Bridges of interfaith cooperation are often built by individual service, and BYU students have changed others’ perceptions about their faith even while away from college.
Rachel Kaplan, a full-time student studying to be a Jewish rabbi in Tulsa, Okla., had her faith renewed and life saved by a BYU student’s selfless act.
During last year’s Christmas break, Kaplan braved 15-degree weather to go to Walmart for groceries. However, when she left the store she realized her car keys had slipped off her key ring, leaving her stranded in below-freezing temperatures.
“It was too late — I couldn’t get any money to get a cab, and I couldn’t get back home,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan knew roadside services through AAA or her car insurance were bogged down with calls from the hundreds of others who were also facing difficulties from extreme winter storms.
She realized all her other options were unavailable and turned to her strong faith in the Messiah. Her prayer was answered in the form of a BYU student.
“I sat down in front of the Walmart, and I said, ‘Messiah, you’ve got to help me. I just don’t know what to do.’ All of a sudden Sadie and her mom came in and said, ‘Are you OK?'” Kaplan said.
Sadie Jacobs, a BYU student who was visiting her hometown in Oklahoma for the winter break, and her mother, Kathie Jacobs, saw that Kaplan was in trouble and saw it as an opportunity to help. Kaplan explained her situation and told them she was just trying to get home.
The Jacobses not only offered Kaplan a ride home, but they drove her back to Walmart so she could return home with her own vehicle that same night. During that time, they took the opportunity to share their testimonies with Kaplan.
“They said to me, ‘We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ,'” Kaplan said.
The Jacobs’ continued to explain a bit about their faith in a respectful manner that made a huge impact on Kaplan.
“They were so kind, and they were very gentle and told me about their faith, not in a manner of proselytizing, but just being real, and it made a profound impact on my life,” Kaplan said.
Not only was this action Christ-like but, unbeknownst to the Jacobs family, it was also life-saving. Only a few weeks earlier, Kaplan had suffered a heart attack and was still in a very delicate state of health.
“I usually could’ve walked that, but I would’ve died in that weather,” Kaplan said. She went on to explain, through heartfelt tears, that this experience has brought her closer to Christ and has become one of her few good memories of Christmas.
While Sadie Jacobs’ decision may seem like something anybody could easily do, Kaplan said this was one of the few real Christian acts she has encountered in her lifetime.
“A lot of my family died in the Holocaust,” Kaplan said. “Our memories of Christmas are the stories of family members living in paper-thin clothing and freezing in the barracks. They heard Christmas celebrations in the background while they were dying and being sent off to the gas chambers.”
This service moved Kaplan so much that she called The Universe to express her gratitude, saying the act had changed her view of Christianity for the better.
The movement of Messianic Judaism, to which Kaplan belongs, is different from mainstream movements of Judaism. Jeffrey Chadwick, professor of Jewish studies and comparative religion, explained that while Messianic Jews believe in a Jewish Messiah, they believe the Messiah is, in fact, the risen Jesus Christ.
Messianic Jews suffer a certain lack of acceptance from mainstream Judaism because of their Christian theology, but they have also encountered much difficulty finding across-the-board acceptance within Christianity.
Kathie Jacobs said the experience of helping Kaplan was humbling and helped remind her of the purpose of the Christmas season.
“It was a great reminder to me of the spirit of the season and what we should be focusing on,” Kathie Jacobs said.
Kathie Jacobs said although many people rushed by Kaplan while she sat alone and crying in front of a Walmart, delaying her own shopping to build a bridge with a woman who needed help made her Christmas better.
“She helped us to pause and reflect on what is most important,” she said.