Journey to Bethlehem

"Best Christmas pageant I've ever seen;"

"Incredibly professional;"

"Can't believe it's the first time;"

"It fed my soul;"

"I'm coming to your church next Sunday." (It was explained that we worship on Saturday.);

"Felt so warm and welcome;"

"Are these professional actors?"

"I have never been in an Adventist church before. Do you have a statue of Ellen White? The Catholics have Mary."

These are only a few of the comments via email, letters to the "Yakima Herald," and personal by some of the 3,157 (more than 2,500 of them non-members) who braved temperatures in the low 20s to take the first annual "Journey to Bethlehem" December 4–6 at the Yakima Church. (Sunday night there was a wind-chill factor much lower, but more than 1,000 came out anyway.)

When the church board voted in April to present J2B, they knew it would be expensive and time-consuming; but they were inspired by Dave and Teresa Livermore, who had done J2B in the Kelso-Longview Church for several years. The next important step was to choose a coordinator, and Harry Sharley, pastor, felt impressed to ask Debbie Gilbert. Initially, Gilbert, a busy nurse, turned the position down, but after much prayer (for a month,) she accepted the major responsibility. With her positive spirit, her knowledge of the church members, and organizational skills, God truly blessed!

Although nearly 200 volunteers had a part in preparing for the "Journey," several stand out: Patty Small, Bev Campbell, and their team began creating costumes in May, working three to four days per week. The grand total was 117—most of which were tunics plus a lined coat, to insulate from the cold. (If they had been paid just $10/hr, their labor, not counting the hand work they took home, would have been worth more than $28,000.) The outdoor participants had on so many layers they looked and felt as if they had gained at least 50 pounds.

Bill Faith, retired dentist, designed, and with his team, worked six days a week, starting in August, building collapsible buildings that can be stored and used each year. Several ladies, led by Mary Kay Frey, painted them.

Peggy Krueger, along with Gilbert, started shopping for props immediately after the go- ahead and were fortunate to purchase many beautiful "fake" trees, fruit, etc. at a fraction of their cost at a twice-a-year warehouse sale. Krueger did a beautiful job of decorating most of the shops, the Rabbi and tax collector tents, and the inn.

Izzy, the rented camel, was a delightful attraction. Izzy's owners also provided two zebus (miniature cows), one of which enjoyed being petted as she was led back and forth through the town. In addition to those animals, of course, there were donkeys, goats, and sheep, plus a horse from Camp MiVoden rode by one of the "Roman soldiers."

The Yakima Church members, most of whom who were involved, believe the "Journey" was a highlight in their year and a very powerful evangelistic tool. They hope to do it for many years to come, possibly adding a fourth night to handle those turned away.

Featured in: February 2010