ORLANDO (FBW)—Several churches in Florida offered their communities a taste of first century Bethlehem this season. Visitors drove through or walked through scenes of Jesus’ life while guides shared the scenes’ meaning in the Gospel message.
For ten years Delaney Street Baptist Church has invited residents of its Orlando neighborhood to spend a December evening at the church. Over four nights Dec. 10-13, the cast of 100 recreates scenes from Jesus’ life while guides shepherd groups of ten through the L-shaped display area. They see Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth—the crowded inn and marketplace, and the stable. The tour culminates in Jerusalem at the sites of the Crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb and His resurrection.
Larry Hollister, a 57-year-old layman at Delaney Street Baptist, leads his church in the vast project. He also works as manager of an Orlando Sentinel distribution center. He told Florida Baptist Witness he manages his time, but also trusts God in the details of the annual event.
“I work 24/7 for the Sentinel and I work 24/7 for God,” Hollister said, multi-tasking with his Blackberry and laptop in a “floating office.”
When interviewed Dec. 10, he said he still had “50 things to do” before the production opened eight hours later. Hollister said he relies on God to bring in volunteers, mostly from the congregation, but some from the neighborhood, to help in the last minute crunch.
“It’s always interesting to see who God brings in to help,” Hollister said.
The 2009 edition of “Walk Through Bethlehem” includes a new resurrection scene. In years past, an actor played the part of Jesus; but the new scene features a scene projected on a 6'x6' screen. When the expected 1,500-2,500 visitors leave the resurrection scene, they must exit through an opening in the screen, symbolizing Jesus as the door to life, as “the only way,” he said. Each presentation is followed by a personal testimony and an invitation to hear more about Jesus. Those who do not want to talk with a spiritual counselor gather with members of the congregation for snacks.
Hollister, who grew up only a few blocks from the church, said he hopes the “Walk Through Bethlehem” will reach non-Christian families like his own. He recalls visiting a Sunday School class at Delaney Street, but said his childhood family of five did not attend church. He became a Christian after meeting his wife-to-be, a member of Delaney Street Baptist. Together they have created a Christian family.
“I want families who can’t afford to go out to come here,” Hollister said. “This is such an opportunity for the church to reach the neighborhood—to reach families like mine.”
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