Mennonite Health JournalArticles on the intersection of faith and health
Mennonite Health Journal, Vol. 21, No. 4, December 4, 2020.
A Review of “Together in Galilee” by Dr. Robert Martin
Review by Andrew Metzler, MHF Administrator and Board Member
“Together in Galilee” is the compelling memoir of the lives of Dr. Robert and Dr. Nancy Martin, who served as peacemakers, missionaries, and clinicians in Nazareth, Israel for 18 years between 1965-1995. Robert served as a physician and later as a physician administrator, and Nancy as a nurse and nurse educator. Together, their story can best be described as full and complete – it is a story of service to God and His people, of peacebuilding and reconciliation, of diversity, and of health and healing.
For the Mennonite reader, the Martins’ missionary origin story will likely be reminiscent of many stories in Mennonite families. Robert and Nancy both grew up in York, Pennsylvania to families with strong Mennonite roots and farming backgrounds. Robert shares memories of childhood and adolescence that both amuse the reader and inform of what is to come. In particular, the book explores God’s vocational call to both Bob and Nancy to function in the intersection of science, faith, and health. For Robert, this meant medical school at Hahnemann Medical College, following his graduation from Eastern Mennonite College, and for Nancy, nursing school. They married while Robert was in medical school and after Nancy graduated from Goshen College.
The central premise of “Together in Galilee” is the Martins’ work with Nazareth Hospital in Galilee. This was spurred, as was the case with many Anabaptist men of the time, by the Selective Service Board – Robert’s conscientious objector status ultimately led to his placement as a junior physician in Nazareth. How fitting then, that the ship that carried the Martins (with their young son) to Israel was named Shalom. The Martins’ first assignment in Israel (1965 – 1968) was punctuated by the birth of their daughter, and then by the Six-Day War. It is hard to comprehend the challenge of adapting to a new position in a hospital and starting a family in this environment. Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus, and today, a predominantly Arab city within the Jewish state, provides a unique and complex setting for their family growth.
Even having arrived in that challenging environment, after returning to the USA for his residency in internal medicine, Dr. Robert and Dr. Nancy Martin felt the call to return to Israel where he provided leadership to the medical department of Nazareth Hospital from 1971 to 1978. In 1987, they accepted God’s call to serve for the third time – this time Robert would become the hospital superintendent. In all three cases, but particularly the third, he writes about the struggle he and Nancy experienced as they made these decisions for their family. Their faith and their faith community provided them with the ability to seek God’s path and their servanthood in it, and provide an inspiration for those seeking the same discernment. Throughout their many years in Nazareth, their work was threatened by war, violence, sickness and disease, and a lack of resources – all of which made their two decisions to return even harder.
Within the context of the Martins’ service that is healthcare delivery, a striking theme is of multiplication. The lifetime of clinical work lives on in patients and their families as it does across the healthcare professions, and the leadership and development Robert was able to bring to Nazareth hospital propagated that work exponentially. Nancy developed a school of nursing, which was later accredited by the Israeli Ministry of Health, and continues to multiply Registered Nurses into the community. The Nazareth Project, Inc, for which the Martins have provided significant leadership since it was founded in 1990, continues to provide service and development for both the Nazareth Hospital and the School of Nursing. The multinational institution where they served – a Christan institution in a largely Arab community, in Israel, operated by a Trust based in Scotland – continues to serve as the largest hospital in Nazareth. When God provided opportunity, leadership, and clinical skill, the Martins multiplied it. Even now, Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship has been called to be a part of this multiplication, by helping to identify, train, and send spiritual care providers for the ever growing ministry of prayer and spiritual care within Nazareth Hospital.
The Martins left Israel for the final time as medical missionaries in 1995. Dr. Robert Martin retired from clinical practice in 2018, and Dr. Nancy Martin died from pancreatic cancer in 2019. They were married for 56 years.
“Together in Galilee” serves as a remarkable narrative of lives spent at the intersection of family, healing, and God’s mission, and provides a sense of inspiration and joy to the reader. The story of Dr. Robert and Dr. Nancy Martin is the story of a life well-lived and with enduring legacy, that is complete in the service of God and humankind.
About the author
Andrew Metzler, Birmingham, Alabama, serves as Administrative Assistant / Bookkeeper for Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship, as well as serving on our Board of Directors. Andrew works as a Practice Administrator for private cardiology group near Birmingham. His professional background is in physician practice management and health care finance and analytics. After studying Health Care Management at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he earned his Masters in Health Administration from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. Andrew grew up in the Birmingham area, attending Faith Chapel Mennonite Church and currently lives with his wife, Cecily, who is a Registered Nurse, and attends Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church, in Birmingham. His hobbies include flying as a recreational pilot, traveling, spending time outdoors, and volunteering.