MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Thursday, December 17th.
Thanks for listening to The World and Everything in It. Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next: Bringing the Christmas story to life.
A small church in Mississippi has taken on a big project each Christmas season, going on 18 years now. Church members work together to depict live scenes that tell the story of Jesus’ birth.
BASHAM: Because visitors drive by the scenes in their cars, it’s one Christmas event COVID won’t cancel this year.
WORLD Senior Correspondent Kim Henderson brings us the story.
KIM HENDERSON, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Members of New Sight Baptist Church started checking things off their Christmas list early. In October. Things like a manger. Angels. Some sheep.
BRENDA: We put out our big buildings that we pull out and get those set up. Somebody was smart enough to put them on skids, and that helps with our backs and things.
Brenda Foster heads up the church’s annual Christmas drive-through event, which starts in about six hours.
AUDIO: [BRENDA AND WORKER]
They’ve spent two months constructing props to look like Joseph’s bedroom, a Judean hillside, Caesar’s palace, a stable. Now it’s crunch time.
With six bales of hay providing the crunch.
BOBBY: That baby ought to sleep good in that…
The event requires lots of volunteers, from electricians to actors.
They staff 20 stops around a long circular drive in front of the church building. The stations depict everything from the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to the empty tomb.
Todd Sumrall says the annual production is one of the reasons he became pastor here last year.
SUMRALL: When I heard about it, I asked before we really got down to the details if me and my family could come see them in action. And we parked right over there and got, basically walked all the way through it. And we saw the church working. We saw the church fully plugged in, and I said, “Man, this has got to be a good church.”
But producing scenes with real buildings and live animals and amateur actors is a lot of work.
Foster was already weary when it came time to get started this fall. She spends her days at a medical office, and dealing with COVID had taken a toll. Then her father-in-law became gravely ill.
BRENDA: We were up at his dad’s every day and I kept thinking, how are we going to get this done? I was just disheartened. I mean, I’m not going to tell you no lie. Bobby and Todd even talked about not doing it one year, but then that might be the year that it touches somebody.
And it’s that evangelistic aspect that keeps volunteers motivated. Usually they hand out tracts at the end of the drive through. This year, though, there’s no contact. Still, on the first night of their three-night run, Brenda talks to visitors. Through a mask.
FOSTER: First time or been before…?
Weather conditions are perfect. It’s clear and 57 degrees. Christmas music plays over a loudspeaker. Smoke from fires at various scenes drifts through the air.
Families roll down their car windows as volunteers direct traffic with flashlights. Kids stand up through sunroofs.
AUDIO: [KIDS TALKING]
Scripture signs at each stop explain the how and the why of Christ’s coming. The one near the manger scene has a verse from Matthew: She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
Richard and Renee Maxwell have played the part of Mary and Joseph 12 years running. Renee says the signs are very important.
MARY: We hear them reading. The parents are reading the signs to the kids, and they’re just enthused over it.
Before that manger scene, the 2,000 plus visitors see many other Bethlehem sites.
ACTRESS 1: This is the marketplace. You come and check on beads and fruit…
ACTRESS 2: We’re just doing some laundry in a big iron pot…
They pass by the carpenter shop.
ACTRESS 3: We’re carving a bunch of wood right now…
And a blacksmith shop.
With a very in-character blacksmith.
ACTOR: I’ve got a lot of Roman soldier customers, and they always want something sharp…
The draped and head-wrapped wise men warm themselves around an open fire. They make some wise cracks about their beast of burden.
WISEMAN: They’ve been laying down. They gave us some lazy alpaca.
The men had other roles, too. They were responsible for gathering all the greenery necessary to turn an open field into Israel.
WISEMAN: We go in the woods around the church property and cut cane, bamboo, sweet gum, some pine.
But seeing the reactions as cars and pickups pass by makes it all worthwhile. Especially when someone like Bobie Douglas comes through. She leaned over from the passenger side of the Toyota her father was driving to express her appreciation.
DOUGLAS: This is what Christmas is supposed to be about. Not all the commercialism. It’s about Christ…
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in New Sight, Mississippi.