Journey to Bethlehem reenacts trek to Jesus’ birthplace

Ken Barnes/News Tribune
Journey To Bethlehem, held through Saturday at Capital City Christian Church, begins Thursday in the home of Amos.
Ken Barnes/News Tribune Journey To Bethlehem, held through Saturday at Capital City Christian Church, begins Thursday in the home of Amos.

Rachele Birdsong has taken her 6-year-old daughter, Bexley, to Journey to Bethlehem since Bexley was 1 year old.

"I bring her every year because I want her to experience what Christmas is all about," Birdsong said.

She decided to take her daughter to the event at Capital City Christian Church repeatedly even though it has stayed relatively similar, since she does not want Bexley to forget the true meaning of Christmas.

"It's not just about the toys. It's about Jesus and the journey (his family) had," Birdsong said. "She learns a little bit more each year."

The nativity event is being held through Saturday at the church at 1608 Swifts Highway. Most of the journey took place on the hill next to the church. Groups of around 30 participants follow a Jewish family as they travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to pay their taxes and register for the census.

As the groups travel, they encountered harassment from Roman soldiers and even occasional robbers. However, they also stop by markets and the dwellings of scribes, shepherds and the three wise men for rest and advice. Participants even get to see real sheep and a camel.

The friendly passersby talk to participants about Jesus. At one point, angels suddenly appear out of the dark to sing hymns about the coming birth of the Messiah. Finally, groups reach Bethlehem and visit the manger where Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus are staying.

All of the characters are volunteers from the church dressed in costume, as close to 200 of them run the event each night. Some are actors, others take care of the animals on the trail, and some usher and welcome the guests, said Frank Goehringer, teaching pastor at the church.

One of the actors Thursday night was Emily Wright, who played a candle seller at the first stop of the journey. This was her third year helping out at the event and second year playing a market seller at the Nazareth stop.

"It just seems like a fun thing to do and a way to engage with other people and those that are part of the church that I don't know yet," Wright said.

As participants came through, she would chat with them and remind them to get enough supplies for the long walk ahead, as well as how to stay safe.

"It's the first stop for everyone. It helps set the tone for people as they start doing (the journey)," she said.

As for the participants, Goehringer estimated there would be around 2,000 visitors during the three days. Most of them would be families.

"A lot of it is weather-dependent from year to year, but that's around the average of what we'll see during this weekend," the pastor said.

In a new development last year that continues this year, participants with a physical or mental disability and their families now go as a group on each night. Instead of walking up and down the hill, volunteers will drive them through the trail, Goehringer said.

"It's a story that you don't change much," he said. "There (are) very few places where you can go and actually still hear the actual story of the birth of Jesus. We feel like this provides an opportunity for families, for people, and especially for young children, to be able to come and get a holistic experiential activity that they get to be a part of."

photo Ken Barnes/News Tribune Participants in the Journey to Bethlehem stop in Nazareth to enjoy the offerings of its market. The event, which started Thursday and continues through Saturday, is being held at Capital City Christian Church.
photo Ken Barnes/News Tribune Participants in the Journey to Bethlehem stop Thursday to ask for directions in the Capital City Christian Church's annual production of Journey to Bethlehem. The event, which started Thursday and continues through Saturday, is being held at Capital City Christian Church.
photo Ken Barnes/News Tribune Three wise men who bring gifts for the newborn King are one of the features in the Journey to Bethlehem. The event, which started Thursday and continues through Saturday, is being held at Capital City Christian Church.
photo Ken Barnes/News Tribune A village market in Bethlehem is a welcome sight in the Journey to Bethlehem. The event, which started Thursday and continues through Saturday, is being held at Capital City Christian Church.