Today we are going down to the Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary. We are having an orientation session with May, who will outline the programme for the month with us, and we will also have an opportunity to look around the college and meet the rest of the staff.
We have breakfast at 8.30 a.m. which is an interesting mix of humus, cheese, ham, eggs, tomato, cucumber, and bread. The bread is a bit like pitta bread and I rather like it. The coffee tastes rather like Bovril so I think I will stick to tea from now on. After breakfast May and Azar collect us in their cars and transport us to the college. Nazareth is 100% an Arab town – the largest Arab town in Israel with a population of around 70,000 although that can rise to as many as 250,000 on a working day since it serves as a centre for the surrounding region.
The college is compact but very nice with a library, offices, lecture rooms and a kitchen. It is nice to meet up with Bryson (who is the President or Principal of the college), and Azar, and Phil Hill (two of the lecturers here). I have met them before – a few years ago, at Spurgeon’s College in London where I was studying for a research degree. They were in the UK for discussions regarding NETS linking up with Spurgeon’s in order to take on board the same BD degree that Spurgeon’s teach, in Nazareth. At the time there was some talk about me acting as some kind of ‘link person’ between the two colleges. Although this didn’t materialise in the end I retained my interest in the work in Nazareth and have always wanted to return to Israel to learn more about the work amongst Arab Christians.
Our morning begins with Arabic coffee which I am somewhat suspicious of to begin with but which is actually really nice. We all gather in Bryson’s office and share our stories – who we are, why have come on this sabbatical, and so on. I love hearing people’s stories, and some of the stories are very moving. If there is a common theme, apart from the fact that we are all Christians, it is testimony to how God has graciously brought us all through difficult times. There are still four more members of our group to arrive. They will be flying in tonight – David, a Church of Scotland Minister and his wife Margi, a medical doctor, and Graham, another Church of Scotland Minister, and his mother, Rosemary who is retired. They couldn’t arrive before today because both of these reverend gentlemen were preaching yesterday.
After our coffee, and the sharing of our various stories, May gives us each a copy of the programme for the month and talks us through the various days activities. Essentially our month will comprise of a combination of various classes in which we will learn about the situation in Israel, visits to major sites of historical and spiritual importance, and opportunities to share in ministry of various forms as well as visiting various different Christian congregations in the vicinity. It looks great and we are really looking forward to it.
After our orientation we wander down into the centre of Nazareth with May. We grab a bite to eat at one of the numerous food outlets. I opt for a ‘falafel’ which is like an open sandwich stuffed with all sorts of local produce. I haven’t got a clue what is in it, but it is yumacious! After our ‘on the hoof’ lunch, May takes us round the various local sites of interest. We visit Mary’s Well, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation, and the recently discovered site of an ancient Roman bathhouse that dates from the time of Jesus where we are assured that ‘Jesus washed here!’ Some of these sites we have seen before, but it is so good to be back. Somehow they seem to mean more to us this time. Perhaps it is because we have more time, or maybe it is because I understand the geography and the places better than when we were last here? As per usual I take loads of photographs … even though I probably have similar photos of the same places back home – photos I took eight years ago when we were last here!?
We catch a bus back up to Saint Margaret’s. May comes with us to make sure we don’t get lost. I manage to get lost even before we get to the bus stop. One minute we are all together and then, because I have stopped to take yet another photograph, everyone else has disappeared! I wander around aimlessly looking for the other members of the group. They are nowhere in sight. Eventually I find Chris and Margaret. What a relief … until I realise that they are lost as well! The three of us wander around aimlessly looking for the other members of the group. Just as we are giving up, Julia finds us! Where would I be without her? She takes us to the bus stop where we eventually get a bus back to our hostel. We arrive just in time for dinner! It is chicken again! We have the feeling that we are probably going to get a lot of chicken?