Cobden church hosts 'A Night in Bethlehem'
More than 1,000 "travelers" spent "A Night in Bethlehem" last weekend without ever leaving Union County.
The First Baptist Church in Cobden hosted its third annual presentation of "A Night in Bethlehem" last Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
Organizers reported that 1,144 people visited the Cobden church and toured the "ancient town of Bethlehem,” which depicted in realistic fashion the evening of Christ's birth.
Directed and coordinated by Charlotte and Dan Hartline, almost the entire church membership participated in some way.
For two weeks, BMEN built the numerous shops, city streets, live animal pens and a stable for the manger.
More than 160 volunteers from four different churches, Cobden First Baptist, Caledonia, Noel and Alto Pentecostal, dressed in authentic period costumes and manned 10 different shops, the manger, the stable, the follow-up/prayer room, two photo rooms, a balloon room and the fellowship hall.
Two days last week, young men from the Du Quoin Boot Camp also lent their assistance.
Roman guards and census takers greeted guests at the outskirts of Bethlehem, where they were registered for the census.
It was recorded that visitors arrived not only from the nearby and surrounding areas, but from as far away as Springfield, as well as Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Colombia, Honduras, Nigeria, India, Japan, South Korea and Burkina Faso.
The Roman guards accompanied the visitors through the two streets of Bethlehem, where they heard from shopkeepers, townspeople and the shepherds about the "amazing events that had led up to and what followed the birth of the baby Jesus."
The guests were then led through a stable with live sheep and a donkey into the manger where an angel hovered over the baby, his young mother Mary and Joseph.
Following their moving to the manger, guests were led into a more modern setting, where Wes and Eileen Wilkins shared the true meaning of Christmas and a time of prayer with each group.
They presented each family with a Christmas ornament made in Bethlehem from native olive wood.
Back inside the church, the guests received a helium filled balloon, with an attached card explaining "A Night in Bethlehem."
The balloons were to be released by the families with their own words of Christmas praise and thanksgiving.
Complimentary photos were taken of each visitor, family or group to commemorate their evening in Bethlehem.
Finally, the travelers entered the church's fellowship hall, where they were treated to homemade Christmas goodies.