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Russellville First Baptist Church holds live walk-through nativity

With the help of more than 100 volunteers, Russellville First Baptist Church staged a three-day immersive live outdoor nativity experience this past week.

Titled “A Walk Thru Bethlehem,” the event included costumes, props and scenery, along with live animals, including camels, horses, goats and a donkey. It all helped set the scene to give visitors an idea of what Bethlehem might have been like at the time of Christ’s birth.

The journey extended about one city block from the church, and each tour group spent 40 minutes experiencing the displays.

RFB youth director Joel Davis reported more than 1,200 people experienced the free event.

Originally scheduled to run Dec. 13-15, the church moved those scheduled for Dec. 14 to Dec. 12, in anticipation of rain.

“We’ve been blown away by reactions to the experience,” Davis said. “I haven’t heard a single negative comment.”

RFB pastor Chase Dowdy said the church has been “truly amazed by the response.”

“The overwhelming support of our community means so much,” he added. “We hope each person who walked through our journey was encouraged and reminded of the hope and love that came down to the world in a manger.”

Guided tour groups started in the church’s recreation hall, where guests had the opportunity to enjoy hot chocolate while waiting for their turn. After stepping out into the parking lot, groups continued across the street and through the alley.

Volunteers dressed to resemble people from that time operated market stalls and portrayed other scenes to help give a sense of what it would have been like back then.

The experience included seven scenes, among them Nazareth, a marketplace, a synagogue, shepherds and the nativity. Encounters along the way included Roman soldiers, beggars, shopkeepers, shepherds, foreign kings and the baby Jesus in the manger.

Davis explained the idea for the event came from Luke 2, where the Bible describes Caesar Augustus issuing a decree to tax the entire world. The church’s walking experience was meant to bring to life some of the issues going on at that time, including soldiers taking things from people, high taxes being imposed and religious leaders trying to enforce 613 laws.

“Joel  and I planned the sets, and he, along with others, helped build them,” explained retired RCS art and drama teacher Lela Ray. She said it took everyone working together to pull it all off successfully. “I am so very proud of my church family. They went above and beyond, and I appreciate them so very much.”

Ray said they all had a common goal that helped bring them together in this endeavor.

“We all love the teachings of Jesus, and we wanted to tell his story,” she explained. “We pray it touched those who witnessed it through this experience.”

She said it also helped church members get closer. “Teams of church members helped with the props and decorating the sets. We all got to know each other so much better. Reaching out helped us to reach in, and we’re so appreciate of all who came to take part in the experience.”

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