Over 3,100 people made a journey to Bethlehem in Grand Haven (Mich.) during Advent this year. The journey was made possible through the efforts of more than 20 local churches, including First Christian Reformed Church of Grand Haven, Covenant Life CRC, and Ferrysburg Community CRC.
Visitors to Bethlehem encountered fierce Roman soldiers.
“We were put in the family of ‘Zechariah’ and received our family names of the tribe of Judah coming from Nazareth, going to Bethlehem to be registered and to pay our tax,” said Marian DeGram of First CRC.
People were led in groups of 25 by a guide along a dark outdoor trail from Nazareth to Bethlehem. “Along the way we met Roman soldiers—one on a horse, people tending fires, shepherds, angels singing about the newborn King, a beggar, live sheep and goats, and Magi, among many others,” said DeGram.
In Bethlehem they found a village where they could interact with shopkeepers and woodcarvers like Joel Darling and his 12-year-old son, volunteers from First CRC.
“Interacting with the visitors was entertaining. It was especially enjoyable to ask about the gadgets they had that were unfamiliar to the time, such as flashlights and cameras,” said Darling.
At the inn, groups were told there was no room and then sent to the stable where they found Jesus, this King they had heard about since the beginning of their journey, in the manger.
“There were many great stories of how great it was to be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas, and how the gospel was presented in such a simple way,” said DeGram, who helped sew over 20 of the 200 costumes worn by volunteers.
The sold-out event was directed by Terri Metzger of Spring Lake Wesleyan Church, who had been working on it for the past two-and-a-half years after hearing a call to remind people of the real reason for Christmas. “To see the tapestry that God has woven in the churches of the Tri-state area has been really beautiful,” said Metzger.
“The experience was amazing,” said Trudy Abraham, a volunteer from First CRC. “The whole journey became more real for the volunteers as they portrayed the event for the public, so it was not only a blessing for those who came but for those who volunteered. It drew people together from many of the area churches, which was also a blessing.