MASARYKTOWN — With a goal of focusing attention on the birth of Christ, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church will present a display of about 70 nativity sets in its fellowship hall Sunday through Tuesday.
"This is just another way that we want to reach out into the community and let them remember that no matter how they celebrate their Christmas, it's still Jesus' birthday," said LeMoyne Boyer, the church's evangelism chairman. "That's what we try to do every December."
Boyer said visitors should allow about an hour to view the display, which will also include angel figures. Visitors will be welcome to tour the church facilities.
"We'll have refreshments for people and a place to sit down and have some Christmas cookies and a cup of coffee and talk with each other and listen to Christmas music," she said. "If parents want to let their children go into another room, I've gotten together some crafts that are related to nativities."
The idea for the display came from church members Les and Diane Kimball, who had organized a similar event at the church Les Kimball pastored in Hinsdale, Ill., before retiring and moving to Florida four years ago.
"It was very successful and brought people in and gave them a taste of the real meaning of Christmas," Diane Kimball said. "When we've done this before, we found that there are really no two that have ever been alike."
When the idea was announced in the church bulletin, members of the Masaryktown church were enthusiastic, she said. About 40 people from the church are offering their nativity sets for the display.
"I think our society had kind of pushed Jesus out of Christmas, so getting something like this where it puts the emphasis right back on Jesus and his birth has given people real excitement about doing it."
Thirty of the nativity sets that will be on display are a part of Mrs. Kimball's personal collection.
"I started collecting nativities in the late '70s when we were serving as missionaries with Lutheran Bible Translators in Sierra Leone, West Africa," she said. "It wasn't really thought of as a collection then, but as an item that would enhance the meaning of our Lord's birth in our bush village home. It seemed to be a touch of home in the middle of a culture that was very different from our American culture."
It was also a way to share the meaning of Christmas with the couple's five children.
As the Kimballs traveled to different countries as part of their ministry, they found several more nativity sets.
"I began adding to our nativities in the following years," Mrs. Kimball said. "A trip to Liberia for a conference enabled us to add a Liberian set that added the element of using seed pods for heads of the people and the brightly colored clothing of the African people, along with a kitchen hut to take the place of the stables used in our American nativities."
As family and friends became aware of the collection, more sets were added.
"My sister brought back a set from the Holy Land," Mrs. Kimball said. "Our daughter, a missionary in Africa at the time, picked up a couple of sets from Tanzania — one made of ebony, the other of soapstone."
Other children serving as missionaries sent sets from Brazil.
"One uses marbles for the heads of the people; the other uses local materials," she said.
Two nativities from Nigeria were added when the Kimballs served as instructors at a seminary there. Other sets in the collection reflect American Indian, Haitian and Scottish cultures.
"One is homemade by our 11-year-old granddaughter, and we have obtained others over the years," Mrs. Kimball said. "Each is unique, and each gives testimony to the fact that Jesus is for all cultures and people groups."
She said she has several sets that are favorites, but the original one from Sierra Leone, which was designed to look like local people and was carved from local woods, holds a special place in her heart.
"It impressed on me that the grace of God in Jesus was not only available to everyone all over the world, but was being received and processed into the African culture," she said.
Showing the display to people here makes Mrs. Kimball hopeful about the season.
"My hope in my heart is that in some way the people that come will be touched by the love of God for us in sending Jesus and that it will get Jesus back into Christmas and get people's hearts in the right place," she said.