Last month we shared a reflection from one of our long-term SERVE volunteers, Sophie. This month we’re sharing another reflection from David, Sophie’s husband. After a year with SERVE, David and Sophie have now moved on to their next adventure, please continue to pray for them as they begin this next chapter in their life and for all our SERVE volunteers. Read on to find out more about David’s time with SERVE Nazareth.
Our time in Nazareth has been a rich joy and a blessing for me. For many years, Sophie and I had both felt God’s direction and call on our life towards overseas work. For me, this took the form of a love for language learning and for coming to understand the history, economics, politics, and environmental issues of other regions of the world. The Nazareth Village offers a remarkable context for this sort of learning, with hundreds of people from many different countries and backgrounds streaming in every day, eager to talk and eager to learn about Jesus’ culture and hometown. Talking with guests and leading tours in English and Spanish, I have learned so much about geography, history and the Christian faith as it is practised throughout the world. I have also learned many words and phrases in various other languages!
Guiding at the Nazareth Village has created an extraordinary space for my faith to grow. Learning how to give a tour is an intensive exercise in scriptural, historical, and archaeological reflection: essentially, memorialising 75 minutes of biblical scholarship. Visitors bring insights and questions every day, and in my experience, the tour evolves continuously as new connections and ideas come up. It is a lovely space for deepening and contextualising one’s faith.
The Village also highlights the value of beauty in finding faith and peace.
During our time here, I have come to believe that pilgrimage – in some form or other – can be a highly enriching part of religious experience. In much of Christian history, devout people have travelled from one place to another seeking to encounter God and others along the way, and encounter God’s presence in a place where God might be more palpably present. Underneath all the busyness of a tourist attraction, the Nazareth Village has at its core this purpose – people come here to encounter God in a different way. I can often tell that my tour guests are euphoric – are energetic, open, excited, exhausted, exhilarated, and ready to hear and take in scripture and spirit.
For people in many societies, going to a new place is a more common life experience than ever before in history – we travel to socialise, to meet the demands of ever-more internationalised and demanding markets, and for vacation and a break. With so many secular reasons to go to new spaces, the Nazareth Village challenges me to consider how we might nurture a new sense of pilgrimage – using travel and connecting in new spaces to strengthen our connection with God. Whether internationally or at a regional level, based on my time here I believe pilgrimage should be far more widely practised in Christian communities.
The Village also highlights the value of beauty in finding faith and peace. As someone who will probably work indoors in offices throughout life, I have felt so grateful to have this year of spending about 6-8 hours daily outdoors in a pleasant climate. The Village is lush and green, except for the fields of flowers that cover the hill, brightening up every day. The centuries-old olive trees convey a sense of timelessness, and the many vegetables, herbs and trees are a reminder that utility and beauty can and should closely intersect as we devise green spaces. As I experienced two crises of health in my family – my father’s possibly-terminal Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and the difficult infancy of my new nephew – I believe that being outside in a gorgeous and soothing space has been invaluable. As with many Christian sites in the Holy Land, natural beauty and human structures join together to enrich those who come and see.
More broadly, our experience with SERVE Nazareth has been a great blessing. SERVE is an efficient, brilliant organisation that works closely and synchronises well with the Village and Hospital. We have many opportunities to connect, and meaningful work to do. Our apartments are beautiful and comfortable, our food is delicious and healthy, and our costs are far lower than at home in the U.S. We feel so grateful for those we have met here. Our supervisors and friends, Jane and Christine communicate clearly and helpfully and cultivate strong relationships with long-term volunteers, while giving everyone the tools and flexibility to explore and experience Nazareth. We look forward every week to our time with them. We’ve also had the chance to meet and get to know many volunteers from all over the world who have enriched our lives.
Our work here has included leading tours at the Village (guiding many thousands of guests), teaching and tutoring English, visiting hospital patients, arranging apartments for many guests, fundraising for the village, organising chapels and Bible studies for international volunteers, and writing about our experiences for those back in the U.S. It is all a joy. I hope that I can be a part of inviting others to join in here, and that God who began this work will be faithful to complete it.
David, SERVE Nazareth volunteer, 2018-19