Interactive village brings history, scripture to life




The sights and sounds of Bethlehem came to life Friday night at the Presbyterian Church, with church members dressed as shepherds, Roman soldiers and tax collectors, and visitors touring the makeshift city.

Shepherds following the north star greeted people in front of the church.

"I've had a hard time sleeping at night because of that bright light in the sky. It's been shining in my eyes. I don't know what it's all about but it seems to be right over the top of Bethlehem here," Mycah, played by Kevin Ochampaugh, said as he introduced his sons, Jacob, Joseph and Levi, played by his real sons, 12-year-old Jacob, 12-year-old Jonathan and 8-year-old Ryan.

"We've had a long journey. My sandals are worn down to almost nothing, but luckily there are lots of shops and things to do as we get to Bethlehem. It's a busy city. Shall we head off to the city, gentlemen?" Mycah (the elder Ochampaugh) said to his sons.

As the four continued to act out their parts, Mycah told his sons that a messiah would come to save them.

"When will the messiah come, Papa?" Jacob said.

"Boys, we've got to learn to be patient. The Lord does things in His own time," Mycah said.

At the door, 16-year-old Kyle Ochampaugh, playing the part of a Roman soldier, greeted visitors as they came in.

"Move along, people," he said, acting the part of a very strict soldier.

He said his only assigned lines were, "get in line" and "move along."

"If anything else comes up, I'll have to just make something up," he said.

Debbie Wharton, playing the part of a shepherd complete with tambourines, helped greet new visitors as they arrived.

"I'm a shepherdess. I have my tent outside the city to make sure the travelers proceed in and find their way to the gates of Bethlehem, so that's my job tonight," Wharton said.

Her tent outside the city, which was outside the church, was set up next to Mary and Joseph's stable, complete with a real donkey, sheep and goats.

Wharton said that in order to prepare for the event, church members had to first remove all of the pictures, chairs and other items that normally fill the church. Realistic sets were spread throughout the church, including the inn that Joseph and Mary were turned away from, the stable, and a village where pottery, jewelry, candy, bread and other items reminiscent of biblical days were being sold.

"They've got almonds and apricots — things you'd actually find in the marketplace there in the city of Bethlehem. You can't understand the time period unless you walk there, and this is probably as close to walking there, for a few minutes, that most of us will ever get," Wharton said. "They do have little vignettes of plays throughout where, all of a sudden, the Roman soldiers will decide to speak their mind about things going on in the village, to the villagers, and it makes you stop and think and appreciate just how far we've come in our world, with our freedoms and our rights — to be able to stand in the street corner and be able to worship as we please, or even say how we feel about our government. You couldn't do that in Roman times."

Wharton said hands-on activities also were available for children.

"The children get to paint dreidels, they get to make pottery, there's beads, there's a jewelry shop. Everybody gets a Roman coin and they can go purchase whatever they like," she said.

The event kicked off Friday night at the Presbyterian Church, 1719 Texas St. and will take place again from 5:30 to 8 p.m. today. Visitors will receive a family photograph of the event. Admission is free and all ages are welcome. Children younger than 10 must be accompanied by an adult.

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