It had long been a dream of ours to visit the Holy Land, and our 40th anniversary seemed like a good time (only the visit came a year and a half later!) We weren’t drawn to the idea of an organized tour, with its hurry-up pace, and when friends mentioned Nazareth Village, we started investigating. We didn’t know about the 150 year old history of the Nazareth Hospital, or how it was started by an Armenian who, taught in school by an American, later studied to be a doctor in Scotland and ended up in Nazareth, sometime near the start of the American Civil War. Interesting stuff! So, after filling out some papers (we discovered SERVE Nazareth) and a Skype call with a couple of matronly (we thought!) ladies, we boarded the plane and arrived in Nazareth the week before Holy Week, 2018.
My work consisted in accompanying Simon, a chaplaincy volunteer, at the hospital a couple of mornings a week. He’s a born evangelist, and it was good to see him at work, delicately presenting Jesus to people belonging to 3 major religions
The next day (this sounds like the gospel of John!) SERVE organized a tour out to the Sea of Galilee and though still somewhat in our travel stupor, we were amazed/thrilled at seeing places where Jesus actually walked, called his disciples, preached and healed. (He probably ate and slept there too, but that somehow didn’t seem important.) We were also bewildered at the banana plantations near the shores of the Sea. The Bible doesn’t mention bananas, does it? Seemed a little out of place (though we later discovered the bananas were really good!).
The name SERVE Nazareth is really quite descriptive. We were there to serve, and serve we did, but the SERVE directors were always serving us, organizing trips, offering advice, showing us around, making sure we had lunch or dinner in the fridge, and just being friends. (Thank you, Christine and Jane! Getting to know you dispelled the “matronly” idea! You are now, a Brit and a Yank, “grafted in” to Nazarene culture.) Nevertheless, we did eat at the Hospital canteen, which in my American English means something different. They served more than drink, however, and the food was tasty – for a hospital! I think I had more cabbage that month than usually eaten in a year’s time!
My work consisted in accompanying Simon, a chaplaincy volunteer, at the hospital a couple of mornings a week. He’s a born evangelist, and it was good to see him at work, delicately presenting Jesus to people belonging to 3 major religions, all stuck in one place for a variety of health reasons. I couldn’t communicate much with people, but could pray! Judi was with the babies in the maternity ward. Being a nurse, she loved it, and not communicating wasn’t a big deal, since babies don’t talk. But they can cry!
The rest of the time, after figuring out how to fashion a turban out of a piece of cloth, I helped out at the Village as a villager (that seems obvious!), pulling weeds, being a shepherd, or just walking around acting like I knew what I was doing. It was kind of like being in my own little world, as glasses weren’t permitted (Jesus probably didn’t wear them either). But I met a number of wonderful people such as Samir, the general boss, and his wife, Abla, boss of the kitchen, Abu El Rabie, Shawkat, several other local youth whom I admire greatly, and a bunch of others. All of them have interesting stories! It’s not easy to be a Christian in Israel, much less if you’re young. Getting to know these people was a special blessing, as was getting to know Elias, a fellow “elder” in the Passion Play. We had a wonderful evening (and food!) with him and his family. Discovered he was a rabid Liverpool fan!
a very enriching experience, plus the travel we were encouraged to do in the rest of the Land, where on one excursion, Judi was baptized in the Jordan River
Judi’s Village time was mostly spent helping out in the gift shop, as her eyesight is worse than mine, and she really can’t do without her glasses. (She does have a lot of insight, though!) And then we packed the give-away lamps in little sacks. Everybody who comes to serve does that at some point! Tedious, but strangely enjoyable! We even discovered after getting home that they work! But with olive oil, not the “oil” stores sell for other lamps. That’s too flammable, as we found out!
The Village family was fascinating, a mix of cultures: locals, from experienced veterans to hard-working middle-aged to expectant youth, plus Americans, Europeans, and who knows what else, all with unique personalities, opinions, abilities and gifts, likes and dislikes, various strains of faith, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not, but all committed to working together. (Does this sound like a typical church family?) It was a joy to watch them and learn to drink Arabic coffee with them on breaks or at lunch.
All in all, a very enriching experience, plus the travel we were encouraged to do in the rest of the Land, where on one excursion, Judi was baptized in the Jordan River, a highlight for her. Mine was probably, while pulling weeds, listening to the lambs crying, which gave rise to a song of the same name.
Would we do it again? You bet! But next time with contact lenses for Judi so she can go out on the Land! Maybe we’ll come back and do the Jesus Trail or the bike ride. No, I take that back. Better stick to the trail!
Paul and Judi