CAROL STREAM, Ill. (BP) -- "It all started with a challenge," Katie Crichton said. "Let's make a typical church Christmas pageant into something that we can use to reach our community with the Gospel."
Crichton was an unlikely leader for her church's new outreach. Until a couple of years earlier, the suburban mom would have scoffed at the idea. She was not only a skeptic, she was an unbeliever -– and a rather vocal one.
Now, she was leading the effort to turn a Christmas pageant into an evangelism campaign. (To read an account of Chrichton's conversion story, click here
Crichton first had the idea for an interactive evangelistic Christmas musical while talking with her pastor, Scott Nichols. With the support of her congregation, Crossroads Community Church, she organized "Journey to Bethlehem" in 2011 and "Back to Bethlehem" in 2012, two opportunities for Crossroads members to reach out with the true meaning of Christmas to their neighbors in the western suburbs of Chicago.Playing a part
For Crichton, the journey from skeptic to believer to active evangelist was long –- and, to her, unexpected.
"I grew up in the church and my family was very active in serving," she said. "As I grew older I was fine doing things for the church. But when it came to talking about Jesus, I thought of it almost as a taboo. I didn't want to offend anyone or tell anyone that they were wrong. I would roll my eyes when anyone would talk about 'lost people' or 'getting saved.'
"I even went to a Christian college, but all I did was play the part of a Christian," Crichton said, admitting, "I was your typical skeptic."
That was her spiritual condition when she and her husband Jason first connected with Crossroads. Jason was initially more interested in exploring the Christian faith than Katie was, so they started attending a Bible study.
"I was always asking really difficult questions," Chrichton says of her first months in the group.
Nichols agreed. In his first meeting with the couple, Katie responded to a two-hour discussion of the Gospel saying, "Pastor Scott, I know where you are going on this and I am fine with Christianity. But, I simply cannot believe all this 'Jesus is the only way' stuff. I am just not ready."
The couple persisted in attending the Bible study over the next year. And Nichols took the phone calls that resulted. "I would receive calls from the host couple asking how to handle all the questions, sometimes antagonistic, that Katie was asking."
"I read a ton of books on Christianity," Crichton said, "but I kept thinking, 'I can't accept Jesus because if I do then I'll be telling everyone else that they are wrong and I'll be exclusive.'"
"Then one Sunday morning," Nichols said, "Katie responded to the invitation and said to me, 'I am ready now!'"A natural director
"God really used Crossroads to change my heart," Crichton said, "and I finally accepted Jesus as my Savior."
She quickly jumped into serving with her new church family. Musically gifted and a natural leader, she proved to be a great asset. "Serving has always been easy for me," she said, "but sharing the Gospel with complete strangers goes against my nature; it's something that was completely out of my comfort zone."
But when the challenge of creating a Gospel-centered Christmas program was given, Crichton soon had an idea –- and a mission.
"That first year all we had was this great idea. We were so naïve about what we had to do or what it would take to pull off something like this," she said. "In the beginning stages we didn't know how we were going to afford everything.
"In my small group, I happened to mention that we were starting to plan this event. I asked for prayer that God would provide for us all that we needed."
A new couple attending the group that night directed Crichton to a source for production materials. "Amazingly, they gave us sets, props and costumes all for free. That's just an amazing example of how God provided for us," Crichton said.
Actors, singers, a production team and a supportive church also can alongside the venture to reach lost people with the Gospel.
It wasn't a typical Christmas program, worship and youth pastor Eric Marquez said. "One of the ways that we kept it intentionally focused on Gospel-sharing was by making the program interactive," he recounted. "We turned our gym into a Bethlehem marketplace. There were different booths with activities you could do, like making candles. The volunteers who were helping with those activities were talking about Christ, talking to [the visitors] about the reason for Christmas."
"It was amazing," Crichton said, "to see where I was, totally against sharing the Gospel, and now watching this evangelistic event that God used me to help bring about. There were almost 500 people that first performance. That's 500 people who got to hear the Gospel being proclaimed. I felt like all that hard work had been worth it."
People have come to Christ and to Crossroads because of the Journey to Bethlehem. "When I thanked Katie publicly the next Sunday morning," Nichols said, "I mentioned the delicious irony of her leading the largest outreach of the year at Crossroads.
"And that that outreach was all about how Jesus is the only way."
Updated from the Jan. 1, 2013, issue of the Illinois Baptist, newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Noah Wright is a student at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky.