The Gift of the Journey

During an already busy time of year, hundreds of volunteers all over eastern Washington gear up to build a reproduction of the ancient burg of Bethlehem. In each location visitors come to experience Bethlehem and what it may have been like when Jesus was born. Most do not travel the 108 miles to reach Bethlehem by foot like Joseph and Mary did from Nazareth.

Journey to Bethlehem was held the first weekend of December in Wenatchee, Yakima and Spokane, Wash., as well as Hermiston, Ore. In Milton-Freewater, Ore., it was held the second weekend of December. The challenges this year were the frigid temperatures, which probably dropped attendance a bit. But Wenatchee had 3,068 guests, Spokane South Hill had approximately 3,000, and Hermiston saw 1,118 visitors.

The low temperature in Wenatchee was 9. Spokane was at 4 on Saturday, and in Hermiston the first night saw 3 degrees and even colder. Many of the scenes had heaters nearby where the actors could warm up between visits by groups. On Sunday night Hermiston temperatures dipped to a low of -8 degrees according to the National Weather Service.

The Friday before Journey to Bethlehem began, the Hermiston steering committee for holding their sixth event met to discuss whether to go forward because of the cold. Their consensus was, “We’ve planned, we’ve worked, and we’ve prayed, so we will go forward.” Their Journey was a combined effort for the Anchor Point, Irrigon and Hermiston churches.

This year each location saw more community involvement as well. In some cases local church leaders signed up their members to help with the event. The Journey has become a community effort to tell people about Jesus.

Guests were thankful for the reminder of Jesus' birth. Some of the comments from Wenatchee during this fourth year of Journey included: “I thought it was great and what a great way to teach people about the Bible” and “Thank you for letting me be a part of this! I hope to come every year; this has changed my life so much.”

From Spokane South Hill some commented: "Very good. Thank you for walking the walk and talking the talk," "Most moved by the exhortation to go and tell everyone of the Christ Child" and "It's awesome. I really appreciate what South Hill Church has done for the community. God bless you richly." Someone added, "It was amazing. Cold, but I don't regret freezing to hear the story of Jesus our Savior."

This year Spokane’s Journey to Bethlehem was covered in the Spokesman Review. Highlights of the article appear below.

Ultimate Gift (by Tracy Simmons, Spokesman Review)

Kristi Browning’s two young children can’t remember a Christmas when their mom wasn’t re-creating the town of Bethlehem. Coordinating some 300 volunteers, writing scripts and designing costumes begins in October for Browning and the crew responsible for the annual “Journey to Bethlehem” outdoor event at the South Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church. At the event, guests are led through Bethlehem, where they encounter a leper’s shelter, a guard’s house, the inn without any available rooms and numerous merchants until they reach the manger where they find Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.

“The manger scene is potent,” Browning said. “People tend to get emotional. When they’re standing there [and] it’s very quiet, they stop and pray and think about it,” she said.

Nancy Engle, who has volunteered for “Journey to Bethlehem” since it began seven years ago, said annually about 5,000 people come from all over the region to witness what Bethlehem was like on the night Jesus was born.

It’s become a tradition for many area families, she said. “The church is committed to hosting “Journey to Bethlehem” every year, Engle said, because it’s a gift to the Spokane community.

“We’re not out trying to win people to the church,” said 84-year-old volunteer Ted Lutts. “Many people don’t know the real Christmas story. They think of Santa Claus and that type of thing. This is our part in trying to introduce people to the other part of Christmas, which is the gift of Christ.”

Lutts helps build the sets and props. The angel scene, he said, was one of his favorites to create this year.

“Journey to Bethlehem” is free, although monetary donations will be accepted for Second Harvest Food Bank. Last year the event raised enough money to serve 8,000 meals, Engle said.

To read the complete article, go to

February 23, 2014 / Upper Columbia Conference