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A visit to Nazareth


January 16, 2003
By Gordon Janzen

A staff member and two young volunteers in Nazareth Village. Photo by Gordon Janzen.

Winnipeg, Man.—About 22 years ago, while traveling with a friend through the Holy Land, I came to see the sights of Nazareth. My friend and I visited the grand Church of the Annunciation in downtown Nazareth. However, since we had seen a dozen other "holy sites" that week, our interest quickly waned, and we took the next bus out of town.

I returned to this town recently to visit Nazareth Village, a holy site unlike any other I have seen, and only 500 meters from where the ancient Nazareth would have been. Jacob, our guide, explained that Nazareth Village is not just a place to display antiquity, but a place to experience the sights, sounds and people as Jesus would have experienced them 2000 years ago.

Nazareth Village functions as an actual community where staff work and interact with each other using first century tools and materials as in Jesus' day. Upon entering the village we met a farmer plowing a field with a team of donkeys. We talked with children picking ripe olives. We met Samir who was building an olive press. And of course we found a man and his son working in a carpentry shop. They were making a wooden plow for the farming operation.

In the middle of the cluster of village homes is the synagogue where we were reminded of Jesus' inaugural sermon in Nazareth. Jacob explained that all the buildings were constructed according to our best archaeological understanding of first century building practices.

But the village is not only about seeing the ancient Jesus. It is also a place to encounter the message of the living Jesus Christ. Michael Hostetler, Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker and director of Nazareth Village, described the village as a place of inter-religious encounter.

As a result of fewer foreign visitors coming because of the current Intifada, Nazareth Village has become a place for local people to visit. Bus loads of school children, both Muslim and Christian, come almost every day from throughout the Galilee area. Nazareth Village has become a place where local Christians are proud to bring their Muslim neighbors. Hostetler tells of one Christian woman who invited her Muslim neighbor, who brought her Jewish friend to Nazareth Village to hear about Jesus.

Throughout our visit, our guide reminded us of Jesus' parables and teachings. As we saw and touched the things of a first century town, our guide reminded us of Jesus ' words in relation to farming, carpentry, bread, wine, olive oil and lamps. At the end of our visit, Jacob gave us each a clay oil lamp and read Jesus' words from the Bible, "You are light of the world."

Gordon Janzen, Mission Partnership Facilitator for Asia and Middle East, visited Israel in November with colleagues from Mennonite Mission Network.