— Flat-roofed houses still dot the Nazareth
skyline like they did in Jesus’ time, but these days they’re covered with
A good bit has changed since Jesus grew up in the Galilean city. But one thing
rings true across the years: Christ’s hometown still needs His peace, said
“People think of Israel,
and they automatically think of biblical Israel
instead of the modern-day political state of Israel,”
said Tyson, a Southern Baptist worker in Israel.
They don’t realize that Israel
is a diverse nation of many different ethnic populations, he explained.
The residents of Nazareth — including the members of Israel’s first Baptist
church, planted 100 years ago — are Arabs, not Jews, even though Israel is
majority Jewish. The Word is preached today in Arabic at Nazareth
just as the church’s first sermon was preached decades before Israel
was a nation.
Today in the town of 80,000, roughly 80 percent are Muslim, 20 percent are
Christian by background and a tiny sliver of that number are evangelical
believers in Jesus.
It’s that way even though Christians have had strong roots in the town since
Jesus’ day. Two churches — including the Church of the Annunciation, the
largest church in the area — claim to be on the place where Gabriel told Mary
she would bear God’s Son.
“Even in Nazareth where we’ve had a
Christian presence for a long time, it’s hard for Arab Muslims to see what a
Christian is,” said Adam Roberts *, a Southern Baptist worker in Israel.
“We want to show them that it’s not just our identification or our background.
Our faith … transforms our whole life in Christ.”
It’s slow work to overcome religious barriers, but workers are still tending
the mission field where Baptists began planting spiritual seeds in 1911,
Roberts said. One way he’s doing this is through his work at Nazareth
where he teaches Bible to teens. About 20 percent of the K-12 students are from
a Muslim background, he said.
“The parents in the community respect the high academic reputation of the
school to the degree that they are willing to accept that their children will
be taught about the Bible,” Roberts said. “Because of this, I’m able to talk
openly about the Gospel.”
“Openly” is a bit of an understatement — he said he’s shared the Gospel more in
one year at the school than he did in several years of youth ministry back in
“I encourage them to speak freely about their questions and their own faith and
talk about where our beliefs are different,” Roberts said. “I tell them if we
fall to the temptation to say we are the same, we are robbing both of us of
important aspects of our faith. It’s good to talk about what we share, but it’s
also good to discuss where we are different.”
Roberts asked for believers to pray:
- for the 1,000 students who attend the Baptist school in Nazareth.
- that the school will find qualified teachers who are Christ followers.
- that churches in the United States
will partner with the school, leading a week of chapel at the school or
partnering in other types of work.
*Names have been changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Thomas is an International Mission Board
writer/editor based in Europe.)