Meet Rozemarij (24), SERVE volunteer. Originally from the Netherlands, she lives in Belgium with her husband, David, where she studies theology. She decided to join the SERVE programme for two months as part of her internship and is contributing her time and efforts to the Nazareth Village and the pastoral care team. Rozemarij spends most of her free time reading, singing, worshipping and going on trips when the opportunity arises.
Lourens and Rebecca served here before. I didn’t know them personally, but Lourens studied at my university in Leuven, the Evangelical Theological Faculty. He told them about this placement opportunity with the pastoral care team in Nazareth, and they added it to the list of internship opportunities abroad. That’s how I found out about it.
It stood out for me. First, because I could join a pastoral care team, and that’s what I want to do later. Also, it’s in Israel, and I love travelling and exploring new cultures. My mum has always told me I should visit Israel because being in the land where Jesus lived is great. Alongside my theology studies, it’s also a fantastic opportunity to gain experience about the land and the culture.
I wanted to become a doctor my whole life, so I studied medicine for three years and finished my bachelor’s. During my studies, I was a bit confused, doubting if the life of a doctor really suited me. I loved being in contact with patients and caring for them. But making the diagnosis and considering treatments didn’t satisfy me much compared to talking to them. You usually have ten minutes with a patient, so there’s not enough time to get to know the person behind the patient.
After, I took a year off and went to Bible school. Only then I could find room and space in my mind to think of something else. I decided to quit medicine during a class. I wasn’t getting anything out of the lectures and asked God: “What is this? Why do I not understand anything? It doesn’t speak to me”. I had to read three verses out loud for the class, and in all of them God said to someone: “Go”. At the end of the day, someone asked me how my day was, and I suddenly realised that I had decided to quit medicine because of those verses. I was ready to go but didn’t know where.
Theology had been in my mind before. I did some googling and found the job of a pastoral caregiver in rehabilitation care. I read some articles about it and realised this is how I want to care for people.
I’m there two days a week, mainly shadowing Christine. I usually start at 9:30 am. I discuss with Christine what we’re going to do, and sometimes we talk about something I read or reflected about. Then, we go to the hospital wards to do rounds. We go into the rooms, talk to the patients, and ask how they’re doing. Sometimes, we pray for them. The conversation might seem superficial, but it’s a way of being present for the patients. Once a week, we go to the psychiatric ward in a different part of the city to have a group discussion with the patients there. In the afternoon, we visit a different ward or do something else, such as watching a webinar about pastoral care and discussing it afterwards. I am learning so much. I have also prepared devotions and will prepare a sermon at some point.
I have actually not had the chance to talk to patients yet. I speak very little Arabic: I only know some phrases like “good morning” or “congratulations”. One patient spoke English, but that was on my very first day, so I didn’t engage in the conversation. I was exploring and seeing everything for the first time, but I hope there will also be opportunities to talk in English to patients. I was concerned about it before coming to Nazareth: I wasn’t sure if I would learn enough. Despite not knowing Arabic, I decided to go anyway because I think the whole experience of being in Israel and spending time with the pastoral care team in a mainly Muslim environment will be a great learning opportunity, learning how to deal with different religions as a Christian.
I work at the Village three days a week: I guide tours in Dutch and English, but if there are not many tourists, I am a villager or help in the kitchen.
I usually start at 9 am. I do a maximum of three daily tours, each lasting one hour and 15 minutes. We usually eat lunch with the other SERVE volunteers or other people working at the Village. It’s great to get to know them and see how people living in the area live their faith. I normally have time to chat with the volunteers in the evenings, worship, and play games. It’s really relaxed.
I find it very cool to be able to share my faith and challenge the visitors with some questions. I’ve only started guiding tours on my own a few days ago. On my first day, I noticed people were dead silent after the synagogue, which is at the end of the tour. I wondered: “Did they like it? Did they not like it? What’s going on?”. But afterwards, I heard them say it was very touching. I guess I learned something from the storytelling training! It’s great to see how God works that. I’m sure not every word is my own…
I think it’s giving me more understanding of other cultures. At the Village, I am growing a lot in self-confidence, talking in front of groups and building stories. I really enjoyed it and didn’t know that side of myself. For my faith, the time at the Village is also very beneficial because I’m sharing my faith openly and I do it three times a day at least. In my daily life back in Belgium, I don’t do that so often and so openly. At the chaplaincy team, It’s just confirming my next step of wanting to become a pastoral caregiver. I’ve only been with them four days so far, but judging from the conversations and what we do, I know this is where I want to go. It’s really great to experience that, to have that confirmation.
I experienced some challenges beforehand because I wasn’t sure if this experience would really fit my studies. But after talking about it with Majdoleen and Christine and praying about it, I realised my doubts were based on fears, and I didn’t want fear to overrule, so I decided to come.
It’s really nice. I have lived in communities before, so I know what sharing your living space with other people is like, but I love it. I love having people to chat with and experience different people’s lives. Sometimes, we have disagreements because people from different cultures have different ways of making plans and communicating. Still, you learn a lot through that, and the connection is amazing because everyone is Christian. The second evening I was here, we were already worshipping together, which was great. It’s really beautiful to live as Christians together.
Actually, today, I experienced something great. Christine was sharing about the retreat they had with the staff yesterday. She shared something that had caught her attention, and it was the same topic my staff devotion is going to be about tomorrow. I thought it was such a great coincidence, but actually, it wasn’t a coincidence: I think God is leading that and it’s great to see this small blink of God confirming that you’re in the right place. He is working on the very small details, and it’s cool to experience that.
Name: Brian Murray
Country of origin: UK (Glasgow)
Current role: Pastor at Beacon Heath Church (Exeter, UK)
SERVing in Nazareth: 1 month
Meet one of our most recent SERVE volunteers, Brian Murray.
Born and raised in Glasgow, Brian now lives in Exeter, where he works as the pastor of Beacon Heath Church. His wife, Carolyn, works as a GP (General Practitioner) and tutors medical students at the University. Brian and Carolyn have three children aged 22, 20 and 17.
Beacon Heath Church is located in the suburbs of Exeter and has a congregation of around 100 people. “I think it’s probably the right size for me. I know everyone’s name and enough of what’s going on in people’s lives to build fellowship”, admits Brian.
Originally, I studied History at Edinburgh University. Job-hunting took me down to London to do accountancy, taking me into film and television for about 15 years. Then I hit a career crossroads – and studied at a local Bible College before working full-time for a church in Glasgow city centre. I worked there for a couple of years which was an excellent experience, and found a heart to serve in a smaller church. I looked online, and this church in Exeter came up.
I was brought up in a Christian family. I’ve always gone to church, and as a teenager, I fully trusted Jesus. Church, and trying to grow as a Christian have always been central to my life, but I never saw myself working for a church – so it was a bit of a surprise to end up doing just that! Now it’s been 14 years since I started working as a pastor in Exeter.
About 20 years ago, when we were living in Glasgow, we had a visit from a couple who have been involved with the Nazareth Trust, and know my in-laws. They came to lunch with us and told us about the Nazareth Village. They also happen to go to the church right beside the Nazareth Village.
Fast forward 20 years. Earlier this year, my church said I could take a sabbatical, so I had three months off. I thought to myself: I want to do something special with my sabbatical rather than just visit other churches to get some ideas. I thought maybe I could go to Israel for a month. That’s when I remembered the Nazareth Trust and looked on the website, and a picture of a friend from Glasgow was on the screen as a trustee. I’ve known him for over 35 years, from the youth group at church, and we stayed in contact over the years. Seeing his face on the Nazareth Trust’s website was a real shock! It just felt as if God confirmed that as a possibility. I phoned him, asked him more about the opportunity, and then applied for SERVE.
I shadowed the Pastoral Care Team in the hospital – Frank and Christine – two days a week. I went around the hospital with them, and they outlined their aims and how they engaged with patients and staff. It was very helpful because hospitals in the UK are purely secular; there’s no Christian or religious overview. I enjoyed shadowing them and seeing what it’s like having a Christian ethos, and how you engage with the whole of society through that.
I was also a character at the Nazareth Village three days a week: I mostly did the shepherd. That was very different! My time therefore had a nice mix; I felt that I was fortunate that my time landed that way.
It was my first time in Israel. I assumed from television and the Eurovision Song Contest that it was almost like a European country. I’ve had Jewish friends pretty much all my life, but they never said anything about the makeup of the land. I was therefore surprised that the north is quite Arab. I wasn’t expecting Arabic at all. Christine and Frank really helped me: they were either translating or taking me to see English-speaking patients and letting me talk to them. I visited patients who were on dialysis. While going around the hospital talking to patients and staff, I would occasionally bump into other SERVE volunteers who were doing a medical placement. Other times, we visited a consultant: we had coffee and chatted about the pressures of their job which was very insightful.
The Village was really good fun. Everyone I met was lovely. Even those who couldn’t speak English made an effort to communicate somehow. I’ve never looked after sheep or goats before, so being responsible for them was a bit tricky. They seemed to like to escape! Getting them back was quite hard, but I enjoyed being there. Between tour groups, there would be some downtime, so just imagining that area and what it would be like for Jesus to walk there for around 26 years of his life was special.
I was completely shocked by the situation in the country – the political and economic side of things. It took me about two months to work through when I got back home. I came across a couple from Exeter when I signed up for the SERVE Nazareth programme who’ve had 50 years of contact with the Trust. They took me to a conference a couple of weeks after returning from Nazareth about the Biblical perspective on Israel / Palestine with input from the Bethlehem Bible College. That conference helped me to process a lot of questions in a positive way.
The other volunteers who were in the Doctor’s House accommodation at the time, had done tours of Israel before – so when I went sightseeing, I went on my own. It was a raw experience because I wasn’t part of a group. I found myself in some situations that were a bit edgy, and I could see the fragility of the situation in the country. My whole experience helped me to understand what it means to be a Christian there and helped me to reflect upon my own faith and what it means to be a Christian in the UK.
I would say that was probably the highlight of my whole time. When I stayed at the house, it was relatively quiet: there were three retired Americans and Monika, a younger lady from Paraguay who was there for a year – she’s a legend. She had been there for ten months when I got there. They are all lovely Christians with so much wisdom! I asked them so many questions about church, and being a Christian from their experience in their country. I was on a sabbatical break – so it was an opportunity to stop – but also to get answers and see how God was shaping my time there. Having the four of them in the house was definitely God’s provision.
Several young Americans arrived and stayed upstairs in my last week, and the dynamic of the house changed and took on a different life – which is a great part of the whole experience of doing SERVE. During the day, I was out in the hospital or the Village, but in the evenings, I would go back into the cocoon of the people in the house, which was really special. And because of that, you keep in contact with each other, which is a great part of the whole thing too.
I think I’m a frustrated artist, but I enjoy it as a creative outlet. Nazareth and Israel certainly gave me new views to paint. If I’d been in Nazareth for longer there may have been opportunity to paint a mural, or do something creative – next time?
Apart from finding out more about the political situation, I was surprised at how quickly people talked about their points of view. What also challenged me was seeing the SERVE coordinator – Majdoleen – working. Most of the time we never saw her because she was busy, but she was always engaging with the WhatsApp group for the Doctor’s House – where SERVE volunteers live – to make sure everyone was doing well. She was the glue that kept everything running smoothly; she was almost invisible – going around sorting things out in a really humble and servant-hearted way. I think that probably struck me the most, and taught me the most coming back to my role.
I saw that too with Frank and Christine: they’re also lovely servant-hearted people, like everyone in the Village. People would do anything for me and took the time to help me.
Every week, I went to the church beside the Nazareth Village. There are only 10 to 15 people in the congregation. I found that quite challenging because I consider my church here in Exeter a small church in UK terms – and there’s about 100 people. From what I heard – the average church in Israel is around 10 to 20 people, so it was a real challenge for me to see them keep going.
It was nice to get back to the UK. This country is so calm and peaceful! Being in Israel almost felt like being in a Hollywood film-set: it was quite intense but very good. I’m glad I went there; it has had a big impact. I’m still unravelling some of the things spinning around in my head from my time in Nazareth, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have been there.
One of the ways you can SERVE is by spending your medical elective at the Nazareth Hospital. We’ve spoken to Dominic Fehler, one of our most recent’s elective students about his experience.
Name: Dominic Fehler
Country of origin: Switzerland
Education: medical student
Medical elective in Nazareth: September – November 2022
I’m doing my elective now, so I had the opportunity to do part of it abroad. I’ve always wanted to do it, but I was also a bit apprehensive about it. Going to another country can be challenging in many aspects, but also, as a Christian, Israel is a place that plays a certain spiritual role. A family friend of mine worked at the Nazareth Hospital in the 80s, and he recommended I go there. He also gave me some contacts. I applied, and I asked if it was possible. I’m very happy I had the opportunity to do that. I’m quite interested in the Middle East, Israel, and the Arab culture and language. I saw the Nazareth Hospital as a very good opportunity because it met all my interests: it was perfect.
No, it wasn’t. My first time in the Middle East and Israel was in 2017 when I went on an Israel road trip for one week with one of my sisters and two friends.
We didn’t visit Nazareth that deeply, but we saw the Basilica of the Annunciation, some of the old city, etc. We were there for maybe two hours or so.
It was so many things. In some sense, challenging because, as a European or a Swiss person, the mentality is very different. Going there and being relaxed at the beginning wasn’t that easy. You don’t understand most things and are alone in a foreign country.
But the Doctor’s House at the hospital was a place where I could be myself, which gave me a lot of security and comfort. The cultural aspect was very enriching: getting in touch with the locals and getting to know some of them: families, young and older people. I got to eat with them and learn about their food and mentality. A concept of mentality that’s different from what I’m used to. You’re also confronted with the Israel-Palestine issue. The difficult co-existence, which is understandable on many levels. It allowed me to understand it better because we live in a different reality here in the West. Living in Israel was very enriching, and I learned a lot that I can now take with me in my daily life.
While helping at the cardiology department, I usually had to be there from 8.30 am until 4 or 5 pm. I was mainly in the cath lab, where people who had heart strokes go to get treated. I also spent some time in the intensive care unit.
At the surgery department, we started around 7 or 7.30 am to discuss the cases of the night before and the patients being treated. Some days I went to the surgical room, mainly observing, but sometimes, I also helped a little. In surgery, you never really know when the day ends: sometimes it was at 3, other times at 6. I also spent a few hours in the emergency department. I saw quite a lot of the hospital.
Yes, I want to become a general practitioner. For the moment, that’s my plan.
I didn’t speak much with patients because, unfortunately, I don’t speak Hebrew or Arabic. I only spoke to younger patients who understand and speak English.
Every hospital has its unique internal culture: the way you handle certain situations and procedures. The infrastructure and machinery were similar to what I see here in Switzerland. The surgical procedures are done the same way. The quality was also very similar to what we have here. Obviously, the cultural aspect was different: you interact with the patient according to Arab customs.
That’s a question I cannot fully answer due to the language barrier. From what I saw, the relationship was close: I saw them joking, for example. Patients looked up to doctors and showed it with their behaviour. Here in Switzerland, we also hold doctors in high regard, but we show it differently. The relationship is much less personal. In Nazareth, it looked much more personal because patients were gifting food to the doctors. We wouldn’t do it here in Switzerland because it’s not our custom.
In the afternoon, I would go home to relax after the day and do my chores. Later, I would meet with the others for dinner. After dinner, we usually spent time together talking about our impressions of our day. I also went down to the Nazareth Village a few times, especially during the olive harvest, or went downtown to buy groceries. At the weekend, I went to church and was sometimes invited by a family to their house.
I didn’t travel that much because I easily get car sick. Riding on a bus was a bit challenging. I was invited to friends’ and co-workers’ homes a few times, and they took me to Haifa, Akko, Sakhnin, etc. Frank Kantor, the Spiritual Director at the Nazareth Trust, took us to the Sea of Galilee and showed us a little bit around. Looking back now, I probably would have pushed a little bit more.
Jerusalem is a place where you experience a lot. I also really liked the desert in the south of Israel. I also enjoyed Haifa, the Sea of Galilee, etc. It depends on how you want to spend your day, but every place has its beauty.
The Mashawi, the barbeque. I was invited to a family’s home, and we ate hummus, flatbread, etc. I also ate a sheep’s tongue, which wasn’t my favourite, but I enjoyed the experience of eating something different. That gives it a special touch.
The mentality was very different to what I’m used to. Life is not as simple and clear as I thought it would be. There are also other ways of being that are okay; they bring their challenges but also have their good side. One of my takeaways was to learn to love and understand different mentalities around the world. That’s what made the Israel experience so valuable for me.
The experience was very enriching as a medical student, but there were also some challenges. I recommend to future students that if you go, do it with an open mind and open heart, so that you can really grasp the reality. It helps you understand better how different people can be, how they can feel differently and how they can experience the injustice and the justice that happens in other places.
One of the difficulties for me was the language; if you want to go there, you should take care of it. The doctors know English, but not all of them, so you really have to look out for yourself. I could have experienced more if I had been more proactive, but in my culture, you don’t push too much or express yourself that much. I can only encourage other students to go there and experience; take part in the lives of the patients and doctors.
You should have expectations. But you have to work towards fulfilling those expectations. If you say something, they will do everything possible to make it happen. But you need to take the first step. I may have realised it too late, but I would definitely do it again.
Monika Warkentin, one of our long-term volunteers, is currently serving at the Nazareth Village through YAMEN (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network) from MCC (Mennonite Central Committee).
Below you can read all about her faith and service journey at the Nazareth Village, where she will serve for eleven months. (English and Spanish versions available)
My name is Monika Warkentin. I’m from Paraguay, and I’m 27 years old. I finished my degree in Business Administration and worked for seven years in different areas of my church. God, Jesus, the Bible, and the Church have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father taught me the teachings of the Bible from a very young age. Over time, I realized that not all Christians have the same opportunities and conditions as I do. Some live in places where they can pray in public, while others must do it in secret.
The Bible talks about us, as Christians, being one body: if one of our brothers cries, we cry with him, and if someone is happy, we rejoice with him. And I asked myself: “Monika, how can you cry and laugh with others if you don’t know the reality of your brothers and sisters?”. So, I decided to leave my community to find my brothers and sisters in Christ.
God led me to a very special place, where the hope that unites us as Christians has its roots: He led me to Israel, specifically to Nazareth Village. I arrived at the beginning of September 2022 and will stay until the beginning of July 2023. I cannot express how grateful and happy I am to have the opportunity to serve in this place.
I work Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Part of my work is to help in the kitchen and represent a first-century villager of Nazareth with period clothing. I also have the privilege of being a guide to explain to visitors what life was like in the first century on a tour. Working at Nazareth Village gives me the opportunity to meet many people from different parts of the world.
Since our museum has many different attractions, many visitors are tempted to take a souvenir like an olive branch. That’s why I tell my groups: you can take it in your heart, not your hand. Maybe if I leave this place, I will leave with empty hands, but my heart will definitely not leave empty from here.
I shall see you at home,
Soy Monika Warkentin, de Paraguay, tengo 27 años. Terminé mi carrera en administración de empresas y trabajé durante siete años en diferentes áreas de la iglesia donde soy miembro. Desde que tengo uso de razón, Dios, Jesús, la Biblia y la Iglesia han formado parte de mi vida. Mi papá me enseñó las enseñanzas de la Biblia desde muy pequeña. Con el tiempo, me di cuenta de que no todos los cristianos tienen las mismas oportunidades y condiciones que yo. Algunos viven en lugares donde pueden orar en público y otros donde tienen que hacerlo a escondidas.
La Biblia habla de que nosotros, como cristianos, somos un solo cuerpo: si alguien de nuestros hermanos llora, lloremos con él y si alguien está feliz, seamos felices con él. Y me pregunté a mí misma: “Monika, ¿cómo puedes llorar y reír con los demás si no sabes cuál es la realidad de tus hermanos?”. Así que decidí salir de mi comunidad para encontrar a mis hermanos y hermanas en Cristo.
Dios me llevó a un lugar muy especial, donde la esperanza que nos une como cristianos tiene su origen: me llevó a Israel, específicamente a Nazareth Village. Llegué a principios de septiembre de 2022 y me quedaré hasta principios de julio de 2023. No puedo expresar lo agradecida y feliz que estoy por tener la oportunidad de servir en este lugar.
Trabajo de lunes a viernes de 9:00 a 17:00 horas. Parte de mi trabajo es ayudar en la cocina, representar a una aldeana de Nazaret del primer siglo con la vestimenta de la época y también tengo el privilegio de ser guía para explicar a los visitantes cómo era la vida en el primer siglo en un tour. Trabajar en Nazareth Village me da la posibilidad de conocer a muchas personas de diferentes lugares del mundo.
Como tenemos muchas atracciones diferentes en nuestro museo, muchos visitantes quieren llevarse un recuerdo, por ejemplo, una rama de olivos. Por eso les digo a mis grupos: pueden llevarlo en su corazón, pero no en la mano. Tal vez si dejo este lugar me vaya con las manos vacías, pero mi corazón definitivamente no saldrá vacío de aquí.
Nos veremos en casa,
I was accommodated in a simple, but comfortable, low-rise apartment building on the hospital grounds. I was allocated the single room in our apartment, and the double room next door was occupied by two young women volunteers. Summer, from the USA, had just finished an undergraduate Science degree and was applying to medical schools. Her volunteer shifts were in A&E on some days and NICU on others. Her roommate, Naoemi from Switzerland, moved on about a week after I arrived.
By now Israel had closed its borders to non-Israelis and imposed a 14-day self-isolation on returning citizens. The overseas registrants for the Nazareth Challenge would not be able to arrive and participate. It was postponed to November. RATS!!!
With no new tour groups able to arrive, and those in the country scuttling to leave while there were still airplanes flying to take them home (No incoming flights means no planes to turn around to take away travellers who want to leave…) there were no groups making bookings for the Village.
We were advised to make arrangements to fly to our countries of origin ASAP – while we could still get flights, in competition with the departing tourists… Meanwhile, we should socialise only amongst ourselves in case we had something to spread. I could not see myself being in any position to return in November for the postponed Challenge walk, but I had raised sponsorship for the hospital in the expectation that I would walk the Walk!
After discussions with SERVE, I resolved to try and complete individual days of the 5-day route, probably out of chronological order, with whichever volunteers were willing to walk with me on a particular day. We would take public transport to the beginnings and ends of the route sections, returning to Nazareth each night.
Our close-knit community of SERVE volunteers was starting to scatter. SERVE is used to its volunteers coming and going. They are welcomed with joy as they dribble in, and farewelled with hopes of future reunion as they leave in their ones and twos. This was different. It was as if we were a ripe white dandelion ball – one minute we were there, exquisitely together, and then, “puff!”, we were irrevocably gone.
The Pastoral Care Conference was cancelled. We were not permitted to go into the hospital to say goodbye to our workmates there, for fear of taking contagion. The Village had been locked and the local workers sent home for the duration – it was not possible to say farewells there either. News of available flights to the different needed home country destinations would come at short notice, and sometimes be cancelled and changed at short notice too. There was no possibility of a group gathering, as by now no more than five people were permitted to meet at the same time, preferably no more than two. We quietly visited each other’s apartments in ones and twos, saying our “Goodbyes” as we could.
Large military field hospital-style tents had been erected in the staff car park across the driveway from our apartment.
I have been thinking… what have I learned, what am I still learning, as a result of my time in Galilee? There’s a lot more processing on that still to come – maybe feedback and questions from some of you will be a formative part of that…
By the end of my second week in the Village, the fear of Covid-19 (not yet given this official name) was starting to cast its shadow over Israeli tourism. Eight cases of the virus had been diagnosed in Bethlehem after the visit of a Korean tour group. The Village guides firmly forbade selfies with the villagers while permitting more standard, socially distanced photographs. The Israeli government was starting to encourage tour groups to end their visits and return early to their countries of origin.
Particularly in the afternoons, the tour groups were becoming widely spaced, and I could often simply sit on the grass under a tree or perch on a vineyard terrace wall and watch the Mediterranean clouds move effortlessly by. I could wander up to the weaver’s workshop and card wool with my friend Pauline or stand in the dark quiet of the building that housed the working olive press. Sometimes I would find lush weeds to feed the tethered donkey and be rewarded with the chance to rub her between the ears and be nuzzled in return. The slow speed and lack of comforts of Village life had its consolations!
I had been sent to work in the Village. Meanwhile, SERVE Nazareth, the volunteer service, negotiated with the Internal Medicine ward at the hospital about my placement with them as a hospital aide. Management was becoming very preoccupied with the looming Covid-19 threat and kept fobbing off approaches to finalise my placement as their ward had not hosted a volunteer before. SERVE wanted to add Medicine to the A&E and NICU placements they offered. By the time I began on the medical ward, the Village was keen to keep me – bless them. So, it was arranged that I would work three days a week at the hospital and continue in the Village on two days, each having my services for what was usually their busiest days.
I had picked up a little Arabic working with local staff and longer-standing volunteers in the Village, but really, very, very little. It was hard for me… and the effort would show on my face strongly as I concentrated on getting the singulars and plurals, and gender forms correct. On the medical ward, I quickly discovered that although most of the patients had less English than I did Arabic, if I spoke in English, conveying simple messages such as (while carrying a meal tray) “Good Morning! Would you like some breakfast?”- with eye contact and a wide smile, I was well-understood, and received a warm smile in return!
The local ward staff were very busy, and conversational exchanges with patients were often brisk to the point of brusque…. a smile and eye contact were often just what was needed! My illiteracy in Arabic & Hebrew meant that fetching articles from labelled shelves or unpacking stores into the correct places if a shelf was labelled but empty were not tasks I could carry out unless I was assisting a local… so I did a lot of assisting! It was a very steep learning curve and brought back memories of my experiences in the Mainland China of the 1980s, when I was a similar illiterate.
I did a lot of cleaning & sanitising with strong-smelling chlorine solutions. The ward was very hierarchically arranged, with the aides and nurses taking their breaks in a small tea room at the opposite end of the ward from the medical staff, who conferred, ate and entered computerised notes in their large quarters near the ward entrance. They would sally forth in groups several times a day, sometimes with Stephan, the Head Nurse, accompanying them to attend to patients. I had no contact with them at all. I had no input as to the patients’ diagnoses, and could not read patient names on their bed ends.
We, aides, might be despatched to “change Bed 4-2” (2nd bed in room 4) etc. With my own (never referred to) professional background, there were some things I could observe well enough for myself. Sometimes there were elderly patients with current medical illnesses but concurrent dementia calling out, as they do. When I could, I would gently touch the bare forearms of the callers and say, in English, quietly, “It’s all right. We are here. You are not alone.” And they would usually settle contentedly for quite some time.
I noted the distressed relatives in the corridor of some of our gasping respiratory patients or our terminal coma patients. On one occasion, I tried to comfort, in English, the visiting daughter of an elderly terminal patient. I received an intense, grateful torrent of Hebrew that I could do nothing with! I summoned a qualified nurse, one who I knew had enough English to understand me, and asked her if she could offer some comfort to the family member…
The chaplaincy service ran a non-denominational weekly chapel service for staff at 7.30 am on Wednesday mornings – in Arabic, with discrete simultaneous translation of the sermon for non-Arabic speakers. I was in the habit of attending that, and we were encouraged to worship with local churches on Sundays. I trotted down the hill, through the alleyways of the Old City, to the Anglican Christ Church congregation, which was meeting in the airy, modern chapel of the Catholic Sisters of Nazareth convent, on the same block as their own historic building, which was undergoing extensive earthquake strengthening and repairs.
It was an Arabic language Eucharist service, with the liturgy provided in an English book for those who wanted to follow and make the responses or sing the hymns in their own language… and so I muddled along, at times with the strong tenor alongside me of Rhys, a British senior medical student who was volunteering in the hospital’s A&E department as his final year elective.
I came to be in the habit of slipping down the hill, through those atmospheric alleyways past the souk, on some quiet days after work, to sit in the half-light on the step facing the grille at the entrance to the Grotto under the Basilica. The tour groups were gone by 5.30 pm, and the hush would be broken only by sometimes a distant drift of ecclesiastical music. Those steps… glimpsed past the colourful altar set up behind the grille – those steps – maybe a young Yeshua had skipped down those often on his way to visit Granny Annie? I could relate those steps to my travails in the Village… Oh yes…
It all began in 2018. Jennie Lewis and her son, Thom, visited Israel on a tour organised by The Tree of Life Bible Society, an American Messianic Jewish group. And it was during that trip that Jennie visited the Nazareth Village for the first time.
And so, fast forward to the Spring of 2020, when the grass under the Village olive trees is lush and sprinkled with colourful wildflowers, when the almond trees are in bloom, and the air is almost chill, I find myself back in Nazareth Village, not as a tourist but as an international volunteer for the Nazareth Trust.
It is my privilege to don the ankle-length rough fabric tunic, all-covering headscarf and flimsy flat leather sandals at the beginning of each working day and head out into the Village to collect olive prunings or carob pods to feed the sheep confined to the fold, or to carry an earthenware vessel up the steep paths past the potter’s workshop and the synagogue to the well.
My given Village name was “Naomi”, and the tour guides would often stop their groups and talk with passing or working Villagers, encouraging photos and conversations. They made it clear that we were volunteers from many different countries and were free to talk to visitors, whenever language difficulties did not intervene! Guides translated from my English into Portuguese and Korean, Italian and Tagalog, Gujarati and German, Japanese and Norwegian (I well remember a group of younger high school students from Norway who were too shy to practice their English!). They were interested in the carob pods (the ones the prodigal son would gladly have eaten himself, rather than be feeding to the pigs), the sheep, what I was doing so far from a New Zealand homeland – and always wanting photos with Naomi, many of them smiling close packed selfies.
I remember one earnest conversation with an Israeli who lingered by the sheepfold as his group moved on… “I am a Jew”, he said, “not a Christian, but I want to know more about why shepherds are so important in these stories of Jesus – I have many questions!” But his guide sent a group member back to fetch him as the next group approached the sheepfold. “Keep asking those questions!” were Naomi’s last words to him… I do hope he does!
I found it touching how enchanted the visitors seemed to be with the Village, its Villagers and the small insights it offered towards a greater understanding of the first-century lifestyle behind so many of Jesus’ parables and metaphors. I quickly learned, first-hand, how hard many aspects of that lifestyle were. Fit though I am, my feet and lower legs ached as I made my way hour after hour over those Village slopes on rough paths in non-supportive footwear. On the rainy days the visitors huddled under supplied umbrellas while my tunic clung wet around my ankles, my feet slipped around on the mud inside my sandals, and I was glad of the thick, olive-coloured hand-woven woollen shawl around my shoulders, and at times over my head. Village life varied greatly as the weather and the seasons changed, my experience was teaching me. Knowing 21st-century comforts, I would not have found sleep easy on a pile of straw on the packed dirt floor of one of those little rock village houses, with the chilly wind creeping in through non-glazed windows and the snoring of my whole extended family in the same tiny room!
(And anyone who walked from Nazareth to Jerusalem and back twice or three times a year over those paths in footwear like that has my respect!!)
Watch this space on Monday for the next chapter of Jennie’s story!
Eva Walderhaug Sather, one of our wonderful SERVE volunteers, has shared with us her experiences in Nazareth. Eva has worked as a lead nurse in hospital (medical wards) and community (health visitor and home care). She has also been in leadership in universities, as well as lecturing up to 30 years all together in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (Norwegian University of Science and Technology/NTNU). She was awarded the degree of Philosophiae doctor (PhD) in Medicine in 2020.Her theses were about mental health services in the transitional process between hospital and community (patients and healthcare professionals experiences).
I visited the Nazareth Trust for the first time in 2017 on a tour with volunteers from ‘The Norwegian Church Ministry to Israel’. In 2018, I applied to work for three weeks as a volunteer at the Nazareth Trust through SERVE Nazareth, which was then run by Christine Farah. I went to Nazareth, went into the hospital together with some local volunteers to different departments, and sat with patients and prayed for them. And I felt that I was in the right place. One night during that stay, on the 10th of March 2018, a word from the Holy Bible especially touched my heart: ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62). That was a challenge – but meeting people in Nazareth had given me a heart for the people there – and I realized that God has given me a calling for serving in Nazareth further on. – And then Covid-19 arrived!
On a tour trip to Nazareth in the autumn of 2022, I made an agreement with the SERVE coordinator Majdoleen to volunteer at the Nazareth Hospital for one month, the next January (2023).
I worked in the Maternity ward (Obstetrics & Gynecology Care) at the Nazareth Hospital. I received a warm welcome as a foreigner among the staff. They said, ‘it’s the first time we have a volunteer from Norway!’ I did my best and fell quickly into their routines and learned a lot from the healthcare professional staff. I just loved to take care of the newborn babies and give the parents some advice and instruction with baby care. Each newborn baby is unique and a wonder!
I live on the west coast of Norway, near the town of Aalesund, and I am lucky to have a family with grown-up children and grandchildren. I have a Bible study group with six younger Eritrean women (from different congregations). I also have contact with some Arabic-speaking people, Muslims, that live in the neighborhood. I am still doing some research as an emerita professor/lecturer and writing scientific articles. I enjoy my life here, but still, I must go to Nazareth – to meet the local people there!
Serving in a maternity ward is a chance to serve and love the local people. I think serving is helping me to focus on the right things in life, not just on money and productivity. Doing something you believe in will probably amplify your faith. Also, participating in a volunteering team is instructive and valuable; you make friends, grow in your faith, and learn a lot from other cultures.
Being an ‘English speaking’ person in the hospital seems not to be a big challenge, even with patients (young parents). But when a parent asks for a pacifier (English), in Arabic ‘masasa’ or in Hebrew ‘motzetz’, it could be a challenge. When the staff had their professional discussions, I had to ask what it was about afterwards. And with the local people in shops and churches, it would be useful to talk in their language in order to have a deeper and better interaction with some of them.
I have planned to go back for a month (5-6 weeks) period, probably two times a year. Further on I would like to serve and meet local people living in Nazareth and its surroundings.
SERVE Nazareth just landed on Instagram.
Make sure you follow our new page so you don’t miss out on any updates!
Practical information on the SERVE program, lots of photos and videos of what our volunteers get up to, exclusive interviews with our SERVERs and much more!
After former SERVE Director Christine Farah transferred to the Nazareth Hospital’s Pastoral Care Team, we were delighted to appoint Majdoleen Nawatha as SERVE Nazareth Coordinator on the 20th of September, 2022.
Welcome to the Nazareth Trust’s family, Majdoleen! Thank you for all your wonderful work so far.
Please read on to learn more about her: