Nazareth Village attendance rises
Region's volatility causes uncertaintyBy Mennonite Mission Network
NAZARETH, Israel — Less than a year after regional hostilities endangered the vitality of Nazareth Village, the re-creation of a first-century village set a record for attendance.
More than 5,300 people visited Nazareth Village in March — a 30 percent rise over the last two years and the largest attendance in any month of the village’s history. The village also experienced higher-than-projected visitor counts in April and May.
“We are grateful when we have tourists and people coming and are very mindful that it could all change tomorrow,” said Shirley Roth, executive director of Nazareth Village through Virginia Mennonite Missions and Mennonite Mission Network. “It is living by the ongoing grace of God.”
The military activity between Israel and Lebanon that began in July 2006 caused a sharp downturn in visitors to the region. Village officials said Israel’s ministry of tourism suggested it would take up to nine months for a full return to normalcy after hostilities ceased.
Despite a surprising influx of tourists in November, tourism over the winter months was bleak until busloads of visitors flooded the village in March.
Tourism for all of Israel has increased sharply this year, but Nazareth Village attributes much of its own visitor increase to concerted efforts in communicating with more churches and tour operators worldwide.
In recent months, the Bible Society in Israel funded booklets produced by Nazareth Village that use village photographs to accompany Jesus’ words from the Bible. Another series of new booklets feature Bible stories and parables with photographs and analysis based on a first-century context.
Roth said village leaders struggle with the uncertainty inherent in living in the Middle East.
“There are no easy answers,” Roth said. “You can tell how long someone has been here in the land by how many definite answers they have. The longer you’re here, the fewer answers you have on how to deal with the conflicts and constant upheaval.”
Tour groups, churches, colleges and others from more than 65 countries have visited Nazareth Village, mingling with Muslim and Jewish schoolchildren of Galilee who arrive on class excursions.
Besides Roth, Glenn Edward Witmer is on the board of directors at Nazareth Village and is affiliated with MMN and Mennonite Church Canada Witness. Anita Rhodes, Tara Kreider and Danny Yoder, all of Harrisonburg, Va., will serve the village through VMM’s tranSend program starting this fall.
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