In 1991, the political and economic stability of Ethiopia deteriorated, as rebels mounted attacks against and eventually controlled the capital city of Addis Ababa. Worried about the fate of the Jews during the transition period, the Israeli government along with several private groups prepared to covertly bring the entire Jewish population to Israel (Solomon Operation). Over the course of the next 36 hours, a total of 34 passenger planes, with their seats removed to maximize passenger capacity, flew 14,325 of the Jews of Ethiopia non-stop to Israel. More daring operations continued during 1992-1999.
Ethiopians are gradually becoming part of the mainstream Israeli society in religious life, military service (with nearly all males doing national service), education, and politics. Similarly to other groups of immigrant Jews, who made aliya (immigrated) to Israel, the Ethiopians have faced obstacles in their integration to Israeli society. Most of the 100,000 Ethiopian Beta Israel living in Israel are immigrants and descendants of two main waves, the first in 1981-1984 and the second in 1991. These airlifts were known as Operation Moses and Operation Solomon, respectively. Civil war and famine in Ethiopia prompted the Israeli government to mount these dramatic rescue operations. The rescues were within the context of Israel's national mission to gather Diaspora Jews and bring them to the Jewish homeland. Ethiopian Jews are still being brought to Israel on a regular basis (there is a very small community still scattered there). Through absorption centers that provide "giant baby steps" into civilization, these wonderful people become a part of the Israeli family.
The Torch Of Gideon congregation was founded in 1985 by three believing brothers and sisters who immigrated from Ethiopia to Israel. Although the work was very difficult and was fraught with many challenges and opposition, God could grow the ministry. As the Lord performed wonders among the small congregation in the areas of healing the sick, setting the youth free from drugs and alcohol, and working of miracles, the testimonies began to spread and people began to come to the house of the Lord receiving salvation.
The numbers began to increase until there were too many to meet in one place so The Lord said to separate into five congregations in the cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya, Ramla and Ashdod where members meet in rented buildings and homes. Each location has elders, pastors and teachers but the founding pastor, belay Birlie, travels to a different city each week to encourage and disciple each congregation's leaders and members.
Pastor Birlie has faced great opposition for many years from ultra religious elements who have tried to stop his ministry but they were not successful in stopping him. The Torch Of Gideon congregation (now member of the COGIC family) are seeing people healed of diseases such as cancer and HIV, and hundreds have been saved and come to know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is called Yeshua. Hallelujah!!