[Washington] December 17, 2009
Despite the frigid December temperatures, more people than ever took the "Journey to Bethlehem" in the Upper Columbia Conference in 2009. In addition to the Hermiston and Spokane area events, which have been put on in previous years, Yakima members put on their first Journey to Bethlehem this year. In all, more than 7,400 visitors passed through the three Journey sites.
Journey to Bethlehem is more than just a living nativity; it's a dramatic production of life in the town of Bethlehem. The whole event is designed to give visitors a realistic view of what life was like in Jesus time. Visitors go on a journey back in time so that they arrive in the city on the night that Jesus was born. They walk among shops where buying and selling are going on as usual, pay their taxes to the Romans at the tax office, inquire about lodging at an Inn that is already full, and listen in as an Angel tells the shepherds where they can find the ultimate Christmas gift -- Jesus the Savior.
For church members it's a journey of faith because it takes months of preparation creating costumes and props, and hours of practice to act out the scenes. It's a group effort that can take as many as 300 volunteers and several area churches to put on.
"Sometimes during the process you feel like it is going to be a very expensive failure," says Nancy Engle, who has directed the event in Spokane for the last three years, "but God multiplies our efforts and things come together."
"When the Yakima Church board voted in April to present Journey to Bethlehem, they knew it would be expensive and time-consuming," says Nita Hinman, Yakima Church Communication Secretary, "but they felt inspired by those who have done it in the past."
Finding a church member to direct the even in Yakima was their first challenge. "Debbie Gilbert, one of our members who is a full time nurse, turned the position down at first," said Hinman, "but after praying about it for a month, she was impressed to accept the major responsibility, and what a fabulous job she did! Our members felt "The Journey" was a wonderful experience and powerful evangelistic tool, and we hope to do it for many years to come. We plan to add Thursday night, because people had to be turned away Saturday night."
For visitors it's also a journey. Often guides note a change in the tenor of a group as it travels along the Journey. Some who at first may laugh and poke fun at the "pretending" of the guides and their assistants, by the end express reverence and appreciation of the wonder of the incarnation of God in the tiny baby Jesus.
Comments from those who do make the journey seem to indicate that there is a powerful impact. Statements like, "that fed my soul," and "I'm coming to your church next week," are a delight to hear for any pastor or church member and a great opportunity to share the gospel. Journey to Bethlehem is a wonderful opportunity to give your community a greater knowledge of the details of prophecy, fulfillment, circumstances, culture and history surrounding the amazing birth of Jesus Christ. Shalom.