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, which is taking place through Sunday at South Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church, 5607 S. Freya St.
“It’s neat to put so much time and work into it,” she said. “It brings it home for me personally because it’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about sacrifice and the gift of hope.”
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 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.
This weekend his role will be helping to light the 200 tiki torches and the 10 fire pits that illuminate the village, as well as to make sure all the tents are heated for the actors. Frigid temperatures are expected this weekend, which he said shows how dedicated the volunteers are to the program.
“The community seems to appreciate it,” he said. “So we keep doing it.”
“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.