From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Groups weigh feasibility of center

From George Conklin <>
Date 24 May 1996 19:21:30

May 24, 1996
Mennonite Board of Missions
Contact: Tom Price, director of information
Phone: (219) 294-7523

Groups weigh feasibility of visitors center

 ELKHART, Ind. (MBM) s An interactive visitors center based on Jesus'   
life and teaching could become a reality in his hometown of Nazareth,   
Israel, in partnership with the Mennonite Board of Missions.
 The evangelism, mission and service arm of the 100,000-member Mennonite   
Church could join with a Scottish mission group and Christians in   
Nazareth to share the good news of Jesus Christ in a contemporary format.
 The MBM Board of Directors, meeting here Feb. 23, unanimously appointed   
D. Michael Hostetler s a veteran videographer from Scottdale, Pa., and   
executive producer of the feature film The Radicals s to direct a   
feasibility study for the creation of a Nazareth visitors center.
 Half of the 2.5 million pilgrims who come annually to Israel visit   
Nazareth. Few stay more than two hours because of a lack of sites to   
visit in the place where Mary heard the annunciation, Joseph worked as a   
carpenter and Jesus lived.
 This proposed visitors center, however, could "illuminate the life and   
teachings of Jesus of Nazareth to pilgrims from around the world and of   
all faith backgrounds," according to Hostetler. 
 The Nazareth visitors center could open as early as November 1999 s in   
time for celebrations of the 2000th anniversary of Jesus' birth s on 12   
acres next to Nazareth Hospital, which owns the land with MBM partner   
Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society.
 "Throughout the ages, Christians have sought appropriate and effective   
ways to share the good news of Jesus in the land of his birth and   
ministry," said Dale Schumm, MBM director for Asia and the Middle East.   
"We believe we are being led by the Spirit in a fresh and creative way to   
help people to once again consider the relevance of the life and message   
of Jesus for their own lives."
 The site would consist of two areas:
A visitors center using multimedia "experiences" in Arabic, English and   
Hebrew to show the geography and history surrounding Jesus' life.
A "living museum" designed to resemble a Galilean village of 2000 years   
 With Bethlehem now under Palestinian oversight, the Israeli Ministry of   
Tourism has shifted its attention to Nazareth as a key place to draw   
Christian pilgrims from around the world. "Nazareth 2000" will pump $100   
million of infrastructure improvements into the city of 60,000 people by   
the year 2000. As the largest Arab city in Israel, Nazareth's population   
is 60 percent Muslim, with the remainder being Christian.
 Yet for tourists, there seems to be little Christian presence. "There   
are few sites s either ancient or replicas s that take visitors back to   
Jesus' time and society," Hostetler said.
 "People come to the Holy Land looking for Jesus and often go away   
feeling like they haven't really found Jesus," said Virginia A.   
Hostetler, who will work alongside her husband, serving as communications   
director at Nazareth Hospital. "We have an opportunity to minister to   
that hunger." 
 The idea first was proposed by Dr. Nakhle Bishara, an Arab and Orthodox   
Christian who serves as medical director of Nazareth Hospital. Bishara's   
idea was "to present the old message of the good news of Jesus in a new   
mode," according to Hostetler.
 Bishara mentioned this vision to Dr. Robert and Nancy Martin, MBM   
workers for 18 years at the hospital, who helped foster the three-way   
partnership on the visitors center.
 "Its identity will be very much associated with the hospital, which has   
been known since 1861 as having a healing ministry to the Muslim   
population and now the Jewish community," Robert Martin said.
 EMMS already supports the concept and began funding a feasibility study   
conducted by Hostetler, who originally wasn't scheduled to begin duties   
with MBM until June.
 In addition to producing videos and films, Hostetler served as a video   
and technological consultant for Menno-Hof, an Amish-Mennonite visitors   
center in Shipshewana, Ind. Using multimedia presentations, Menno-Hof   
explains the faith of the 16th-century Anabaptists to tourists who come   
to see one of their modern offshoots, the Old Order Amish.
 Hostetler was selected to develop the Nazareth visitors center, in part,   
because of his role in producing Brother, Brother, a video that tells the   
true story of a Jewish soldier who had been brought to Nazareth Hospital   
by an Arab taxi driver after a stabbing.
 The filming of the project required Hostetler to navigate gracefully the   
political tensions between the Jewish and Palestinian communities.
 "Mike builds relationships, bringing people together in innovative   
communications ministries," said Ken Weaver, MBM director of media.
 "The call that has propelled me has been to build bridges, to tell   
stories to people in different parts of the world, to help people   
understand that there is a bigger church," Hostetler said. "It's an   
opportunity to present who Jesus is and was in a very vivid and   
meaningful way."
 "The presentation of Jesus in Israel has very few options," said Nancy   
Martin, who served with MBM as director of nursing education at Nazareth   
Hospital. "You have to go with what is permitted at any given point. I   
see it as living within the constraints."
  Hostetler left Feb. 27 for Israel, where he met with Bishara and other
Nazaretn-based leaders working to make the visitors center a reality.  In
early March, a team of consultants joined them to flesh out the concept of
the visitors center in greater detail.
  The team included Ron Yoder, MBM vice president' two representatives of
EMMS (Fred Holmes and Fred Aitken); Tim Lichti, executive director of
Menno-hof; Joel Kauffmann, a Goshen, Ind.,-based writer; as well as LeRoy
Troyer and Terry Troyer of The Troyer Group, an architectural/design firm
of Mishawaka, Inc., that designed Menno-Hof and the College Football Hall
of Fame in South Bend, Ind.
  If the project proceeds when the feasibility study is complete, the
project's directors would bring together archaeologists, theologians,
historians, anthropologists, missiologists and others to "try to identiry
an interpretation of Jesus that is not culturally bound," said Stanley
Green, MBM president.
  I see this as an opprotunity to bring people together in a way that
hasn't happened very often," Hosteler said.
  "This is a window of opprotunity," Schumm said.
* * *
Tom Price           Photo Available

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