Around 14,600 people attended the two weekends of Journey to Bethlehem, a live outdoor retelling of the birth of Jesus Christ, on the campus of Harvester Christian Church on Dec. 3-4 and 10-11 to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.
“We ultimately hope [people] come to know Jesus,” Joshua Bond, communications director at Harvester Christian Church said. “That is our ultimate goal. We want people to be inspired by the true meaning of Christmas.”
The Journey condenses the 72 mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem into a one mile trail. On the trail visitors will encounter Roman guards, sheppard’s, families, angels, the Three Wise Men and Baby Jesus. After the journey is complete, guests are invited to enjoy warm cookies and hot cocoa.
“I think my favorite thing about it is that it is a unique way to tell about the hope of Jesus,” Bond said. “It is different than coming to church. It is easier to get people to come. If anything, it plants a seed for people to find and follow Jesus.”
This year, Journey to Bethlehem was paired with Wrap a Bottom, a diaper initiative to help supply disposable diapers to needy parents in the local community. The church encouraged visitors to bring a pack of diapers to Journey to Bethlehem. Thus far, 226,252 diapers have been collected. The church’s goal is to collect 350,000 diapers by Dec. 18, the end of the diaper drive.
“I think it is a great opportunity to tell others about Christ,” senior and volunteer Rachel Creeley said. “It’s a lot of fun to hang out with my friends and spread the word about Christ at the same time.”
This year, 99.1 Joy FM, a Christian radio station, was out at the church for the first night. This night had the most attendees and diapers donated.
“We were trying to come up with creative way to promote this event and fill the extreme need of diapers in the community,” Bond said. “99.1 Joy has a big outreach and I became friends with a host. I pitched the idea to him and he decided they wanted to be apart of it. It added a lot of excitement and there was a good feeling among people waiting in the lines.”
Over 700 volunteers from the church were needed to put on the event. These volunteers ranged from sheppard’s, villagers, guides, angels, Roman guards, parking lot crew, and people who donated cookies. The church estimates over 40,000 cookies were donated and eaten.
“[Volunteering] is important to me because as Christians, we are called to tell others about Jesus and this is a great way to do it,” Creeley said.
Journey to Bethlehem is on its 24th year and has increased in turnout every year. Next year, the church has decided to take a year off and continue the event in 2018. They plan to use this time to improve Journey to Bethlehem, but will continue the Wrap a Bottom program next year.
“I would [recommend attending] because it helps people get involved with the church and allows people to have a fun experience learning about Jesus,” senior Bekah Fincke said. “I plan on attending each year because it brings my family together and strengthens my relationships with God.”