Now in its tenth season, Ripley Tabernacle Baptist Church is presenting its live outdoor drama, “The Journey to Bethlehem,” which depicts the events leading up to the birth of Jesus.
This year’s schedule is from 6-9 p.m. on Dec. 6-7 at the church located at 330 Third Avenue in Ripley. The event is complete with actors, animals, sets, and authentic costuming.
The Journey began as the dream of church members Kathy Cobb and Kristie Manley.
“We kept seeing Jesus forgotten during the Christmas season,” Cobb said. “We thought that maybe if we brought the story to life, people would see the real reason we should celebrate.”
Cobb remembers that first production well.
“We had four scenes and maybe 20 actors,” she said. “There was the scene with Mary and the angel, the marketplace, the shepherds, and the Nativity. Cindy Turner did the backdrops that year but for the past nine years, it’s been Barbara Smith who usually begins work in April.”
That first venture brought in about 100 visitors. Cobb said that made them say, “What if we made it a little bigger next year?”
The drama now attracts hundred annually to see more than 80 actors in 10 scenes with many live animals including donkeys, sheep, and even a camel.
Pastor Jeff Keffer said the project involves the entire church.
“Not only do we have the actors and set designers, we have prayer warriors and those that donate money or items,” he said. “Everyone involved ‘owns’ their part, whether it’s the actors or those who help behind the scenes.”
Ollie Westfall is one of those who makes “The Journey” as accurate as possible.
“I’m not an actor or singer, but I can design, sew, and repair costumes,” she said. “It’s something I can do for God.”
Guides serve to tie the scenes together, according to Jessica Woofter.
“Having guides explaining a bit of what people are seeing and hearing has made it more understandable, especially to those that may be hearing the true story of Christmas for the first time,” she said.
Her husband Jared said the challenges to putting on such a large venture are many.
“Sound and lighting are major undertakings,” he explained. “And weather is always a factor. But if people can’t hear or see, it’s not a good experience.”
Adverse weather conditions led to a major addition four years ago, according to Keffer.
“We had some pretty bad weather several times with rain and cold,” he said. “So we rent a huge tent that covers most of the area except for the marketplace,” he said. “And wouldn’t you know, it hasn’t rained since.”
Members said “The Journey” has become a very special part of the Christmas season.
Brandon Windland, who portrays Joseph, said it’s especially meaningful to him.
“This scene offers a unique perspective often overlooked,” he explained. “It puts the listener in Joseph’s shoes. As a husband and father, I can feel Joseph’s pain and concern. But more importantly it adds emphasis to the truth that Jesus was born of a virgin and fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah.”
Jessica Walton, who recruits and and organizes the performers, said it’s challenging to make the drama a little different each year.
“We want people to have a slightly different experience, so we evaluate and make changes in sets and scenes,” Walton said. “And we work diligently to make things go smoothly, including shortening the wait time as much as possible.”
Julia Gump said the drama provides a special beginning to the Christmas season.
“Everything after that is just extra,” she said.
The unique experience includes handmade keepsakes, crafted by Chuck and Vickie Harper, given to each family at the end of “The Journey.”
For information, contact the church at 304-372-2284.