NAZARETH, Galilee (Mennonite Mission Network) — First-century Israelites valued watchtowers for the protection and strength they provided, safeguarding the fruits of their labor while blending into their surroundings. On April 28, Nazareth Village dedicated its rebuilt tower to a man who symbolized both strength and subtlety.
Support from family members of late Mennonite administrator Dale Schumm helped to reconstruct the eight-foot-high watchtower, with a design based on ruins found just outside the Nazareth Village grounds. Shirley Roth, village director, said the watchtower symbolized Schumm’s work.
“Dale became part of the landscape. He was strong in a quiet way. In a world filled with anger, fear and breakdown in trust, Dale’s vision for faithfulness through compassionate caring — and the healing it brings — ultimately captures the essence of our purpose and reason for being here at Nazareth Village,” Roth said. “This is the vision that I hope our watchtower will safeguard for many years to come.”
Schumm spent 18 years with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. Trained as a pastor and pastoral counselor, Schumm traveled to more than 40 countries in his capacities as administrator with many ecumenical organizations. During his ministerial career, Schumm directed MBM programs in Asia and the Middle East, served as consultant to Christian Health Association of Liberia, directed personnel and served as a pastoral counselor.
After retirement Dale continued to support Nazareth Village, first in helping establish the Miracle of Nazareth International Foundation, then moving to Nazareth to work as volunteers coordinator.
Village staff and board members, neighbors and friends and members of Schumm’s family (part of a MennoJerusalem Bible Lands Tour group) attended the dedication. Staff members honored Schumm and his family including his wife, Laura, for their dedication to the village and the ministry it represents in retelling the story of Jesus’ childhood and teachings for visitors from around the world and for the thousands of local Muslim and Jewish schoolchildren who pass through each year.
Schumm often spoke of the importance of a watchtower in first-century rural settings. It allowed residents to guard their terrace vineyards dripping with juicy grapes not only from thieves and robbers, but also from wild animals that could make short shrift of the crop before the owners completed the harvest.
During the excavation process at the village site, workers turned to the Bible for clues of what they might find near an uncovered wine press. During the dedication ceremony, a caller stood on the tower and read from Mark 12:1 – "A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watch-tower." At each reference to a farm location, the caller turned to indicate the evidence just below him in the Nazareth Village fields — the lush vineyard, the excavated wine press and the newly constructed watchtower.
Stephen Pfann, president of the University of the Holy Land, and Director of Research for Nazareth Village, said watchtowers offered year-round protection from the sun or rain while the worker was away from the village, both during harvest and perhaps the time of pruning, which is a lengthy and meticulous job between the crop-picking and the new sprouting of leaves for the next year.
Workers reconstructed the eight-foot-high tower on village grounds based on ruins found just outside the village property. On one side there is a rock-stepped incline leading up to the flat-top lookout, a place for the farmer to keep the harvest vigil and protect his family's food supply for the coming year.
Excavators found ruins of three towers in the Nazareth Village area, indicating the importance of the towers in first-century life.
Glenn Edward Witmer lives in Jerusalem and is affiliated with the Israel ministries of Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.