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Home  >  Features  >  From Armenia to Nazareth


The Nazareth Hospital in 2016. The building at the right is the new School of Nursing.
The Nazareth Hospital in 2016. The building at the right is the new School of Nursing.

From Armenia to Nazareth

Thursday November 24 2016

Morgan Jamieson highlights the history of EMMS Nazareth, a Scottish organisation which has supported medical care in Nazareth for 150 years.


Within the bigger picture of the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society, this year also marks another significant milestone relating to the long history of the work and witness of EMMS.

In 1857 a young Armenian, Pacradooni Kaloost Vartan, who had been educated by American Presbyterian missionaries in Constantinople (Istanbul), arrived in Edinburgh and sought the support of EMMS. Thankfully not put off by finding him ‘ignorant of the Latin language’ the Society pledged to pay for his education at Edinburgh University.

Following graduation in 1861 Dr Vartan returned to the Middle East working briefly in Beirut before moving on to the town of Nazareth, already the site of an Anglican mission, where he established a small clinic with four beds. At that time Vartan was the only doctor, and Nazareth the only hospital, between Jerusalem and Beirut.

In 1864 the Syrian Asylum Fund, which had originally sponsored Vartan’s work, wound up its activities leaving him with no means to continue to develop the hospital. In his own words, written in the Medical Mission circular the following year, “I do not know in what circumstances I may be placed during the ensuing year; but I am sure of this, the Lord will provide”. Not for the first time in his life that provision was to come through EMMS. Although previously committed to supporting medical mission in more general ways the Society were persuaded to adopt Dr Vartan as an ‘agent of the Society’ with the provision of an annual salary of £100, initially for two years.

Through the goodness of God, and the generosity of the many who have, through EMMS, continued to support the Nazareth Hospital, that initial two year commitment has, as of 2016, been faithfully maintained for 150 years, most recently through EMMS Nazareth (The Nazareth Trust). The Trust was inaugurated in 2001 specifically to focus on the work of the hospital and associated services in Nazareth, with the other expressions of the wider work of EMMS thereafter being upheld and progressed by the sister charity EMMS International.

The Nazareth Trust now includes not only the continuing stewardship of the hospital (the principal healthcare provider for the local population) but also a School of Nursing (established 1924); a programme (SERVE Nazareth) offering individuals and groups opportunities for service, spiritual development and experience of life in the Holy Land; and outreach clinics to underserved communities in the West Bank. In addition, in 2015, the Trust took on responsibility for the operation of the Nazareth Village, a recreation of life in 1st Century Palestine based around archaeological remains discovered on land immediately adjacent to the Hospital.

Dr Vartan initially went to Beirut to assist in relief work necessitated by a civil war in Lebanon. Since then, throughout the history of the work in Nazareth and into the present day, the region has known much of conflict, political and social change, division and unrest. In parallel the hospital and nursing school have had to adapt from being traditional expatriate-led ‘missions’ to taking their place in contributing effectively within the regulations and structures that make up the healthcare and educational landscape of modern-day Israel. In so doing, while staff and those who access services are welcomed from all faiths and communities, EMMS Nazareth retains a specific commitment to the needs of the local Palestinian Arab population and, within that, a particular intent to offer support and encouragement to the Palestinian Arab Christian community.

In recognition of its contribution over many years the Israeli parliament, in 2012, gave its annual award for a valued contribution to the nation to the Nazareth Hospital, the first time the award had been made to a non-Jewish organisation. The accompanying citation noted that ‘the work of this old respected institution is based on the values of compassion and love for all people... and treats everybody the same since they were created in the image of God’.

For further information on the work of EMMS Nazareth (The Nazareth Trust) visit or call 0191 520 8030