for release November 29, 2002
by Melodie Davis
Light for the World
My college friend, Michael Hostetler, lights a match and holds it to the wick of a 2,000 year-old-lamp that comes from the land where Jesus was born, lived and died. Archaeologists estimate the lamp to be 2,000 years old judging from other artifacts they have from that period.
My mind does a double take. The lamp is 2000 years old, and you're carrying it around in a plastic Cool Whip bowl protected by Kleenex? Shouldn't it be in a museum somewhere?
Reverently, Mike places the lamp on a small stand, while his wife, Virginia (Ginny), reads from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5. "Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house." Mike and Ginny see the lamp as a symbol of hope and the light they are trying to let shine in a land that we too often associate today mainly with suicide bombings and complex conflict.
Mike and Ginny have worked for about five years on a project called "Nazareth Village," which took virtually the only undeveloped land in Nazareth, Israel, and preserved it as it would have been found and used during the first century: olive trees, vineyards, terraced hillsides, small stone homes, a synagogue.
It helps visitors, including many schoolchildren from the region who come on field trips, to experience life as it might have been during the first century. So as many as 70 percent of the 22,000 schoolchildren who have visited so far are actually Muslim, learning not only about the history of their land, but also about who Jesus was. Children can ride the donkey, pet the sheep, participate in the preparation of authentic foods-similar to outdoor living museums such as Colonial Williamsburg, (Va.) and many other examples here in North America. Nazareth Village covers 12 acres where, carob, wheat, grape vines, figs, barley, and mustard grow-the stuff Jesus grew up around and used frequently in his parables and preaching illustrations.
Before creating the village, the project managers engaged archaeologists for five seasons of archaeological digs. They discovered a first century wine press, terraces, rock quarry, three agricultural watchtowers, and a rare, wet-farm irrigation system carved from solid rock. The re-creation was the long time dream of Dr. Nakhle Bishara, a medical doctor and native of Nazareth whose family has lived in Nazareth for nine generations. He dreamed of a place where local Christians and international visitors, who flock to the Holy Land, could see land preserved in the natural way it would have looked when Jesus was there. (Rather than having cathedrals or memorials/museums built over it like you find at Bethlehem, Jesus' birthplace, or at the site where he was killed.)
Nazareth has been hard hit by the worldwide downturn in tourism since September 11, 2001, and locally by violence and suicide bombings in Israel and occupied, contested territories. (Nazareth is somewhat isolated from ongoing violence.) "Hotels in Nazareth had a 3.6 percent occupancy rate last year," said Michael this past August. "I don't know if you can appreciate what that means for the hotels and all the tourist-dependent local industry: restaurants, gift shops, stores, bus companies."
So Nazareth Village is focusing more on school children than international tourists and turning to other sources of income to keep operating: a gift shop and items for sale at their Internet site (www.nazarethvillage.com <http://www.nazarethvillage.com>). They sell authentic costumes for religious pageants, cards, lamps and other goods.
Mike and Ginny have two school-aged children. What kind of courage does it take to live in a land that many fear even to visit right now? "We try to be smart. We avoid crowds and public places, don't use bus stops or buses," Mike says. "There is more danger of you in North America being killed driving to work in the morning than of our being killed by violence in Nazareth," he notes.
They believe firmly that the light Jesus brought to the world is meant to be shared with all those around. They engage in respectful dialogue with the many visitors who come who are different from them. Jews make up a majority of the Israeli population followed by Arabs who make up about twenty percent of the 6.5 million inhabitants in Israel. Only two percent of the population is made up of Christian Arabs.
Ginny and Mike grew up as children of mission workers in Brazil-so perhaps it is not too unusual to find them so willing to live and work where Jesus lived. After I wrote those words, I stopped: "To live and work where Jesus lived." What an opportunity! To carry around with you a 2,000-year-old lamp: pretty amazing. What a privilege!
For a Christmas card from Nazareth Village and Another Way, write to
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 805 words; end material = 105 words
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