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In Baltimore, an Adventist Aims to Teach Jews About the Messiah
Story by Taashi Rowe
Pictured from left: Purnell and Barbara Jones, Stephanie Swecker, Yehuda Mordechai, Hank Jankowski and John West. In the front are Noah Stone and Florence Rogers-Smith.
If you are ever in Baltimore on a Friday evening, you can find Yehuda Mordechai in the basement of an old Jewish synagogue. Allegheny East Conference’s Berea Temple now occupies the building, but its Jewish history holds special significance to Mordechai, who is working to build up the newly established Baltimore Hebrew Adventist congregation in an area with a large Jewish population. It is in this place that Mordechai leads a Friday night Shabbat service designed to reach Jews for Jesus.
Some 30 years ago, Mordechai, who grew up a secular Jew in Washington, D.C., accepted Jesus (Yeshua) and was baptized into Potomac Conference’s Capital Memorial church in D.C. He considers himself as much of a Seventh-day Adventist as he is a Jew, and longs to share the parallels between the two faith traditions with his fellow Jews, one of which is the Sabbath. Other similarities include belief in one God and the coming of the Messiah.
However, he wants to make one thing clear, “You never forsake Jewishness when you accept Yeshua (Jesus), you only become more complete. Messianic Jews are Jews for life.”
On a recent Friday night, the members of the small group welcomed the Sabbath (Shabbat) by blowing the shofar horn, lighting candles, drinking grape juice, singing songs in Hebrew and studying the Bible. “Shabbat is a celebration,” Mordechai says. “Shabbat is an opportunity to get together as [God’s] children—it’s a reminder that we are His children.”
He adds, “Some say Shabbat is only for Jews, but we don’t believe that way. We believe the whole law of God covers all of humanity.”
Shabbat is sacred to orthodox Jews, just as it is sacred to Adventists. However, for Jews there are multiple centuries-old rituals involved in welcoming the Sabbath. For those who wouldn’t feel comfortable at a typical Adventist church service, Mordechai sees incorporating these customs into the Shabbat service as his entering wedge.
All of the attendees spoke of how much they appreciated the service. This particular Friday evening was John West’s first time visiting the group. He knows Mordechai from multiple other Jewish gatherings across the city. As he spoke, his voice quaked with emotion, “I believe the kingdom is at hand. I’m a member of an Owings Mill congregation, but I came here to see what this service was about and how I can be a part of it.” As a trained singer and musician, he can already see how he will minister here.
During prayer, Hank Jankowski said, “I’m thankful for this gathering of people committed to You and longing to see Your kingdom.”
The group welcomes gentiles as well. Stephanie Swecker, a member of Chesapeake Conference’s Northeast (Md.) church, says, “I have always been concerned about the Jewish people, and have been looking for ways to get involved. I think in these end times we need to reach out to the originators of Christianity.”
Florence Rogers-Smith, a gentile and member of Berea Temple, comes faithfully to each Shabbat service. She served as a literature evangelist for 27 years and says, “This service was an answer to me. It feeds me, and I’m learning more about the Jewish culture.” The latter point is important to her because she wants to know how to reach her Jewish landlord for Christ.
Though their numbers are few, Mordechai continues to share the message of Christ’s saving grace from a Jewish perspective in Baltimore. And for people like Noah Stone, a musician, that message is comforting. “It’s great to be here,” he says. “I really believe that God is going to bring us back together from all the many places we’ve been splintered.”
The group is celebrating high holiday services for Rosh Hashana on Monday, September 17 at 10 a.m. at Lake Centennial Park in Columbia, Md. They are also planning to join another group for Yom Kippur on September 26. For more information, contact Mordechai at (410) 358-1328.
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