And as Muslims in Jesus' birthplace were praying, the congregation in Alabama was praying for them.
"It was especially stirring to be able to see the mosque and hear the Islamic call to prayer so close to the place where Jesus Christ was born," said Brian Gay, First Baptist's minister of missions.
The experience was part of a pilot webcast the International Mission Board produced from Bethlehem Dec. 5.
"The fact that the video was live got excitement going in our church," Gay said. "We were encouraged and challenged to give, pray and go -- and we'd love to be part of something like this again next year."
During the live event, eight Southern Baptist churches watched a six-minute personalized webcast as part of their Sunday morning schedule. The pilot program was a test run for a December 2011 webcast to Southern Baptist churches across the country to promote giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
"People only think of Bethlehem in terms of the Christmas story. They don't think of what is going on there today," said C.S. Stanley, IMB media team leader for the project. "We wanted to broadcast from the city because it is a microcosm of spiritual needs globally. Just like we don't want people to overlook the unfinished task in Jesus' birthplace, we also don't want them to forget the unfinished global mission task."
The unfinished global mission task is what the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is all about, combining with Cooperative Program by Southern Baptist churches to support more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the Gospel overseas.
At Oakhurst Baptist Church in Clarksdale, Miss., the Bethlehem broadcast was "a great source of information and encouragement," said Neal Creecy, the church's interim pastor. "It gave us greater understanding of the need for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, as well as reminded us of the unfinished task of the Great Commission.
"As we celebrate Christmas this month, I know that the sights and sounds from Bethlehem will be on our hearts and will serve as a source of motivation to pray, give and go for the glory of Jesus Christ," Creecy said.
Participating churches saw a live shot of the Bethlehem skyline with the Church of the Nativity, Jesus' believed birthplace, and the large mosque next to it prominently featured. As IMB worker Dale Thorne explained what life is like for Palestinians living in Bethlehem, churches viewed photos and video clips from the area.
The webcast spurred New Century Church in Roanoke, Va., to want to partner with IMB work in Bethlehem in 2011, said Bob Francis, a member of New Century.
"The webcast with Dale this morning was glorious. It was great to see the IMB using technology to reach congregations in such a dynamic and real-time way from the mission field," Francis told the project's media team.
A Southern Baptist worker in the area said he was thrilled with the opportunity for churches to become better acquainted with the people in his area, as well as their needs.
"The whole project focused the attention of Baptist churches on Palestinian people and encouraged them to pray," the worker said. "It was also an encouragement to local Palestinian believers that they were not forgotten by their evangelical brothers and sisters outside."
Other churches participating in the pilot webcast were Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.; First Baptist Church in Bloomfield, N.M.; Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.; West Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn., and an adult Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Dallas.
Video stories and blogs about life and faith in Bethlehem also were posted as accompanying media on the mReport.org site in the week leading up to the webcast. An informal follow-up webcast Dec. 6 offered an hour of extra video footage, live interviews and photos for church members interested in seeing more.
To view a replay of these webcasts, visit www.livebethlehem.com. For information about how your church can be involved in next year's broadcast, contact Stanley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ava Thomas writes for the International Mission Board. This year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to www.imb.org/offering.
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