Mennonite Health JournalArticles on the intersection of faith and health
Mennonite Health Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1, August 2023.
Stephen Roth Grant Report
Serve Nazareth, Nazareth, Israel
April 1 – June 26, 2023
Earlier this spring, my husband Dale and I spent 3 months volunteering with Serve Nazareth. We are thankful for the Steven Roth Memorial Grant which was available for us to use toward our expenses. It was a wonderful experience for us both!
I first heard about this opportunity in the winter of 2021 through Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship. The invitation to come serve on the Chaplain team at the English hospital in Nazareth was interesting to me. I had recently retired from my Nurse Practitioner/Nurse Midwifery career, and my husband was also close to retirement. We had always thought that we wanted to make some kind of volunteer work part of retirement—part of the next phase of our lives. We wanted to contribute and help others as well as continue to learn about other cultures and meet new people. Because of my career in health care, the idea of volunteering in and around a hospital felt comfortable, even though chaplaincy was not my area of expertise. I felt that it would be a privilege to minister to both staff and patients, as I could offer care and compassion, as well as to lift them up in prayer. My husband was excited about volunteering at Nazareth Village, a first-century authentic living farm and archaeologically accurate re-creation of the hometown of Jesus. We applied for and were accepted as volunteers, but because it was in the middle of covid, we had to wait for the program to open back up.
We arrived in Nazareth on April 1, 2023 and returned home on June 26. The amount of time we were able to spend here enabled us to feel a little bit “at home” in a culture not our own and was truly unique! We know that we were visitors in Nazareth, but by staying more than a few days and getting to know people in the hospital, village and in the community, we became more than tourists. As we watched groups of tourists with their name tags and back packs make their way through the streets of Nazareth, we felt just a little bit local!
Before arriving in Nazareth, I was informed that I would be serving part time with the Chaplaincy Team and part time in the newborn nursery at the hospital. Although the nursery experience was not what I had originally applied for, it was good and helpful, because it enabled me to interact more with hospital staff and get to know them better. Most days the nursery was quite busy and I worked hard as a volunteer, essentially doing nurse’s aid work. I fed, changed, dressed and undressed babies as well as cleaned cribs and folded laundry. It felt ironic that years ago, before my career as a nurse, Nurse Practitioner, and Nurse Midwife I worked as a nurse’s aid, and now after retirement I “worked” as a nurse’s aid again! It was actually quite freeing—I was working in another culture and my responsibilities were not linked to my credentials or expertise. My career was over— I was there to serve, which I did happily. My goal for myself was—whatever I was asked to do, I would do to the best of my ability. Near the end of my time there, I heard one of the staff tell someone that she loved all of the volunteers because they were willing and happy to do whatever they were asked. It was a good feeling to know that I and others have successfully communicated that intent.
My experience with Christine on the chaplain team was a wonderful experience. I learned about the goal to serve the needs and visit all of the patients and staff, whether they were Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. I found that most patients were very welcoming and appreciative of the visits, even if they were of a different religion. I don’t think that people would respond the same here in the west. My sense is that at home there would be more resistance to having a chaplain visit who was not of the same religious beliefs as the patient. I think in Nazareth there is a unique opportunity to speak into the lives of people of different faiths. Maybe it is the Arab culture which is very welcoming of others; maybe it is the faith connectedness and the fact that it feels more part of the culture than in some places in the west. People in Nazareth seem more accepting of each other’s different belief’s. I suspect it is also that as a minority people within Israel, Nazareth’s larger Arab population feel more connected to each other, even though they may have differing beliefs and religions. I felt honored to be part of the team that prays and shows care and concern for others. And in spite of the language barrier, I found I could convey care and compassion non-verbally. I was able to pray for people when there was some understanding of English, and Christine and I, as well as other members of the team, spent time in prayer together as well. I was also able to participate in a small Bible study with a few hospital staff members and the chaplain team. That in itself was an interesting experience as we spoke a combination of English and Arabic! It was surprising how much meaning I got out of it! I also served on the chaplain team as they led devotionals for the hospital staff and for the staff and volunteers at Nazareth Village, and had the opportunity to give the devotional myself for one of those meetings. I enjoyed getting to know members of the team during my time there—Christine, Frank, and Pastor Suhail! I loved their compassion for both patients and staff, and appreciated their desire to minister to people of all faiths.
My husband Dale, spent time dressed and in the character of a Rabbi in the synagogue. Playing the role of Jesus as he read from the scroll in his hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4: 18,19) he was frequently “thrown out of the synagogue” by the guide. Highlights for him were seeing the tour groups from all over the world and witnessing their wonder as the scriptures became real to them. The pageant at Easter time put on by Nazareth Village for the locals was a highlight for him as a participant and for me as an observer.
We also enjoyed getting acquainted with many volunteers coming through the Drs. House, where we all stayed while we were there. We came from many places and had different ideas, accents, etc., but we had Jesus in common and had a kinship in volunteering. It was a unique experience and our bonds were keenly felt, though we knew each other only a short time. Majdoleen, the Serve director was amazing and took good care of us all.
On the weekends, we often explored Nazareth on our own and with other volunteers, and twice were able to visit Jerusalem. Towards the end of our stay, our son Jonathan surprised us with a visit and we spent time sightseeing with him over two weekends.
What are some of the things I have learned during my time there? Smiles are welcome in any language. Even if communication is difficult, a smile goes a long way to make people feel welcome and accepted. Jesus continues to break down all cultural barriers. If we are brothers and sisters in Christ, we have much in common. And it has been so good to worship together with believers in another culture. Even without the commonality of language, it is a unifying experience! People are people everywhere. They may look and sound different, but they have the same joys, sorrows, and experiences all over the world. It has been a good reminder that no one’s culture is foreign to God. He created us with our similarities and our differences and declared that “it was good”. And if culture isn’t foreign to Him, our creator, we should not let each other’s differences make us uncomfortable. It should instead make us curious and make us want to discover more about each other. What a wonderfully unique and interesting world God created!
We will not forget the people we had the privilege to meet and get to know while in Nazareth, both locals and volunteers alike. Nazareth will always have a special place in our hearts and minds!
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