When people reflect about the phrase, “Celebrate Jesus” many of us think about Advent candles, garland and wreaths, nativity scenes or beautifully wrapped Christmas presents. At Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston, TX, we think of camels named Larry, Christmas carolers singing hymns next to a lit fireplace, children playing games and hearing stories of Jesus’ birth, donkey rides and a pregnant Mary to share the gospel.
Every year in December, we bring in three camels, a flock of ducks, chickens with crazy combs, and pot-belly pigs for our live nativity scene in the heart of Houston, Texas. This iconic two-hour event is loved by both adults and children. Unfortunately, with the ongoing pandemic affecting all 2020 Christmas celebrations, the Tallowood team had to reach into their creative toolbox and figure out how to share the gospel across city in an innovative way since we would not be able to celebrate as in years past. The live aspect is a key component of the event, but it was necessary to figure out a way to keep everyone socially distanced. After numerous hours brainstorming in the conference room, the Children’s Ministry department came up with the idea for a drive-through Live Nativity Scene, with a pre-recorded virtual tour audio experience.
For months, the Tallowood Children’s Ministry team worked around the clock to find volunteers to secure three spots for Mary-and-Josephs and fill people into nine different scenes to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Woodworkers hand-built stables and mangers while seamstresses gathered fabric to handmake tunics, sashes, and turbans. The media team unloaded numerous bales of hay while staff members memorized lines and voice recorded each scene for the car radios to tune into. The Children’s, Middle School, and Tallowood Adult Choirs all created and practiced a song list to sing Christmas carols while handing out candy canes. The Tallowood Orchestra rehearsed musical pieces and the administrative staff stuffed hundreds of decorated bags for the Advent calendars for the children. This was going to be a Celebrate Jesus to remember!
The Monday of the event, the surrounding Houston area received some devastating news. The weather called for a torrential downpour on Friday, the day of the Celebrate Jesus Drive-Through. For three days, the Children’s Ministry team called each and every volunteer with the concerning news. They immediately sent online surveys to see what days the volunteers would be available to reschedule. Our team gathered together as one to spread the news and keep everyone involved updated, which was no small feat. Emails were sent out to postpone garment fittings and social media updates were posted, displaying the latest information across our platforms. We even had to cancel the arrival of Larry the camel.
As you may have suspected, God had something up His sleeve. While He did not calm the storm and command it to ‘be still,’ He did do something else miraculous. Every single volunteer stepped up and canceled any plans they had for the night before the scheduled event, and we all came together to ‘Celebrate Jesus’ one day early.
On Thursday, December 10th, 2020, Tallowood Baptist Church had over seventy fantastic and dedicated volunteers to help with costume fittings, guide vehicle traffic, wrangle animals, and hand out refreshments and packaged treats. We were blessed with people to man the welcome and exit tents for the safety of our family and friends. We had a total of two hundred and three cars drive through, totaling six hundred and two people! This huge opportunity to share the story of Jesus’ birth and bring the gospel to life ended up reaching over six hundred people. And not a drop in the sky.
Celebrate Jesus was a total success and we could not have had this type of turnout if we did not have the team and technology we have today. It took the help of each ministry department, the willingness of our volunteers and their families, and the support of our IT company, Enable Ministry Partners. Even though it was behind the scenes, our technology was a large contributing factor in this event. Without technology, we would not have been able to communicate the rapidly updating schedule and effectively get the word out so quickly to coordinate all of the changes for the rain plan. Of all of the lives touched that wonderful evening, most of them did not know what was going on behind closed doors. It took many hands to successfully create and execute this event of sharing the gospel of Jesus, despite the restrictions of 2020 and the inclement weather, but in the end, we certainly did Celebrate Jesus.
Guest Written by: Carolyn M. Soto Jackson, Tallowood Baptist Church Staff