Greetings from Nazareth!! It is officially the beginning of our final week here in Nazareth, which almost marks the half way point of the trip. It is hard to believe we will soon have to say goodbye to this beautiful town. Outside of my home states, I have never travelled to a place so comfortable. We have been blessed here in a thousand more ways than we could ever have returned these blessings. I will briefly describe a few relationships that I have forged since arriving.
First, the overseers of Serve Nazareth are a wonderful young couple named Jillian and Matt from Florida. They have an especially strong conviction to promote unity among the Christian churches here in Nazareth, as the conversions of faith are 99% of the time from denomination to denomination, not–for example–from Islam to Christianity. Rather, it is Catholic to Baptist, or Marionite to Orthodox. Obviously this is a huge waste of effort as we all serve the same Jesus. We have really enjoyed our time here with them, and I admire both of them immensely. Jillian is due to have their first child in August, and I would love it if you would keep them both in your prayers. Matt has a heart to begin a university exchange program here at the hospital, and is finishing up his masters degree; it would be great if you could keep him in your prayers too.
Assis Suheil (Soo heel) is the Chaplain here at the hospital, and he is a wonderful Christian man with a strong heart for Christian unity as well. He has been a huge blessing to work with twice a week, and he always takes time to sit down and chat about the social, political and religious problems of Israel. He has been here fourteen years but has only recently FINALLY earned the respect of the non-Christian staff at the hospital. I would love it if you would keep his ministry in your prayers. He is also going to take the team and me into the West Bank to meet Palestinian Christians, an extreme minority here in Israel. 20% of the country is Arab, and only 2% is Arab Christian, and an even smaller percentage of that is Palestinian. It is Palestine, however, that really needs the peace and love of our faith. We will go on Tuesday, so you can also keep our ministry there in your prayers as the city we are visiting has been historically hostile to the gospel.
Another relationship I have forged is with a man in the souk in the Old City. We met because Rhys, Chelsea and I were returning from the Basilica and I stopped to coo over his 2 year old niece Natalie. I ended up bumping into Natalie no less than 5 times that day, and by then they decided they quite liked me. They are an Armenian Christian family, and they really enjoy talking with us. If we are going through the old city, we make sure to leave an extra half hour or so, because they feed and water us. Natalie’s father is very sweet too, and they have been invaluable in learning a Christian perspective on this city.
Another relationship is with the falafel shop owner Solomon, or Sullyman (if you say it with the accent). He is a non-practicing Muslim man who is so so sweet. We met him randomly; Matt had told us about his shop because it is the cheapest, but we couldn’t find it for the first day or so. Solomon called us over while we were buying fruit one day, and so began what would become one of many long conversations. The boys have especially bonded with him, and Solomon has introduced us to Muslim Culture, which is a more accurate description of the majority of Muslims. Like many Christians at home, this is a group of people who are Muslim by birth but aren’t religious at all. He is a Muslim agnostic, for the most part. He is incredibly kind, and today he took three of us up to Mount Precipice with him and his two children. It has a 360 degree view of the miles of country side around Nazareth. If you would like, please pray that we have sown seeds in his heart. He has no animosity to Christianity, but neither does he have reason to leave the Muslim Culture that he was born into. He is one of the gentlest, sweetest people I have ever met, and I can only imagine how he would impact lives with the love of Jesus.
There are so many more people that I could write about because so many people have touched us deeply. I could write about the North Carolinans who lived next door briefly, and the sweet doctor student from the UK. I could write about Christine and her daughters, or Marianne and her occupational therapist aunt. I could also write about the nursing students, who–despite being deeply religious and faithful Muslims–are unbelievably welcoming and insist we come on evening walks with them to discuss everything from faith to puppies to Arab weddings.
I will try to do two or three more posts before we leave for Bethlehem. I didn’t describe some of our more recent activities, but I will. Mostly, I just wanted to take the opportunity to show how we have been blessed by local Nazarenes. We only have 5 days left in this beautiful little town, and I will be so sad to say goodbye!
Finally, please pray that our final week will be used for God. We may never know what seeds we’ve sown or how we’ve shown Christ to others, but we have assurance that nothing we’ve done had been wasted. God has blessed us with these relationships, and we hope that the blessings have been a two way street!
PS. We have two mice living with us. Apparently this is really rare! Lucky us? They’re named Chester (the fat one) and Lionus (the skinny one). The majority of my team is quite frightened of them, and we must now leave the kitchen AND bathroom light on at night because they are so terrified ;)
Hopefully the rat poison kicks in soon; we are pretty sure it was Chester who broke into Rhys’ candy bag and dragged candy through the bottom. He’s not impressed, and things might get messy if the mouse keeps up his daredevil ways!