Observing the Sabbath at Matthew House

At the beginning of March, Matthew House had the honor of having a young woman from Israel come in and stay with us for a day. V.R. had never been to Matthew House before, but she decided to give us a call because her brother is incarcerated at Monroe Correctional Complex, and she wanted to look into all of her options as to where she could stay for the duration of her visit. V.R. let us know how important this visit was for her because she hadn’t seen her brother in two years.

We of course told her that we would love to have her stay with us, to which she expressed her thankfulness and gratitude towards our ministry and what we do. But there was just one thing – she would be staying with us during her Sabbath. For Christians, we tend to think of Sunday as being our Sabbath, but for Jews their Sabbath extends from Friday evening into Saturday evening. We thought that meant that V.R. would only be visiting her brother and then resting. We soon found out that it would be a lot more than that.

During their Sabbath, many Jews, especially within Orthodox Judaism, are restricted from using electricity (Exodus 35:3 talks about not kindling a spark). Now, I know what you’re thinking: how does anybody get by for two days without using any electricity? And what does that specifically mean? Just as it sounds…they’re unable to use anything that requires electricity. No driving cars because when you start the engine there is an electric spark. No cell phone use or watching television. Kitchen appliances that have to be plugged in can’t be used either. However, what surprised us the most was that V.R. couldn’t use any of the lights; she couldn’t turn them on or off, she wasn’t even allowed to touch them herself. What if she needed to get up and do something in the middle of the night? How would she be able to see?

After taking some time to research, our executive director Linda learned that as long as a light in the room was already on by the time her Sabbath started, she could leave that light on. Linda then went out and bought a small plug-in night light and turned it on the day before V.R. was scheduled to come in.

We thought we had figured everything out, she would surely run into no other problems during her stay. But then, something else was quickly brought to our attention. In order to get into the apartments where she would be staying, V.R. would need to go through a set of doors, and each were only accessible by electric key pads. How would she be able to get inside after her visit? Her visiting time was due to last past when we closed at 5pm. We would be home for the night. A.C. had come up to visit from Wenatchee and was staying upstairs (in a separate apartment) as well, but how would she know when V.R. was back and needing to get in? Would she for sure be able to hear her knocking on the front door from her apartment?

Linda couldn’t simply rely on that in case something were to go wrong. So, she agreed to come back to Matthew House at 8:30PM to let V.R. into the building and into her apartment. When the time came, Linda did just that, and V.R. was safe and turned in for the night in her room, where her small night-light beamed.

After visitation was over that following Saturday, V.R. came back to Matthew House to see Linda before she was set to head out. They sat in the kitchen for an hour, where V.R. revealed that this visit was necessary because she didn’t know if she would be able to visit her brother again while he’s in prison, as it is too costly to come from Israel to Monroe. Linda told her that she was sorry for such an unfortunate circumstance, but V.R. noted that it was OK because she was able to see him when she did. With that, she was on her way.

It’s interesting when you think about all of the women and children who stay at Matthew House. We’ve had women and children stay with us from all over the United States, and even had visitors from each of the seven continents stay with us. We are so thankful that we are able to meet such a diverse group of people and appreciate all of the new experiences that we are able to share with them through our organization.

 

Matthew House is an organization dedicated to assisting children and the families of people incarcerated in Washington’s prisons. When a man is convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison, society often breathes a sigh of relief and says “good riddance.” Left behind, though, are the wives and children. They are left to face increased responsibilities on reduced incomes. They are often abandoned by family for being married to a prisoner. These are the lonely, forgotten lives in the criminal justice system.

Matthew House exists to support these families with a clothing closet, a food pantry, shelter in our three apartments, transportation to various prisons throughout the State, childcare and adult counseling. Studies prove that inmates who are locked up and forgotten are likely to reoffend when they are released. But those who receive visits and are released to supportive families have a much better chance of living a crime free life.

 

One thought on “Observing the Sabbath at Matthew House

  1. I’m so grateful that Matthew House is doing such careful (care-full!) work on behalf of these mostly ignored folks. Thank you for sharing this eye-opening story.

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