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Storms over Bethlehem

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WORLD Radio - Storms over Bethlehem

Residents of Crestwood, Ky., brave the elements to put on a living Nativity


Photo by Travis Kircher

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, December 21st. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: stormy weather.

For many people living near Crestwood, Kentucky, one Christmas tradition is driving through the live Nativity at Ballardsville Baptist Church. But this year, the weather threatens to interfere with all those animals. WORLD Reporter Travis Kircher has the story.

SOUND: [Rain on ground and gutter]

TRAVIS KIRCHER, REPORTER: If church volunteers were hoping for starry skies and a light covering of Christmas snow for their outdoor living nativity…well…let’s just say this is no Normal Rockwell painting. This is “Noah-go-build-an-ark” kind of weather. Dark clouds. Thunder. Torrential downpours. Many in the congregation are wondering if the show must – or even can – go on.

SANDY WILLIAMS: We do it in rain. We do it in the snow.

Sandy Williams is the organizer of the annual event – or as many know her…the Manger Manager. She says it started in 2008.

SANDY: The first year we did it, it was below zero.

In 15 years, it’s only been canceled twice.

SANDY: One year during COVID. And then the following year, we had some really high winds come through here and knock everything down.

SOUND: [Participants eating before the nativity]

Those winds are the concern. As the volunteers gather in the fellowship hall over chili, hot dogs and cookies, weather is the topic of conversation.

TIM WHITWORTH: Is it still pouring down rain? I don’t know. Is it still pouring down rain?

LLOYD FOE: Yeah, it was just a minute ago.

JIMMY WILLIAMS: It will pass. We’ll be all right tonight.

The signs are good for now. The rain has tapered off. Weather radar appears to show a small window – a break in the storms for the next couple of hours. Hopefully, long enough to pull off tonight’s event.

SANDY: Angels, Morgan Jones, Danny Giffin.

Sandy Williams wrangles the cats and distributes costumes.

SANDY: Jessica Young, B. O’Dell, Autumn Krauth, and Megan and Melody. You need to go get in costume.

CHILD: That’s a camel!

WISE MAN: It is a camel!

Outside, three men dressed in crowns and regal robes are coraling camels. Real camels.

CHILD: I’ve never seen a camel!

WISE MAN: You wanna touch it? You can come up here and pet it.

WALLIN: Welcome – and thank you all for coming out. If you’ll tune your radio to 88.1 on the FM dial – 88.1 – you’ll be able to listen to the broadcast from inside the church as you drive through the Nativity!

AUDIO: Broadcast - Merry Christmas, and welcome to the living nativity at Ballardsville…

At last, it’s time. Night has fallen and the first cars begin driving through. Jason Wallin…the church’s youth pastor greets them as they pull in, dressed as a Roman soldier.

AUDIO: Tonight, the pages of scripture will come alive…

That broadcast outlines the story of Christ’s birth. As drivers slowly proceed through the Nativity, they pass a shepherd with a live sheep, the three wise men with their camels. And then they reach the busiest part of the Nativity: the Bethlehem marketplace featuring booths, dozens of villagers, even a blacksmith.

SOUND: [Bethlehem market]

SHOPKEEPER: Come to the best shop in town where the fish are frying and the bread is rising!

So far, the weather has been cooperating, but that’s about to change. Without warning, the sky opens up and it starts to rain. And rain. And rain.

SHOPKEEPER: Come taste the best bread in towwwn!! OH THIS IS RAINING!

SOUND: [Rain in Bethlehem marketplace]

Little Kendall McGrew is being quite the trooper trying to stay in character as a little girl who came to the Bethlehem market to buy grapes.

KENDALL: I have to feed my sick grandma. She loves grapes.

But even this aspiring actress admits she’s drenched.

KENDALL: It’s really rainy. It’s really cold. It’s really windy. I walked in a puddle!

Further down, Jeff Giffen is playing the part of a waterlogged innkeeper.

INNKEEPER: Sorry! There’s no vacancy here at the inn. Sorry.

Around the corner, off by itself, is a small shed made to look like a stable. David and Sophia Giffin are portraying Mary and Joseph. As cars pass by, the couple kneels over a fake baby Jesus in a makeshift manger. It can be a tedious role, but they’ve found a way to pass the time.

DAVID: We play the Alphabet Game very secretly.

Under the shelter of the stable, David and Sophia may be the only actors staying dry tonight.

AUDIO: [Choir singing]

Even the choir is soaked and had to step off metal bleachers due to lightning.

With all the wind, rain, and cold, you might be asking, “Why do it? Why not just throw up a static display in the church parking lot and call it a night?”

Brian Young…who also plays a Roman soldier…says it’s about winning hearts.

YOUNG: I believe if one person gets saved as a result of what we do here tonight, it’s worth it.

In past years, the event has drawn new members to Ballardsville Baptist, some of them saying they want to be a part of a church that does events like this.

SOUND: [People enjoying hot chocolate and cookies]

At the end of the Nativity…drivers are directed under the church portico, where they are given hot chocolate and cookies.

Jerome and Jennifer VanGaalen drove through the living Nativity this year for the first time.

JEROME: I mean, to be able to put yourself out there and the dedication for doing this to show people what the season is all about and to show people Christ’s love in all circumstances…you know, it’s pouring rain and they’re still doing what they’re doing and enjoying it.

JENNIFER: It’s beautiful.

But is it all that surprising that they would leave the warmth of their homes…just to give drivers a little taste of Bethlehem? Christ left the comfort of His throne in Heaven for 33 years to redeem us here on Earth. As these volunteers will tell you…they can stand out in bad weather for two hours. After all…it’s just rain.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Travis Kircher. In Bethlehe -- sorry. In Crestwood, Kentucky. Merry Christmas.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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