Guests Join Experiential Journey to Bethlehem

February 02, 2016 | Heidi Baumgartner

For the last 10 years, Peter Vukshich is the first face guests see each year at Journey to Bethlehem after meeting their guides. Depending on the script, he is either King Herod in his court or Simeon in the temple.

“After playing the role of King Herod, I like being Simeon because it is a chance to improve my public image,” Vukshich jokes. “In a two-and-a-half minute sketch, I have to present a total psychopath presentation of King Herod. It can scare children at times (and even myself).”

The Journey to Bethlehem (J2B) ministry in Auburn just completed its 10th anniversary of presenting an interactive outdoor nativity story for the community to experience. Through the years, nearly 50,000 guests have experienced the nativity story — and sometimes in ways they didn’t expect.

Experiencing Bethlehem

Faith groups have a rich history of sharing the treasured story of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. These presentations vary in scale and concept.

Auburn’s presentation of Journey to Bethlehem is designed as an experiential encounter in which guests join a journey as they visit wise men, enter the city gates to a Middle Eastern marketplace, face Quirinius to pay their taxes, join the shepherds in the field after being expelled from the city, see the angels appear and discover Baby Jesus at the manger.

 “I have seen several situations where people were resisting being pulled into the story and what it means,” remembers Bill Roberts, one of the guides. “But the manger scene quiets them every time. The Holy Spirit uses that moment to tug on the heart and draw people to long for peace and hope.”

The two key alternating scripts have interesting backstories in which Herod’s spy discovers how he wants to serve a new King or the prodigal son who desires to reconnect with his father.

“At the manger, the prodigal son, who we call Caleb, realizes that he has nothing to give the Savior but his heart — the gift God wants from all of us,” says Wilma Bing, co-producer and one of the script writers.

Ticket coordinator Cheri Fletcher recalls one year when a lady told her how God was prompting her to come back to church and how she had discovered a promotional flyer. “I worked her in,” Fletcher says. “Helping people get into J2B and hearing the stories of how this was their first time in church or to hear the story of God’s gift was worth every hour of my time.”

Beyond acting, designing the city and building the set, Vukshich highlights another important theme. “The big story for us is how Journey to Bethlehem bonded our church,” says Vukshich and his wife, Branka. “We’ve found a better sense of community. Journey to Bethlehem is where you get to know people in your own church.”