Gilbert, SC 11/22/2022 - “Come and see, come and see! The Savior has been born!” The shepherds ran through the streets of Bethlehem, bringing the Good News on a long ago, starry night.
First Baptist Church of Gilbert embarked on a creative and new Christmas venture in 2007. The mission plan was a live, outdoor Christmas drama, with buildings replicating the town of Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth. The manger and Christ Child would be at the center. Visitors would be able to amble through the main street of the town, interacting with church members dressed as townspeople.
The drama was to be a free gift to visitors to proclaim the Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ. The mission would be named, “Little Bethlehem.”
The church owned 23 acres on another site fronting Peach Festival Road on the main thoroughfare into the Town of Gilbert from Highway #1. Little Bethlehem would be built on the hill facing the street.
The first phase of building was in the fall of 2007. That year, along with the stable and manger, several shops and homes were constructed along with the inn and a concession stand to serve hot chocolate to guests. Within a matter of a few weeks, the area was cleared, electricity was installed, construction was completed, costumes were made, and positions assigned. Everything was ready and Little Bethlehem became a reality.
Opening night was exciting and magical. Census takers greeted guests as they entered, and visitors were asked to sign the census as had been declared by Caesar Augustus. The main purpose was to keep a head count and follow-up information.
Little Bethlehem was expanded in 2008 to the area directly behind the original buildings. A new, larger manger was constructed along an inn, tentmaker’s shop, several homes, a bakery, a money changer’s shop, a Jewish school, a weaver’s shop and even a jail. A larger concession stand was also constructed. Visitors could then enter the buildings and chat with the costumed shop owners and townspeople.
Other major expansions have been made over the intervening years, including music and drama. A main presentation is the trial of John, a man arrested for blasphemy for proclaiming the birth of the Savior. He is brought before the governor and visitors are encouraged to be a part of the trial.
Children can visit the carpenter’s shop to make a craft or ornament to take home. They also enjoy dancing to music around the well in the center of Bethlehem. And, the live animals are always favorites.
The main characters each year are in the stable. It is the centerpiece of the town. A life-like doll is used for Baby Jesus, and the children are captivated by the realness of the baby. Also in the stable are Mary, Joseph and shepherds. The Wise Men come to visit after a long journey.
The drama is geared for all ages. Children depart thinking they have actually been to Bethlehem and seen Baby Jesus. Adults comment on the realistic atmosphere of the town.
The gospel is presented to and from the parking area via audio, on the brochures each family is given, and by the characters in the town, who use every opportunity to speak of the Baby born in the manger.
Our church has become more enthusiastic about this mission project each year. As the town grows ad visitors increase, the congregation becomes more dedicated to share the gospel through this mission outlet.
Little Bethlehem is located at 403 Peach Festival Road, Gilbert, and will be open two weekends, December 2, 3, 4 and 9, 10, 11 from 6:30 – 8:30 each night. ADMISSION IS FREE. The drama will be closed in case of inclement weather.