Camp prepares to follow the stars

TUSTIN — On a cold, moonlit night under the stars, journey to Bethlehem as the Magi did hundreds of years ago.

Join the shepherds of the field and witness the angel appearing on a hillside to proclaim the good news of the birth of the Savior.

These and other scenes are brought vividly to life in nearby Tustin at Center Lake Bible Camp where the “Follow the Star” living nativity story returns for the 13th year.

Area residents are invited to come to the scenic wooded grounds of the 120-acre lakeside camp on Dec. 9, 10 and 11 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and walk with a narrator past six tableaux depicting key moments of the Christmas story.

See costumed actors and live animals bring the birth of Christ to life in a dramatic outdoor setting, an inspiring 30-minute walk that will take you back in time to the wonder and awe of the first Christmas.

If you think the walk might be a bit too strenuous or you have babies or toddlers, travel the trail and view the scenes from the comfort of a wagon.

The camp is also pleased to provide sign language interpretation of the narration for the hearing impaired. This feature is available on Saturday evening only.

After the walk, come inside to warm up and enjoy a meal in the camp lodge, along with fun activities and crafts for the children. End the evening with a festive and magical finale, an old-fashioned horse-drawn wagon ride through the woods.

The entire program, including the meal, is free of charge. Donations are accepted.

The festive event which draws up to 1,200 visitors from Tustin, Marion, Evart, Reed City, Gladwin, Traverse City, Hersey, McBain, Baldwin and other communities, is sponsored and organized by the camp with the support of more than 75 volunteers from throughout the area.

Volunteers serve as narrators and actors portraying Isaiah, the angel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, shepherds and the Magi. They also greet visitors, help with car parking, work in the kitchen, make costumes, props and scenery, drive tractors and many other behind-the-scenes jobs.

Allan and Leah VanAntwerp from Tustin have participated every year—Allan as a narrator, and Leah in the kitchen.

Chad and Sara Schultz have also helped out from the beginning. They come from Muskegon and have done almost every job. They arrive and jump right in doing whatever is needed at the moment.

“We appreciate all our great volunteers,” said Don Cochrane, program director. “Many have been with us every year, and some are just starting out. We always welcome new volunteers. We have jobs of all kinds and for all ages. Kids can come and volunteer, as well as adults. We’ve got a job for anybody who wants to help.”

Camp staff and volunteers start preparing about two months in advance—putting up lights, grooming the trails, sending out announcements and publicity, setting up the scenes, gathering costumes and props and all the logistical details.

“We do this as a ministry to the community,” said Cochrane. It’s a way to explain to people the true reason for Christmas in a way that lets them come close to experiencing the past.”

“Our living nativity is a great way to introduce the Christmas season to families and friends,” said Duane Whitley, camp director. “It’s the season of the birth of Jesus and we tell the story in a way a lot of people haven’t seen before. Some come every year and it’s a part of their family Christmas tradition.”

Mark your calendars now for Dec. 9, 10 or 11 and start your own tradition. Get a group together—bring your friends, neighbors and family for an evening of fun and inspiration.

Center Lake Bible Camp and Retreat Center is at 15204 20 Mile Road, Tustin. For more information about “Follow the Star” and year round camp activities and retreats for all ages, call Penny Wondergem,  (231) 829-3441.

Also, see the camp website, www.centerlake.org.