Walking an Ancient Path
by Dan Biggar
For the past five years, the late fall days have meant one thing for the congregation of Faith Baptist Church in Sydney, Nova Scotia: building a village in the parking lot! A huge tent houses this village and soon the sound of hammers, saws and power tools are daily heard as fifteen booths, a manger scene and holding pens for the animals are built. Wood shavings and hay cushion the cement pavement. Lanterns are hung. As opening night approaches, booths are decorated and smaller items are assembled, including baskets, pottery, fresh produce and even fresher fish for the fishmonger’s booth. The animals arrive from a local farm: miniature horses for the blacksmith shop, sheep for the outdoor shepherd’s enclosure and, of course, the donkey at the manger scene. Have you ever seen the breed of donkey that has a cross on its back?
There is much activity in our village as it opens to the public and the census taker records each visitor as he or she enters through the gate. Roman soldiers roam the village, occasionally arresting any villager who hasn’t paid his taxes. The offender is then thrown into jail or put in stocks on public display. A beggar with blackened teeth and a hunched back is also working the crowds for alms. The carpenter gives away necklaces made of wood. The leather maker gives away leather bookmarks. Visitors are invited to sample fresh baked bread at the bakery booth, grapes at the produce stall, even fish at the fishmonger’s booth. There is a rabbi standing outside the village synagogue ready to answer theological questions. But the highlight is the manger scene and the shepherd standing there describing his encounter with angels and the exciting news about the birth of the Saviour.
This experience, this journey back in time, is called The Bethlehem Walk. It was held in 2011 from November 25 to 27. Approximately 1300 people came through the village to hear about the true meaning of Christmas.
Every Fellowship Church seeks fresh, innovative opportunities to make the gospel message clear in its community. The Bethlehem Walk has been that effective ministry for us. Nearly our entire church family from the youngest to the oldest has been involved in different ways. Once we start, we work six days a week with Sundays off for the building crew. On weekends as many as 35 to 40 people are busy creating our version of Bethlehem. There are costumes to make and fit, props to build, Roman armour and weapons to make, painting to be done, even first century breads to prepare. The goal of all this effort and time is to direct the visitor to the manger scene where the truth about the real Christmas is clearly presented. For those who are interested in learning more, a literature table by the exit doors offers free Bibles and tracts.
A couple visited with us from three hours away. On Cape Breton Island, that is as far away as you can be and still be in Cape Breton. They saw a news clip on television and made the decision to come and see this live presentation for themselves. Another lady drove for over two hours to hear and see what this live Nativity scene was that so many were talking about.
As a congregation we have fun doing this outreach. We are pleased to see how God has honoured this over the years. We can definitely say that over these past five years, we know about 10,000 people have heard the full gospel story. They now know that Christmas really is all about God’s most unique gift to our world, that it’s all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, not Santa Claus.
—Dan Biggar is senior pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Sydney, Nova Scotia.