJ London: “I was amazed at the excitement created by our preaching through the various provinces we visited.” The first believers among the Ethiopian Jews came in July 1862 when 41 confessed their faith in Jesus and were baptized. The first indigenous leaders came from this group of believers by 1870.
Eric Payne, whom I met at our CMJ conference in 1982, arrived in Addis Ababa in January 1946. Payne moved the mission center to Dabat. In 1951, Payne married the youngest daughter of the Frederick Flad family, Christine, and they continued the work in Ethiopia together! Other CMJ workers remained in Ethiopia until 1979.
Return to Zion
When Israel became a state in 1948, hundreds of the Beta Israel were brought home to the Land in successive waves! A massive airlift called Operation Moses began in 1984 followed by Operation Solomon in 1990. A year later an airlift took 15,000 Jewish Ethiopians to Israel. Some among them were believers in Yeshua due to the work over the years by CMJ workers. Pray for this Beta Israel group who have made difficult adjustments at so many levels as they have made aliyah into Israel, many with only the clothes on their backs.
1 Felasha in the Amharic language means “exile” or “immigrant” and was a derogatory term given to this people group by others.
2 Crombie, Kelvin. A Jewish Bishop in Jerusalem: The life story of Michael Solomon Alexander. (Jerusalem: Nicholayson’s Ltd.) 2006.
Help Israel's Ethiopian Jews
Over the past year, the Christ Church Mercy Fund has embarked on a multi-layer initiative within the Ethiopian community in Israel. Government-funded studies have shown that the Ethiopian sector of Israeli society is among the lowest in terms of household income, higher education, and local language proficiency.
The Mercy Fund team, with the help of our friends from all around the world, has been able to distribute eighty 55-pound sacks of teff flour and forty 25-pound food packages. These sacks of flour, which are the basic staple of the Ethiopian diet, provide the base ingredients for 60-80 meals for a five-person family.
Looking forward, the Mercy Fund expects to do more distributions of teff flour. Family budgeting seminars have begun for the families who receive the teff, to equip them with the tools to thrive in a modern economy.
A third step of the initiative will launch where the older generation of the community will receive Hebrew lessons.
To give to the Teff Initiative, please chose Mercy Fund and write "Teff" in the memo line.
Image by Alan Davy via Flickr (cc)