Published December 22, 2005
Jackson, a historic town located midway between Atlanta and Macon, annually hosts a Christmas parade in December. A year ago First Baptist Church capitalized on the event by having a “Happy Birthday, Jesus Party,” complete with a church float in the parade.
Pastor Stan Patterson and his wife, Nancy, had only been in the church a few weeks prior to the birthday party for Jesus. At that time Nancy commented on how the church would be a good place to have a “Walk Through Bethlehem.”
Linda Watts, a member of the church’s Community Ministry Committee, explored the possibilities of the church enacting the Christmas story in a setting replicating first century Bethlehem.
Team leaders were selected for WTB and well over 100 people participated. Involved were draftsmen, carpenters, seamstresses and construction workers. Coordinator Roger McDaniel and construction team leader Loy Hutcheson oversaw eleven buildings being constructed.
Watts commented, “WTB has really helped bring a lot of people in our church together. In the past year over 100 people have joined our church and this experience has provided the opportunity for many new members to get to know long time members as they worked painting scenery, building fences for animals or constructing stalls for booths. Revival is taking place at First Baptist Jackson. God is at work in an awesome way.”
Patterson explained, “The people of our church who made a commitment to this project were marvelously dedicated and worked long hours until the finished product was realized. Most church people are not going to do more than we ask of them, so I just asked them to get involved; they did.”
Animals were gathered to give authenticity to the Bethlehem experience including camels, goats, sheep, donkeys and even a horse. The two camels were a part of this year’s Christmas parade through the streets of Jackson. They bore signs inscribed with the words “Follow me to Bethlehem.”
And the people came from near and far to see this “thing which had come to pass.” More than 2,700 people were actually registered (providing information on census cards) by the church at the beginning of the “walk” and tour guides (“citizens” of Bethlehem) helped the travelers get past the Roman soldiers and the tax collectors. The tour guide took them through Bethlehem, stopping along the way to chat with shopkeepers, always searching for a place for the travelers to stay for the night.
After visiting the stable, the tour guide turned the group over to one of three pastors (also in costume) who delivered an evangelistic message giving the rest of the story. An extended walk past Bethlehem led to the cross and the empty tomb. At the tomb, the group was presented with the opportunity to make a profession of faith by praying the sinner’s prayer with the pastor.
Those who prayed to receive Christ were invited into a tent where counselors were provided to encourage new believers to continue their “walk.” Watts stated, “Many seeds were planted and we believe that many more decisions will come about as a result of WTB.”
Patterson indicated that there have already been 158 individuals who prayed to receive Christ as a result of this “event evangelism” outreach. Patterson said, “I had an opportunity to witness to the girl who brought the camels and she prayed to receive Christ. The experience has really helped our church to get a vision for evangelism.”
And yes, they are going to do it again next year. The dates are already set – Dec. 1-3, 2006.
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