Baptist Association sees 10 people make commitments to Christ, 44 in three years
By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
WINFIELD — Just like a time traveler, one enters the stone-walled streets filled with residents of another time.
Cloaked women carry baskets of wares as robed men go about their business. Many are working at stalls and discussing their products. Roman soldiers stride among them, unsmiling. Soldiers also monitor the census takers and tax collectors.
A visitor from modern times, a young man, is called up to the census table where two Jewish men are working. The workers demand his papers and one comments that he will soon be of age to be a soldier. A Roman soldier interjects in an authoritative voice that the boy will be required to serve in the Roman military. The young man, with a shocked expression, quickly rejoins his group.
Thankfully, other areas are less tense. A pottery maker and seller sees that he isn’t going to make a sale to visitors and bids them, “May God go with you.” A construction worker explains a cubit, the length of an arm from the elbow to fingertips. A fabric maker/seller shows her flax which she says is used to make swaddling clothes for babies. Fresh bread can be smelled as well as spices, hay, and animals.
Most are also talking about a baby who was just born in their city — not just any baby, but possibly the long-awaited Messiah.
Near a stable, the singing of “Silent Night” is heard. Then a Jewish lady walking with some guests steps away from them. As she turns to run away, she says, “I have to go tell my family and friends about the Messiah.”
This event, entitled the “Bethlehem Experience,” was provided by churches of the New River/McCreary County Missionary Baptist Association.
The Bethlehem Experience drew about 987 people, of which 10 made professions of faith, reported Jack Fletcher, director of missions. Over the three years the event has been held, a total of 44 people made professions of faith. The association is based in Winfield, Tenn., but spans an area of both Tennessee and Kentucky.
The event was held Dec. 1 and Dec. 3-5 in the association’s Appalachian Ministry Center which is a former public school building given to the association by the county about five years ago. The Bethlehem Experience was directed by Freda Fletcher, Jack’s wife. This is the last year the couple will be leading the event. Jack, who has served as DOM for five years, will retire Jan. 2. Formerly he was DOM for an association in Kentucky and the Fletchers were missionaries through the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in Indonesia.
Offering the event is an accomplishment for the association which has 21 churches, most of which are small “but they’re faithful,” said Jack. About 140 volunteers serve. Work begins with construction in former school classrooms in June and intensifies in October when the Appalachian Ministry Center’s cafe is closed to make room for the preparations, explained Freda.
“The men come in and the women come in and they create all of this,” she added.
“There’s a lot of working together and laughing together,” said Jack. “That’s a part of (our) ministry wherever we’ve been.”
Members of association churches doing something together was what motivated Terri Murphy of Winfield Baptist Church, Winfield, to approach Freda with the idea. She said she enjoyed the January Bible Study held by the association and thought the Bethlehem Experience would allow the Baptists here to “work together one more time a year.”
Of course, the main reason for the event is to share the gospel, said Freda.
“Especially at this time of year, it’s a really good time to let people know what Christmas is really about. … If people are going to notice anything about us (Christians), it’s the time of year to do it,” she stated.
Besides the fact that visitors are immersed in the Bible times as they experience the dramatic reenactment of the birth of Jesus, a key to the number of people who make professions of faith is Jerry Burgess and John Ditty, said Jack. They present the plan of salvation at the end of the event in about five minutes. Burgess, a physician, is a member of First Baptist Church, Whitley City, Ky., and an evangelist who has served in about 30 countries. Ditty is pastor, First, Whitley City, and a professor at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Pineville, Ky.
Burgess said he enjoys serving in his role at the Bethlehem Experience. “It’s hard to believe God lets somebody have this much fun while serving Him,” said Burgess.
Shawnda Grant of Walker’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Parker’s Lake, Ky., said she enjoys working on the event because “I will be blessed. In fact, the Lord has worked even today in many, many ways.”
The use of the Bethlehem Experience program was bought by the association at a minimal cost thanks to the company managing it, Freda explained. Many other people helped her, she added, including Grant; Doris Chitwood and Jo Ann Brown of New Haven Baptist Church, Oneida; Allen Campbell of Walker’s Chapel Missionary Baptist; and Lacey West, administrative assistant of the association.
According to Jack, the main key to the success of Bethlehem Experience is Freda, “and that’s not just because she’s my wife.” he said.