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Sharing the story

Becky Vargo • Dec 9, 2016 at 8:00 AM

“Shalom, family — welcome,” exclaims the guide as he greets the group he will escort on their Journey to Bethlehem, which opened Thursday night.

Bundled in layers of clothing against the cold outside, participants prepared to file onto a shuttle bus at the United Methodist Church of the Dunes.

It’s a short bus trip through Grand Haven’s Lake Forest Cemetery to the entrance to the road that will lead them to Bethlehem — an interactive experience at Duncan Memorial Park.

Along their journey, the travelers will meet shepherds, magi and Roman soldiers. The journey ends in the Village of Bethlehem and, finally, the reveal of the Baby Jesus.

Event organizer Terri Metzger said she was excited that Thursday night’s weather was so much better than what was expected. Metzger said the woods shelters participants from the wind, and the snow makes everything look beautiful.

This is the fifth year of the event that seeks to share the story of the Journey to Bethlehem with the community.

Grand Haven resident Kevin Smith said he’s been involved every year.

“I was a Roman soldier the first two years,” he said. “This is my third year doing this (a census taker). I was actually the first person to volunteer.”

Smith said he participates in the annual event to celebrate Jesus and because he loves working with Metzger.

Matt and Jennifer VanDyke of Norton Shores quieted their baby as they got ready to take their places as Joseph and Mary at the park.

“We’ve walked along it a couple of times, but never participated,” Jennifer said. “We thought it was a nice program.”

“Then we had him,” Matt said, pointing to their infant. “We thought it was good timing to volunteer.”

Matt emphasized there was a warming tent behind the manger, as well as a heated blanket for the baby. There’s also a back-up doll if the child gets cranky.

Wyoming resident Gary Karsten was back for the fourth time after taking a break last year. His booth in the village is filled with pieces he carves while waiting for customers.

Several hundred people are expected to pay the $5 fee for the experience, making their journey in groups of about 25, during the three-day event. The money goes to pay the event expenses, and anything left over is donated to Love INC.

More than 25 churches and 500 volunteers work to make it all happen, Metzger said.

Tickets are still available for some of the later time slots tonight and Saturday. They can be purchased online at www.journey2bethlehem.com/tickets, or at Love INC at the corner of Ferry and Fulton streets in Grand Haven.

“In the business of life today, we are all seeking some peace,” Metzger said, and the journey provides an opportunity for people to find that peace for a little while, she noted.

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