Walk Thru Bethlehem is a gift to the community that is completely volunteer-based and reliant on donations.

It takes a village to make a village. For 33 years, Kings Avenue Baptist Church has presented Walk Thru Bethlehem (WTB), an interactive ‘town of Bethlehem’ dating back to the time when Jesus was born. The 20,000 sq. ft. village is brought to life by volunteer actors and animals.

WTB is a free community event that takes place nightly from Thursday, December 5 to Sunday, December 8. The realistic scenes of Roman guards and villagers dramatize the events leading up to the birth of Jesus so that visitors can experience the true meaning of Christmas.

To pull off a production of this magnitude, it takes 225 volunteers each evening and about 400 volunteers throughout the year. Volunteers are not limited to Kings Avenue church members—many local community members and students participate.

“We are a community service hours event that counts for Bright Futures and clubs,” said Committee Chairperson Tracy Hoyt. “We place our volunteers where they are most comfortable, whether it is acting, working with animals or registering guests. We also need help before and after the event.”

Emma Hoyt (14), the daughter of Tracy Hoyt, has been an actor for the past five years. She said, “When you work Walk Thru Bethlehem, you really feel like a part of a community. Like one big happy family sharing the word of God.”

The community tradition attracts more than 6,000 people over the four-day event—with Friday and Saturday nights producing the largest crowds. The guided walk admits groups of 15 at a time. You can expect to see visitors lining up 30 minutes before registration.

During registration, visitors are given a group number and can track their wait time online—providing guests with the option to leave and come back. For those waiting on the premises, the sanctuary will have refreshments for purchase and free entertainment. Musical acts from schools and local bands such as Crosswalk, Bound No More, Shepherd’s View and Band Of Brothers are scheduled to perform.

WTB has grown into a community tradition—not only for the visiting families but for the volunteers. Reid Van Emburgh recently moved to Missouri but planned his vacation to coincide with WTB, enabling him to volunteer. He expressed the joy he receives from playing the role of a tax collector and engaging with the visitors.

“I’ve been volunteering for quite a few years, and I keep coming back each year. I love that [WTB] brings people together to learn about God, Jesus, our church and, hopefully, they make a decision to follow God,” said Van Emburgh.

WTB requires many hands, but it also needs funds to keep the town scenes safe. Due to the elements and years of use, many of the town scenes have to be rebuilt to maintain its integrity and safety.

WTB is free; however, donations of gift cards to Home Depot and Lowes can help maintain the village. Visit www.bethekingsavenue.com to get involved or donate, or contact Tracy Hoyt at wtb@bethekingavenue.com.

WTB takes place on December 5 from 6:30-9:30 p.m., December 6 from 6:30-10 p.m., December 7 from 4-10 p.m. and December 8 from 4-9 p.m. The church is located at 2602 S. Kings Ave. in Brandon. More information and wait times can be found at www.walkthrubethlehem.com.