NAZARETH, Galilee (Mennonite Mission Network/MennoJerusalem) — Several years ago, during the height of the armed intifada in Israel and Palestine, a worker arrived at Nazareth Village one morning to find all of the sheep had been lost. A gift from Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter allowed the village to purchase more animals.
In January 2006, Rosalynn Carter finally had a chance to see the lambs that were, if not found, at least replaced.
On Jan. 26, villagers in authentic costumes were hoeing around olive trees as the farmer worked his way through a flock of sheep to carry a newborn lamb toward the former first lady. The Carter family and entourage were enthralled, and stroked its silky white face. Even the security service personnel pressed closer.
Roth named Nazareth Village director
When Shirley Roth arrived in Nazareth in June 2005 to serve Nazareth Village on a seven-month, interim basis, she lived in a household of Arab Christians. The family became her family.
Roth said the community and hospitality of that family has helped her fall in love with the Nazareth culture and has deepened her commitment to the village and the region. For that reason, and others, she has decided to stay in Nazareth and recently was appointed director of Nazareth Village.
Roth, whose background includes experience as a management consultant, educator, grant writer, and director of community-based programs in the health care field, grew up in Belleville, Pa., and spent most of her adult life living and working in the Washington area. She and her late husband, Jay, were involved in extending hospitality to many international people over the years — some becoming extended family members. She, too, understands hospitality.
“The richness of these relationships and experiences provides a wonderful springboard for my role here in the village of greeting and connecting with people from very diverse religious and cultural backgrounds,” Roth said.
A volunteer through Mennonite Mission Network, Roth succeeds former director D. Michael Hostetler who, with his wife Virginia and family, moved to Kitchener, Ontario, for two years of speaking with churches, institutions, and community groups about the Nazareth Village international mission and vision.
“This is one of the offspring of your sheep,” the village farmer told Carter. “Your donation for replacements helped us get started again. We’ve recently added two new sets of twins, and two more singles.”
Carter was delighted, having briefly forgotten about that earlier gift at a time of urgent need, when the intifada had reduced international visitors to a trickle.
Shirley Roth, Nazareth Village director, said sheep were vital to the operation of the village, which re-creates a first-century Nazareth setting.
“Sheep were essential animals for life in the first century — milk products such as cheese, butter; tallow for cooking; wool spun and woven into clothes; meat for feast days and special celebrations,” Roth said.
“It makes me feel like I’m right in a biblical setting,” said Carter, who visited the village with her daughter Amy and son Jeff – her first visit to the site she has supported for years and currently serves, with her husband, as an honorary trustee.
While her husband was pressed with supervisory follow-up to the Palestinian elections through the organizational work of the Carter Center, the rest of the family got up early for the two-hour ride from Jerusalem to Nazareth, then rushed back again in time for a late-morning briefing on the elections.
“I’m so glad I could be included in this visit,” Amy Carter told Roth. “It was really worthwhile to make the trip — even in the rain.”
Accompanied by Nazareth Mayor Ramez Jaraisy and members of the village’s board of directors, they walked along the pathway through the farm, climbing between the terraces of vineyards, and up to the only existing reconstructed first-century synagogue of Jesus’ time.
The group stopped by one of the village houses for a brief demonstration of domestic Jewish life under the Romans of that time. Hot herbal tea taken on stools around a low table, olives and cucumbers, hummus and zatar (thyme) to dip the hot flat bread just baked atop an outdoor fire near the well in the courtyard — the setting could have been typical of Mary and Joseph’s own home thought to be just 500 meters away in this ancient Galilean town.
“The Parable Walk was so meaningful for me,” said Rosalynn Carter as they moved down the hill toward the exit. “It makes the Scriptures come alive in a new way.”
In the dark room that ends the tour, lit only by the flickering oil lamps copied from Jesus’ time, the guide Amer reminded the VIP group about the whole mission of the village. He held up the lamp to let the flame light Carter's face.
“This light reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world,” he told her, passing out the lamps to each member of the group. “(We) invite you to help us share this light with others.”
Nazareth Village is supported by individuals from around the world, and by contributions made through Mennonite Mission Network.