13th Annual Journey to Bethlehem
Over the course of four frigid December 2009, nights, with temperatures in the teens, more than 7,300 people came to the Kelso-Longview (Wash.) Adventist Church to attend the 13th annual Journey to Bethlehem. Here's one guest's letter in response to the event:
"I went on the Journey for the first time this year. It was absolutely amazing. I had no idea what to expect. As I sat in the church foyer watching the 'variety show', I couldn't believe the number of people that attended . . . and the number of people it took to pull off this whole Journey experience.
Everything was very organized: from the parking, to the tickets at the door, seating process, variety show, big screen number of whose turn it is! So organized and thorough; it was great.
From the moment I stepped thru the gate . . . I was amazed and overwhelmed with the feeling of being somewhere 'else'... Bethlehem. The beggar sitting on the ground, so authentic and real seeming; I had to grab my friend's arm and say 'Look, look how real he looks!' As I walked thru the streets (as it seemed like streets) I was accosted by vendors wanting me to buy their wares . . . 'Here, here! Come over here, I have the freshest chicken for you!' The feeling of corruption and control by the Roman guards was thick, and the smells and sights I was seeing were so powerful... I felt apprehensive, and in danger.
At one point I thought, 'I lost my 'scroll'... as I looked around on the ground, the guide who was protecting our 'family' from the back... helped me find it laying not far away. "Keep this safe, cousin," she warned, "as it will pay your taxes."
When we were lined up to enter the tent, the guard was harsh and wielded his sword around. When we entered the tent, the guard pushed into the tent bellowing, "Get back! or feel the edge of my sword!" I literally jumped away and cowered, I was so into the moment of the Journey.
As we walked up the little rise and came across the angel; then upon the manger with Baby Jesus . . . I couldn't believe how I was feeling. My heart was in my mouth. Almost crying, I was so overwhelmed with the Journey and what it had showed me about what those people before had gone thru and suffered. How corrupt the world had become, and why Jesus was sent to save us . . . me.
This Journey was a big deal, it has helped me to re-establish how important Jesus in my life is. I also now realize what others have gone thru, for me to have the rights and privileges and grace, that I have in my life today.
The live animals, the camel, the attention to detail of authentic verbiage, and street activity, right down to the smells . . . !! So great in 'getting me there,' that place in my heart where my own realizations come and the importance of this 'journey' that has been put together.
The temperatures were below freezing, I am sure that the people who stood out there in character were cold to the bone. Yet, there you all were, making this be real, and continuing on, despite 10 degree weather. The amount of work that has been put into this is astounding me. I even drove back the next day, in the daylight, to look at where the 'city' is. I live a good 40 miles away in Oregon, but I needed to see the city in the light. As I drove around the parking lot in a circle, I still was so touched by the work, and people that went into making this happen. I was pointing out...'Oh there, that's where the camel was! Up there is where the angel appears out of the rock!! And here at the end, they give you a hot cup of cider.'
Thank you so much for giving me this Journey. A few tears even rolled down my face as I write this, as I am overwhelmed with emotion, as I remember and feel the feelings, my heart is aching. So many times, I forget, forget to pray, forget to think of Jesus as my Savior, forget of the suffering . . . forget the freedom that I have due to the grace given to me. The Journey has helped me to feel Jesus inside me again. I have told everyone of the great Journey that I took, and that they too should go! I am looking forward to next year . . . please do it again."