Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 2, 2012

Area residents invited to spend ‘A Night in Bethlehem’

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — A portion of Bluefield’s Lotito Park has been taken back in time as members of a local church invite local residents to spend “A Night in Bethlehem.”

Rev. Mike Baker, pastor of Bluefield Community Church, said the event is put together by church members to demonstrate what the town of Bethlehem would have looked like on the night of Jesus’ birth. Baker said more than 600 people visited “A Night in Bethlehem” last year.

“We began this four years ago, but we were snowed out our first year,” Baker said. “A person from our church suggested this as a possibility. We started talking about it and one thing led to another. It’s great for team building with our church family as well as a great outreach in the two Virginias. The city of Bluefield has been so kind to let us have this coinciding with the Holiday of Lights, so it’s a win-win for us.”

Shepherds, goats and children mingle with shop owners and tax collectors throughout the marketplace and live nativity the church set up in the park. Baker said “A Night in Bethlehem” gives an interactive Christmas experience to visitors.

“It keeps Christ in Christmas; it keeps the main thing the main thing,” Baker said. “You get back to the roots of Christianity and Christmas. For younger kids, this allows them to see this in action, to see how primitive things were. We have the sights, sounds, and hands-on activities. It is completely free of charge. It’s just a service we do for the public.”

Church member Faye Louthan operated the pottery shop in the marketplace, teaching visitors about life in Bethlehem.

“I have volunteered for this every year the church has put it on,” Louthan said. “We let the children paint the pots and talk to them about how people ate in Jesus’ time. We talk about baking pots and how it was like in Bethlehem. A lot of these kids only know about Walmart, so we teach them what things were like in the marketplace back then. People from all over come to see us, especially after visiting the Holiday of Lights. It’s a nice outreach. It gets people away from the hectic world and back to the simple time, to remember Jesus’ birth and how humble it was.”

Sheila Lusk, 50, of Falls Mills, Va., said seeing the marketplace scene and live nativity while at the Holiday of Lights sparked her interest.

“Every year we come to the Holiday of Lights, and I didn’t know what this was,” Lusk said. “We saw something that looked like Bethlehem and wanted to know what was going on here. I think this is a great. They have put forth a lot of effort to this. It is a great thing they are doing for the community. They are teaching the kids about the Bible story and why we have Christmas. This is better for the kids. It’s hands-on and interactive. It’s much better than just hearing the story. More and more people are forgetting the true meaning of Christmas. This is helping bring it to life for people.”

Leroy Keaton, 65, of Princeton brought his grandson with him to experience the event.

“We went to see the Holiday of Lights, and this was the first time we knew this was going on,” Keaton said. “I think this is just wonderful. It keeps Jesus in people’s minds and teaches the kids about the Bible and how people lived back then.”

Cassandra McKinney, 29, of Bluefield, Va., stopped by the marketplace after going through the Holiday of Lights with her family.

“We came out so the kids could see the lights, and we didn’t know this was here,” McKinney said. “It’s beautiful. They have real goats and we loved getting the bread in the bakery. It’s just great. Everything is so real, and we really love it.”

Andrea Rice, 40, of Bluefield said she brought her children out to show them the reason for the season.

“The birth of Jesus is the most important part of Christmas,” Rice said. “We want our children to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. They get to experience what it was like then. It helps them see what Jesus’ life was like. We spend so much time on the commercial aspects of Christmas. To see the true, simple reality of Christmas is important.”

Rice’s 8-year-old daughter Payton agreed.

“It’s important to remember Jesus and what he did for us,” she said.

Bluefield Community Church will continue “A Night in Bethlehem” on Saturday, Dec. 8 and Sunday, Dec. 9 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the park. For more information, call 304-800-9325 or 276-701-6109.

— Contact Kate Coil at