Virginia Spicher and Razan Andrea
Rosabeth Birky Koehn
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

NAZARETH, Israel (Mennonite Mission Network) — Two thousand years ago in Galilee, Nathanael demanded of Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip’s reply: “Come and see” (John 2:46).

Based on present-day media coverage of Israel/Palestine, many North Americans might echo Nathanael’s incredulity. Nazareth Village calls across political division to these doubters, reiterating Philip’s challenge to overcome negative expectations.

In April and May of 2008, 11 Mennonite tour groups took Philip’s advice and went to Nazareth Village, a Mennonite Mission Network partner organization. Compared to the three Mennonite groups per year the village has averaged since it opened in 2000, this level of Anabaptist interest is unprecedented.

Nazareth Village is a living recreation of Jesus’ hometown as it existed 2,000 years ago. When visitors enter the village, they step into a living, breathing first-century Galilean town. Actors become villagers as they work functional farms and use olive press, carpentry shop and synagogue. Guests tour the village and interact with its residents.

Why the increased Mennonite interest in this place?

Dorothy Jean Weaver, Eastern Mennonite Seminary professor of New Testament and recent Middle East trip leader, articulated the general sentiment.

“This site is one that surpasses virtually all others in its ability to interpret the story and stories of Jesus,” she said.

According to Nazareth Village director and Mission Network worker Shirley Roth, the desire among Mennonites to interact intimately with the Jesus story probably comes from the Anabaptist emphasis on keeping faith centered firmly in Christ’s teachings.

Jamie Gerber, pastor at Crosshill (Ontario) Mennonite Church helped lead a May Middle East study tour sponsored by Mennonite Church Eastern Canada and Mennonite Central Committee Canada.

Gerber connected the Mennonite attraction to Nazareth Village with Christ-centeredness when he wrote, “Mennonites, of course, take pride (in a humble way) in being followers of Jesus’ way of life, [and] Nazareth Village provides an opportunity for hands-on life experience in Jesus’ world.”

Linford Stutzman, professor of culture and mission at Eastern Mennonite University and a co-leader with Gerber and others, said, “I had known Jesus, the living word, but I had never known the living world of Jesus. Jesus had entered my world but I had never entered his.”

One member of Gerber and Stutzman’s group, Conrad Grebel University College student Cassie Mathies, better understood Jesus’ socio-political reality after experiencing his physical reality.

Mathies’ group reenacted the moment when Jesus entered the synagogue and read from Isaiah, proclaiming the fulfillment of the prophecy about his mission on Earth (Luke 4:16-19).

In the Nazareth Village synagogue, the group divided into the different social groups that would have originally heard Jesus’ message—the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots and the farmers. They placed themselves in the traditional synagogue seating arrangement based on the social hierarchy of the day and then discussed how each group would have responded to Jesus’ words.

“To follow Jesus meant upsetting their own survival and the social order they were clinging to for dear life,” said Mathies. “Sometimes, when just reading the Bible, it’s hard to imagine how radical Jesus’ ministry really was for the time.”

John Mark Stratford, part of a Bluffton (Ohio) University Middle East tour, wrote, “Much of our time travelling around Israel and Palestine we saw ruins. And more ruins. And some really intact ruins, but still, they were ruins.”

Nazareth Village, however, was not ruins, wrote Stratford. “Finally on our tour I came close to getting to experience what being alive during biblical times would have been like.”

Besides the physical differences, Bluffton trip leader and professor of religion Randy Keeler said that Nazareth Village provided a good balance to other stops on their tour. Many of the organizations they visited focus on activist, political approaches to ministry.

This work is very important, Keeler said. But he praised Nazareth Village for offering, not a hard gospel message, but “a soft voice speaking the reality of the life of Christ.”

Roth also noted the village’s unpretentious approach to ministry.

“We focus on telling the stories and parables of Jesus, not a particular church dogma or religious bent,” she said. “Everyone can connect with something at the village.”

In a creative twist, Bluffton students not only observed Nazareth Village’s ministry, but helped enact it. After a brief tour, students donned first-century garb and joined the village’s population for the day.

Joe Sutter spent the day as a shepherd.

“It was funny being on the other side of the tourism,” he said, “with people taking pictures of you.”

Teresa Hershberger wrote, “I soon found that Nazareth Village [left] a special aroma on my soul and my clothes.” Her group cleaned out the sheep and goat pen.

Hershberger said a day spent chopping through a half-foot of packed-down animal waste expanded her limited view of biblical shepherds. “I had never thought of the humility that goes along with being a shepherd,” she said.

Even after such a humbling and smelly experience, Hershberger concluded, “I could not be more thankful for this opportunity.”

 

 

 Related

 

 

Mission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in FranceRefugee ministryhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4707/Mission-Network-family-to-join-ministry-of-hospitality-for-refugees-in-FranceMission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in FranceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Calais
Russian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeesUkrainehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4708/Russian-and-Ukrainian-students-in-Lithuania-support-refugeesRussian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeesGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Klaipėda
Youth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future serviceYouth Venture/SOOP hybridhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4706/Youth-Venture-trip-provides-mentorship-plants-seeds-for-future-serviceYouth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future serviceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Kykotsmovi, Arizona
Bokgoni Sporting Club offers a better future through recreational sportsBokgoni Sporting Clubhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4705/Bokgoni-Sporting-Club-offers-a-better-future-through-recreational-sportsBokgoni Sporting Club offers a better future through recreational sportsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Francistown
New legal office to offer immigration justiceLa Posadahttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4702/New-legal-office-to-offer-immigration-justiceNew legal office to offer immigration justiceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Elkhart, Indiana
Mission Network welcomes new directorsNews Releasehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4703/Mission-Network-welcomes-new-directorsMission Network welcomes new directorsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
MVS gathering in San Francisco is a time of connection, comradery and cable carsMVShttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4697/MVS-gathering-in-San-Francisco-is-a-time-of-connection-comradery-and-cable-carsMVS gathering in San Francisco is a time of connection, comradery and cable carsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476San Francisco, California
Mission worker practiced hospitality on three continentsRemembering Wilma Shankhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4694/Mission-worker-practiced-hospitality-on-three-continentsMission worker practiced hospitality on three continentsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
EMS students participate in Youth Venture Civil Rights Learning TourEMS and Youth Venturehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4692/EMS-students-participate-in-Youth-Venture-Civil-Rights-Learning-TourEMS students participate in Youth Venture Civil Rights Learning TourGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Climate change concerns should not keep Anabaptists from experiencing PentecostClimate change and MWChttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4689/Climate-change-concerns-should-not-keep-Anabaptists-from-experiencing-PentecostClimate change concerns should not keep Anabaptists from experiencing PentecostGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
French-language Anabaptist justice and peace curriculum takes shapeFrench-language curriculumhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4687/French-language-Anabaptist-justice-and-peace-curriculum-takes-shapeFrench-language Anabaptist justice and peace curriculum takes shapeGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Mission worker embodied gospel of peaceRemembering John Driverhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4686/Mission-worker-embodied-gospel-of-peace-Mission worker embodied gospel of peaceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Ukrainian students in Lithuania join relief effortsLithuaniahttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4684/Ukrainian-students-in-Lithuania-join-relief-effortsUkrainian students in Lithuania join relief effortsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Klaipéda
Mission Network sends aid for Ukrainian studentsNews Releasehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4682/Mission-Network-sends-aid-for-Ukrainian-studentsMission Network sends aid for Ukrainian studentsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
How can I be a peace witness in time of war?Ukrainehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4681/How-can-I-be-a-peace-witness-in-time-of-warHow can I be a peace witness in time of war?GP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476

 

 



 

 

Mission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in Francehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4707/Mission-Network-family-to-join-ministry-of-hospitality-for-refugees-in-FranceMission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in FranceRefugee ministry
Russian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeeshttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4708/Russian-and-Ukrainian-students-in-Lithuania-support-refugeesRussian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeesUkraine
Reflections on the Sent Conferencehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/blog/4709/Reflections-on-the-Sent-ConferenceReflections on the Sent ConferenceSent Conference
A joining of Pentecost and creation carehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/extending-beyond/4710/A-joining-of-Pentecost-and-creation-careA joining of Pentecost and creation careExtending Beyond
MissionWary live podcasthttps://www.mennonitemission.net/podcasts/missionwary/4698/MissionWary-live-podcastMissionWary live podcastLive webinar
Youth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future servicehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4706/Youth-Venture-trip-provides-mentorship-plants-seeds-for-future-serviceYouth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future serviceYouth Venture/SOOP hybrid