After hearing the words a few times, I was able to return the greeting with a measure of confidence. "Shabbat Shalom!" "Sabbath Peace!"
Tears filled my eyes as I looked around the room. I was standing in the presence of God's people - the Jews. I, a Gentile by birth, along with my Beloved and my 3 Treasures, had the honor and privilege of breaking Sabbath bread with the Jewish Congregation of Iquitos, Peru. What joy filled my heart to know that while I am not Jewish by physical birth, I am Jewish by Spiritual birth! My Saviour lived and walked among these precious people. He was a Jew. Most of the early Christians were Jews. What a rich heritage I have as a Christian!
One of the reasons I love homeschooling is what my children learn in the classroom, we learn as a family! So, as a family, we are studying World Geography this year - continuing from last year. We typically spend 1 week (sometimes 2 - depending on how hectic our schedule is that week) studying a country. We take time to learn about the culture of the countries we are studying, and even try to cook a traditional meal from that country. I love seeing how much the kids are learning and remembering.
Last year, we started a new family tradition. We started celebrating Passover. We want our children to understand that as Christians we are the spiritual seed of Abraham. We want them to know that without the Passover, we wouldn't have salvation - for CHRIST is our Passover! Even though I grew up in church, I never realized what a beautiful, precious picture the Passover is of Salvation - every part of the Passover points to Christ! How exceedingly precious that should be to those of us who are saved! How extremely heart-breaking it is to see how the Jews miss it completely!
This year, I planned our geography lessons so that we could study the country of Israel during the time of Passover. We knew when we moved to Iquitos that there had been a Jewish community here. We weren't sure if there was still Jews here or not. I started searching the Internet (a great tool when used properly), and found that there is still a Jewish community here. We used one of our Family Days to see if we could meet the President of the Jewish Community. God graciously allowed us to meet Señor Jorge. He showed us the Synagogue and the Torah. He even showed the kids the pointer that is used when the Torah is read. They use the pointer to keep their place while reading, as they are not allowed to touch the Torah. And speaking of the Torah, only the Rabbi is allowed to read it. Aren't you thankful that we can read our Bible whenever we please? We don't have to wait for the Rabbi or the Preacher to read it to us! He was so kind and gracious to answer all our questions. We learned that most of the Jews here are descendants of Moroccan Jews who emigrated here to Iquitos during the Rubber Boom. There are about 80 Jews here in Iquitos. Señor Jorge has 3 children, who are all in Israel, serving in the military. The Congregation here doesn't have their own Rabbi (sometimes the Rabbi from Lima comes to visit), but they still gather for a Sabbath service on Fridays. We asked if we could join them for a Sabbath service sometime after Passover. He agreed. That same day, we also went to the main cemetery here in Iquitos and found the section that is the Jewish Cemetery.
On Friday, May 6, we went to the Synagogue and joined the Jewish community for their "Shabbat" (Sabbath) service. Can I be perfectly frank? I don't think I have ever been to a more peaceful service in my entire life. The fact that they love God was so evident! They sang in Hebrew - and we tried! We kept getting lost in their song book - you know their books are "backwards" from ours - they go from back to front - so we kept turning our pages the wrong way! At the end of the service, all the chairs were pushed against the wall and everyone stood in a big circle, each person's hand resting on the shoulder or arm of the person next to them. They included us...can you realize how incredibly special that was - to be included? They sang another beautiful song, then had a blessing for the sons, followed by a blessing for the daughters, which was followed by a blessing for everyone there. Then they sang once more. I couldn't help but think about Heaven and how wonderful it will be to join Christians from all over the world and sing praises to our Heavenly Father and our Saviour Jesus Christ!
At the end, everyone greeted each other with "Shabbat Shalom!" Once again we were included. Maybe they thought it was strange that a white, Gentile family had joined them for that service, but they didn't show it. They included us as though we had grown up with them! Everyone shared bread, and orange soda - some of the Jews had wine instead of the orange soda.
As people left to go home, they went around the room and bid each person "Shabbat Shalom!" "Sabbath Peace!" Peace. Peace in knowing I am saved. Peace in having the privilege to be a friend to God's chosen people. It was an experience I will remember and treasure all my life, and in the stillness of my mind and heart the words still echo....