Peace on earth in a land of unrest
TIBERIAS, Israel — An Israeli, a Serbian, a Canadian and…
NAZARETH, Israel — Jerusalem. Galilee. Pisgah.
Like a kid on his first trip to Disney, I was excited to see the places that I’ve read about my whole life when I traveled to Jordan and Israel recently. Seeing the places in person gave me a deeper appreciation and meaning into the world of Scripture.
Related: Peace on earth in a land of unrest
But one stop that became an unexpected favorite was Nazareth — a city that once prompted the disciple Nathaniel to ask, “Can anything good come from there?”
On Sunday, we drove from our hotel along the Sea of Galilee, past Cana, to worship with a group of about 20 Christians in Jesus’ childhood town. That church, tucked in a modest building off a side street, became the highlight of the trip.
Before the start of worship, minister Maurice Jadon shared the story of the Church of Christ in Nazareth.
The congregation was started as a mission effort in the 1960s when George Bailey and a group of about 20 couples traveled to do an evangelistic campaign. They stayed 10 days in a hotel where Maurice worked as an accountant. Though the idea of American missionaries traveling to Nazareth to teach people about Jesus seemed crazy, Maurice was baptized along with over 60 other people after hearing three days of preaching. After a few years, only a few remained.
Supporters helped the church purchase a building. Missionaries would spend two years living in an upper room apartment on the second floor. After 20 years, things changed. In an attempt to keep the Jewish faith and tradition pure, the government withdrew visas from missionaries coming to preach Christ. They could only return as tourists.
In order to survive, the church had to develop its own ministers. After a year of prayer, Maurice accepted the call. He left his job as an accountant. His wife, Inaam, stepped away from her work as a kindergarten teacher. The couple and their children came to the U.S., where Maurice studied at the Sunset Institute of Biblical Studies in Texas.
The family returned to Nazareth in 1990. Maurice has served as the church’s full-time minister ever since.
Our licensed tour guide for the trip was Sandro, one of Maurice and Inaam’s sons and a member of the church. Sandro graduated from Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee and now works with another church member, providing Bible land tours.
Spending time with the church in Nazareth was a beautiful glimpse into the true church. Our group of about 40, led by Mark Blackwelder, a Bible professor at FHU, filled the room. We sang from song books with English and Arabic words. We shared the same melody, even if our languages sounded different.
Chad Ramsey from Tupelo, Miss., preached a message from 1 John in English as Maurice translated. We prayed and shared communion as the Body of Christ. And then, as if taken straight from Scripture, we met in an upper room to share a wonderful meal prepared by the church.
After lunch we boarded our bus and traveled across town to the site known as Mount Precipice. The area overlooks the valley of Jezreel where many significant events of the Old Testament took place.
In Chapter 4 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus returns to Nazareth, where he was invited to read from Isaiah in front of his hometown synagogue.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After he explained that Isaiah’s words were fulfilled in him, even suggesting they applied to others outside the boundaries of Jewish faith, Jesus’ own people turned against him. Mount Precipice is the cliff from which they tried to throw him.
The irony of reading that text in that place was not lost on me. Here we were, a group of Gentiles, united in Christ, all because his life and ministry were powerfully confirmed by God.
Thankfully, there remains a small but faithful group of believers in Nazareth continuing to preach the same Good News today. They deserve our prayers and our support. And if you ever travel to Nazareth, you would be blessed to join them for worship. I suspect it might become one of your favorite stops in the Bible lands.
JEREMIE BELLER is opinions editor for The Christian Chronicle. He is dean of Bible and director of church relations for Oklahoma Christian University. He preaches for the Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.
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