HERMISTON - Movies and popcorn, chocolate and cake, summer and watermelon. These are some of the great combinations of life.

But Jews and Christians?

Hardly a combination that customarily makes the top-100 list of two things that work well together.

But the Rev. Joe Gonzalez and his wife, Sheila, of Hermiston, have shown it not only works, but it can work very well.

Joe and Sheila met at high school in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles during the 1960s. He was Cuban and raised Roman Catholic. She was Jewish and raised in the synagogue.

"He was quite a different animal there," Sheila said. "Most everyone was Jewish."

The couple knew of each other in high school because Joe dated one of Sheila's friends.

It wasn't until they both arrived at Los Angeles City College that they had their first date.

"We met, fell in love and are still in love," Joe said.

At the time of their marriage, neither were believers in Jesus Christ, Joe said.

"When we were getting serious, Joe made a statement. He said 'God is great, he knew we'd hit it off, but he made one mistake, me Catholic, you Jewish,'" Sheila said. "I told him I knew God would fix everything. I just didn't know how."

They were married by a Jewish rabbi in a fairly traditional, but non-orthodox wedding.

Sheila said she had been looking for a more personal relationship with God since her younger years growing up in a synagogue.

After they married, the couple moved to Palm Springs, where Joe worked in radio and Sheila felt like a fish out of water.

It was her mother who gave her a Bible to read during the lonely hours.

"I took it to heart," Sheila said. "I talked with a friend who convinced me to read the New Testament. She told me it would all come together."

"She had a desire to know more about who God was. I, on the other hand, didn't care," Joe said.

Sheila began attending a Baptist church and was the first to become a believer.

"I was amazed to hear the minister reading from the New Testament," Sheila said. "Until that point, Jesus was yours. I had my God."

She read the Old and New Testament with the pastor. At one session he asked a pointed question about what she believed.

"He said, 'No man cometh to the father except through the messiah. You accept Jesus or you reject him.' I needed to accept him and my life, my Jewishness would make sense."

She accepted Jesus and called Joe and told him about her acceptance. She was worried; she wanted him to accept Jesus into his life.

"It pulled us together," Sheila said.

"God worked it out," Joe said. "We both accepted the Messiah."

Sheila is still Jewish and Christian, a Messianic Jew.

"All that means is that I'm a Jewish person who has accepted the fact that the Messiah has come," she said.

The couple has three grown children, Jeremiah and Timothy, both of Walla Walla, and Tamara of Hermiston and two granddaughters, Rachel and Riley. One of the biggest dilemmas facing the couple was how to raise them.

"Before we came to know Christ, the idea was to raise them so many years as Jewish and then so many as Catholic," Joe said. "Then they could choose - not a good philosophy."

As their family grew they came to understand more of what it meant to be Jewish. The family celebrates some of the Jewish feasts and traditions, and celebrates Christian traditions as well.

"We want to do Biblical Judaism, which is now called Christianity, because we follow the messiah," Joe said. "As a family we had lots of fun visiting temples and celebrating with Jewish people."

They have a Judiaca table - "all things Jewish" - including candle holders and incense that are found in most Jewish homes. They have a Mezuzah on their front door. The Mezuzah is a parchment scroll inscribed with Biblical passages.

The reason for the Mezuzah is a reminder as you come and go to keep "God in your heart and keep your eyes on God," Joe said.

After Joe became a Christian, he dove in head first to eventually become a Baptist minister. He was ordained in 1978.

"People say I don't look like a Jose Gonzalez," Joe said. "I don't consider myself a person of color, but I have a name of color. What my wife and I see ourselves as is bridge builders."

Sheila teaches Messianic dance and Davidic worship on Thursday evenings at Grace Baptist Church in Hermiston.

"My wife can build bridges to the Jewish community. I on the other hand can understand a people of a different culture - people of Mexico - but I see myself as American," Joe said.

Joe preaches at Grace Baptist Church, conducting services in Spanish to "bring people together in the Christ Culture."

"By our situation we try to bring this about, to bridge or tear down walls, and bring everyone together as one body," Joe said. "It is not about church growth, it's about changing lives so everyone can live in our community."

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