From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Nazareth Village planners see sites

From George Conklin <>
Date 28 May 1996 14:04:54

May 28, 1996
Mennonite Board of Missions
Contact: Tom Price, director of information
Phone: (219) 294-7523

Nazareth Village planners tour Menno-Hof

 SHIPSHEWANA, Ind. (MBM) s When he takes Christian pilgrims from the   
United Kingdom to visit Israel, Dr. Fred Holmes encounters a predictable   
 "This is a very meaningful and worthwhile experience for them. First,   
they find visiting arcane sites s dry stones, all that points to the past   
s interesting. After a while, it lacks something," said Holmes, a British   
surgeon who served nine years at Nazareth Hospital in Nazareth, Israel.   
"We see the countryside over which Christ and his disciples roamed, but   
in it all there seems to be something missing: an understanding of the   
life and work and words of Jesus of Nazareth."
 Similarly, as celebrations of the bimillennium approach, Holmes meets   
people who ask, "bimillennium of what?
 "There is a great lack of knowledge of Christ, his work and his words,"   
he said. "There are a large number of projects planned for the United   
Kingdom to celebrate the bimillennium s none relate to celebrating Jesus   
of Nazareth."
 The fading cultural memory of Jesus became one motive for the Edinburgh   
Medical Missionary Society, owner of Nazareth Hospital and the oldest   
medical missionary society in Europe, to participate in a feasibility   
study for Nazareth Village, an interactive visitors center based on   
Jesus' life and teaching and located in his hometown of Nazareth, Israel.   
Holmes, an EMMS board member, and other members of the planning group on   
May 16 visited Menno-Hof, the Amish-Mennonite visitors center here, as   
part of a week-long effort to gain inspiration for what form Nazareth   
Village could take.
 The idea originated with Dr. Nakhle Bishara, an Arab native of Nazareth   
and an Orthodox Christian who serves as medical director of Nazareth   
Hospital. Throughout his youth, Bishara saw thousands of people come to   
his hometown and wondered, "What are these people coming to see in   
Nazareth that I didn't notice before?" Over time, Bishara envisioned a   
way these visitors could understand the cultural context of the land and   
its peoples, which breathes new vitality into Jesus' parables. "Visitors   
who come to Nazareth would meet Jesus in the same way that visitors did   
2,000 years ago and would have the same impact that changed the whole   
world," he said.
 Bishara, Holmes and Fred Aitken, EMMS executive director, formed an   
international delegation who came in mid-May to the United States for   
meetings to further test the feasibility of the Nazareth Village concept.   
In addition to touring Menno-Hof, the planners visited the College   
Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind. The Troyer Group, a   
Mennonite-owned architectural firm in Mishawaka, Ind., designed both   
facilities and is working with Nazareth Village planners to flesh out   
plans for the visitors center.
 "It has helped to fill out our thinking on the whole concept of a   
visitors center," Aitken said. "What is very important in presenting   
information about Jesus of Nazareth is that we learn how to do that in a   
way that commends him."
 At a meeting near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, about 30   
Christian businesspeople, including Habitat for Humanity founder Millard   
Fuller, heard plans for the concept. "The whole reception of it was very   
encouraging," Aitken said.
 After designating 12 acres of land next to Nazareth Hospital for the   
project, EMMS named 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 Nazareth Village. Hostetler, a mission   
partner with Mennonite Board of Missions, had met Bishara and heard his   
vision for the visitors center several years ago while producing the   
video Brother, Brother in Nazareth for The Nazareth Project Inc. and MBM.   
"Michael came bearing the torch to Edinburgh," Aitken said.
 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 2,000 years   
 "We feel it is important to really count the cost and understand what we   
are getting into," said Hostetler, who is scheduled to complete the   
feasibility study near the end of the first quarter of 1997. "We are   
looking at a market study: Who will come? What will they pay? Should we   
charge? How many will come? Who are the gatekeepers? What should be said?   
How much should be said?"
 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. But in preparation for celebrations of the   
2000th anniversary of Jesus' birth, the Israeli government has allocated   
$100 million to improve infrastructure in Nazareth, a city of 56,000   
people that is 40 percent Christian and 60 percent Muslim. Nearby   
Nazareth Illit, located on a hill overlooking the ancient city, has a   
Jewish population of 40,000 people. The mix of Christians, Jews and   
Muslims does carry a potential for conflict.
 "In the Middle East, there are tremendous tensions between Jews,   
Christians and Muslims," Holmes said.  "We are not just catering for   
Christian visitors 4 We do have a mission vision: being able to interpret   
Christ's vision to Muslim people and Jewish people s not in a   
proselytizing way, but in a way they can interpret Jesus' words."
 If the study determines the project is feasible, Nazareth Village could   
open as early as November 1999. But even if the project is feasible,   
Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society, Mennonite Board of Missions, and   
the Christian community in Nazareth each will need to decide whether they   
will participate in the project.
 Working with The Troyer Group, Nazareth Village planners estimate that   
as many as 2,000 people a day could come through the visitors center   
during peak seasons, or between 500,000 and 600,000 people a year.
 "I was lying awake at night thinking, 'How many bags of wheat would we   
need to feed that many people?'" Hostetler said.
 "Five loaves and two fishes," Bishara replied.
                                                           * * *
Tom Price             Photo Available

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