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Clayton churches bring Bethlehem to Jonesboro

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Clayton County is thousands of miles from Bethlehem, but this weekend, residents can walk through the birthplace of Christ, or see 400 replicas of where he was born -- drawn from around the world.

The Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Jonesboro has erected a walk-through replica of the city of Bethlehem, and the Tara Baptist Church will display more than 400 miniature nativity scenes from across the globe.

On Friday, Tara Baptist Church, at 10461 Tara Blvd., will host "O Holy Night," a display of nativity scenes collected from cultures worldwide. This year's display, from 6-8 p.m., will feature nativity scenes in a variety of mediums, shapes, colors, and sizes, from such countries as the United States, Israel, Germany and India, to name a few.

"There are a lot of people in our church who have traveled around the world and purchased them," said Eric Baker, minister of music at Tara Baptist Church and coordinator of the event.

"There are ones that are cutesy, there are ones that are elaborate ... some are made of cookie cutters, some are made with animals, but they all represent the nativity scene," he said.

The nativities will be on display throughout the main worship center. Arts and crafts for children will be provided to keep young patrons occupied, and away from the many breakables.

For the second year in a row, this Friday through Sunday, "Walk Through Bethlehem" will take place on the grounds of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, at 7102 Mt. Zion Blvd., from 6-9 p.m.

The interactive walk-through diorama is designed to give spectators a chance to feel, see, smell, and hear what it was like to live in Bethlehem during the time of Jesus' birth.

Danny James, associate pastor of music at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and an organizer of the event, said that while many nativity displays stop at the birth of Jesus, the "Walk Through Bethlehem" takes people through the story surrounding the nativity.

Walkers will approach a bustling city, filled with merchants, potters, carpenters, Klezmer musicians, and shepherds tending live goats, donkeys, calves, and a camel.

First, however, they will be met at the gate by Roman soldiers who will request one shekel -- the currency of Israel during the time of Jesus -- which will be provided to those who take the tour.

"As Mary and Joseph were about to have a baby, there was no available place for them to be, but the stable," said James. "That was unfortunate, but it was amazing what God was able to do in such a trying situation."

"Walk Through Bethlehem" will feature several interactive displays, such as a Jewish home typical during the period, an inn, and a synagogue with a Rabbi reading from a scroll of the Torah.

The tour will end with a re-creation of the cross on Calvary, where Jesus was crucified. After the tour, walkers will be treated to food and refreshments in the church Activities and Recreation Center.

"This is a genuine church effort," said Chris Reynolds, senior pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. "We've had over 200 people involved. It's been a sacrifice of time and money, all for the purpose of telling people 'Jesus loves you.'"

Both events are free to the public. For more information, call Tara Baptist Church at (770) 473-0874, or Mount Zion Baptist Church at (770) 478-9842.