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Southern Utah woman brings Bethlehem home

Published: Friday, Dec. 24 2010 4:00 a.m. MST

WASHINGTON, Utah — In Judy Call's Bethlehem home, there's always room — unlike the inn where Joseph and Mary were turned away when they needed a place to stay.

She welcomes the stranger, the friend, the groups of 15-20 people who come to visit "A Touch of Bethlehem" every year.

She welcomes them in, takes some time to get acquainted and then takes them on a personal tour of the rooms in her home that represent Christ's life.

"This is my gift to the community," Call said. "We need to emphasize Christ in Christmas and commemorate his whole life, not just his birth."

Call ushers her visitors from the Welcome Room to the Shepherd's Field to the Garden Tomb, the Camel Room and the Egyptian Room, sharing bits and pieces about her collection and her sets as she goes.

Every room is a celebration of some part of Christ's life and houses antique items, 250 characters and unique pieces Call has either made by hand or brought back from her visits to Israel.

Visitors learn from scripture and stories. In most of the rooms, they receive little gifts from their guide.

"I give them a little wooden ornament at the end because you can't have 'A Little Touch of Bethlehem' without getting to touch something," Call said.

In another room, visitors get a little "book" made of a tiny candy bar and a printed scripture or a handmade bookmark imprinted with the message: "Everyone needs a stable background."

Call gets between 50-60 visitors a night during the time she opens her home for the holidays. Her home as been unaffected by the recent flooding in the area.

Between the weekend before Thanksgiving and the weekend after New Year's, people are invited to just show up at her home (759 W. Cats Paw Way) on Sundays and Mondays from 5:30-8:30 p.m. and take a tour, guided by Call or by her home teachers or visiting teachers.

The tour has grown in popularity so much that she needs the help.

"I was losing my voice last night," said the 57-year-old Call, after she'd ushered 60 people through her home.

Call started creating the village one set at a time to share after her husband was killed in an accident in Israel in 1993 as kind of a low-key memorial to him.

"In my way, I'm taking people to Israel who can't go to Israel," she said.

Before that, she'd been visiting Israel as often as she could.

"One of the conditions I made with my husband before I agreed to marry him was that he would go with me to Israel," she said. He did so for three years.

An active Mormon woman, Call enjoys sharing the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but doesn't hold back from welcoming visitors of all religions and faiths. In fact, she delights in meeting Jewish people who want to see her collection.

"We honor the Jews and Judaism," Call said. "We talk about Hannukah and the Jewish traditions."

Call's Bethlehem actually starts outside her home with a Nativity display.

Included in the tour is just about everything one could imagine from the life of Christ — little olive oil lamps, a stable, a stone tomb — but no traditional Christmas tree.

"I don't have a Christmas tree because, of course, Christ didn't have a Christmas tree," she said. "My 'Christmas tree' is a little palm tree decorated with the names of Christ on little pieces of paper. He had over 200 names, you know. I also have little paper balls with pictures from his life."

Call said she works on projects for her tour all year long, adding something new every year.

Repeat visitors can always find something they haven't seen before, she said.

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