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Walking in Joseph and Mary’s shoes

Christmas event allows visitors to ‘Journey to Bethlehem’

Walking in Joseph and Mary’s shoes

Olivia Higgins traveled from Tracy to Ceres to walk down the interactive path in the "Journey to Bethlehem" at Grace Community Christian Church on Thursday. Here she looks at beads in the Bethlehem...

POSTED December 4, 2009 11:45 p.m.
For 13 years in a row Jack and Judy Megee have donned biblical garb and led their “family” on a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They assume the names Isaac and Mary for the journey, and they travel by foot carrying only lanterns and walking sticks; and they do this all without leaving Stanislaus County.
The Megees are volunteer actors in Grace Community Christian Church’s “Journey to Bethlehem” interactive tours. They lead visitors on a trail that is modeled after the biblical road between Nazareth and Bethlehem. Visitors are taken on a tour that retells the Christmas story from a traveler’s point of view.
Grace Community Church holds “Journey to Bethlehem” every year during the first two weekends of December. The trail, and a re-created Bethlehem, are located on the church’s 20-acre property in Ceres.
Visitors are grouped into a Hebrew “families” for the 45 minute walking tour. All families are traveling to Bethlehem to pay taxes and to be counted in the census imposed by the Romans. Along the trail they meet other families, Roman soldiers, three wise men and other figures from the Bible. As they visit each stop along the trail, the story of a baby born in a manger slowly unfolds.
Pat Mason, director of “Journey to Bethlehem,” said that the free event is the church’s way of giving back to the community. About 200 volunteers start working on costumes, set re-designs, and organizing the December tours as early as January. Michele Wright has been volunteering at “Journey to Bethlehem” for about 10 years. This year she can be seen in the Bethlehem marketplace.
“I get a blessing out of it, out of seeing people’s faces as they come through,” Wright said.
The set is made up of several permanent structures on the property that have to be maintained from year to year.
“We’ve added a lot to it since the first year. The Jordan River wasn’t there in the beginning. The actors in the market place now have heaters, it used to get very cold out there,” Mason said.
The church has also added a corrugated tin roof to the Bethlehem marketplace structure, one of the largest buildings in the set. Volunteers show off beads, spices, and foods that would have been offered in a similar market in the real Bethlehem during biblical times.
The tours start at 7 p.m., but guests line up as early as 5:30 p.m. to get a spot towards the front of the line.
“We’ve been here for about an hour and 35 minutes, but it’s worth it,” said one man towards the front of the line on opening night.
Gates close at 9 p.m., and Mason said that they try to get everyone in line through the tour.
“We close at 9 p.m. so everyone can go home at a relatively decent hour,” she said.
Upwards of 10,000 visitors are expected to visit “Journey to Bethlehem” this Christmas season. The tours are open Dec. 5, 10, 11, and 12 and they start at 7 p.m. on week nights and 6 p.m. on Saturday. The one-mile walking tour takes about 45 minutes. Grace Community Christian Church’s Web site does not recommend attempting the walk with strollers or wheelchairs, as the pathway is uneven and covered in wood chips. Mason said that because the tour takes place after dark it is often very cold, and she recommends warm clothing and gloves.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.

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