Follow the Star Shares Nativity Story With Thousands

At the end of 2022, more than 4,500 people over six nights found themselves experiencing the story of Jesus’ birth at Follow the Star in Gladstone, Oregon. For nearly two decades, volunteers from all over have come together on the campgrounds at Oregon Conference to bring the Christmas story to life in the live-action interactive experience.

Visitors experience scenes from the story of Jesus’ birth including the Magi following the star, the angels appearing to shepherds and even the bustling evening markets of Bethlehem. Singing angels announce Jesus’ birth; mounted Roman soldiers in full armor ride near the visitors’ path. Beggars move through the crowd asking for alms, filling in the sights and sounds that are easy to miss when we sit down to read our Bibles.

Approximately 100 volunteers worked together each night to make Follow the Star possible. Volunteers of every age worked as actors, production staff and in visitor relations, bringing months of planning to life. One volunteer, April Burville, shared just how important Follow the Star has been to her family. “This last year was my 12th year participating,” said Burville. “It would have been the 14th if we hadn’t missed the last two years, but I started participating the first year after we moved to Oregon."

"My husband grew up in Gladstone Church where Follow the Star started, so he'd been part of it before," Burville continued. "I did it at first because he was doing it and I found out I could sing as an angel in the choir. I really got involved because I wanted to serve and hang out with people I liked. But every year since I’ve seen miracles happen.”

Burville shared that over the years, there would be frequent worries over volunteers — whether an acting volunteer canceled or not enough people signed up until the last minute — but God always came through to meet their needs in the end. “I've seen it happen over and over again. Almost every year I hear people say, ‘I don't think we're going to have enough volunteers this year,’ or ‘Who’s going to fill this part?’ but I always think, ‘Don’t worry. God’s got this.’ And guess what? Every time He actually does. It works out and it’s beautiful.”

Follow the Star is a visibly intergenerational ministry. From parents and grandparents shepherding children through Herod’s temple, to a cast of characters that includes every living generation, visitors and volunteers alike get the chance to spend time face-to-face with people from across the generational spectrum.

Burville shared Follow the Star has created an annual tradition that has bonded her family even closer. “This has turned into a complete family event for us,” she said. “I think my son Tyson was in kindergarten when he started as a little shepherd. At the ages of 5 or 6 years old, each of my boys have joined the shepherds. My husband now does two parts; he'll be a shepherd on a couple of nights and he'll be King Herod on a few nights. Now that my boys have gotten old enough, they know their parts and they don't even need him."

"Follow the Star is something we all look forward to," Burville shared. "We all go out and freeze together and we're all tired over those weekends together. Even Sabbath — after being up late on Friday and then getting up early and going to church — turns out to be a blessing because we're all tired together so we all come home, laze around and crash for a couple of hours before we get up and go do it again! It turns into family time and makes for these unexpected moments, even just around the dinner table where we share the funny moments or something cute that a kid said or something. Giving our time to the community like this always turns into this joy that bubbles over into the rest of our lives. It’s incredible.”

As an annual project, Follow the Star is always looking for new partners and volunteers to join them in the upcoming year. “If you feel even the tiniest ping in your heart to volunteer and to be a part of this program, do it,” said Burville, “You'll be blessed many times over by answering that call, rather than staying home.”

According to Nate Hellman, pastor, 984 people came through Follow the Star on its final night — giving each the chance to connect with new friends and, most importantly, be reminded of the reason for Christmas. The story of God on Earth. The greatest story ever told. The story of Jesus Christ.

Featured in: March/April 2023