Journey to Bethlehem started at Salem in 1991 as a small Christmas program. Today Journey to Bethlehem is offered on four nights and is spread across the Salem campus with over 120 people—including actors, directors, a parking team, and a medical team—supporting the event. Almost 4,000 people attended Journey last year.
“Christmas time seems to be the time when people are most receptive to hearing about Jesus … to visiting a church,” says Lee Nourse. “So I believe it’s our job to do something that brings in those people.” Lee is one of four co-directors for Journey, alongside her husband Bart Nourse, and Chris and Tracy Claggett.
Journey takes people through multiple scenes – the marketplace, Herod’s palace, the Wise Men, Bethlehem, the angels and shepherds, the inn, and finally the manager scene with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.
Mike Parker directs the marketplace scene. He and his wife Laurie, and their children, have been a part of Journey for 10 years. Describing the marketplace, Mike says, “It’s a surreal environment when they open those doors. There’s a lot of yelling, a lot of shouting, a lot of excitement. As we bring the travelers in, we’re trying to set the stage for them on a journey to find out, ‘what is the meaning of the star?’”
Journey can be a great way for people to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. “I think we can get so caught up in the busyness of Christmas,” Lee says, “that we can just run right past Christmas day and we can look back and say ‘gosh, what did I do? What did that mean?’ But with Journey, the one thing it’s done for me and I think for my family, is that it lets us remember exactly why Christmas is Christmas and why we celebrate it.”
“Once you get past Thanksgiving,” Mike says, “many times things become a blur till you get to the first of the year. Journey is an opportunity to take a pause and remember the birth of Christ. You walk through the different scenes and it’s a great reminder of how the gospel story is fit together so well.”
“This is the absolute perfect way to share His story.”
Who do they hope comes to Journey to Bethlehem? “Absolutely everyone. Young or old it doesn’t matter. It’s for everybody,” says Lee. “You know our mission statement is to ‘glorify God, make disciples, share His story,’ and this is the absolute perfect way to share His story.”