'In the 1990s I came across Middle Eastern Scholar Kenneth Bailey's convincing argument that Jesus was born in Bethlehem home rather than the traditional stable behind an inn. Ever since I've felt conflicted when drawing inn keepers.
After reading Bailey's Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (2008) I felt, that out of respect for the Scripture over tradition and Middle Eastern culture over Western cultural assumption I needed to write this Christmas story. I started from scratch in October 2012 and have since told the story about 20 times in schools and churches.
The response has been fascinating. There has been a powerful emotional response to the story from women. Especially the image of Mary surrounded by the women as she goes into labour. Many people have said, 'That makes so much sense!'. One or two people have felt rattled because it is different to the traditional story. Kids love the story.
Last year I lead a December Church service built around Bethlehem Town. The kids ran everything. One ten year old came as a professor and gave a lecture on 'middle eastern houses'. Everyone had an opportunity to draw their house or somewhere they had lived, and indicate where visitors sleep and where the animals sleep. Many people in our church have lived overseas: so some drew their one room African homes or the slum house in Cambodia they have lived in. Another a village house in Borneo with the pigs living under the house.
It quickly became apparent that many had experienced houses around the world that were one room, animals lived inside and visitors are always shown hospitality. We then built a middle eastern house together and used it as a prop to act out the whole story as a play. It worked brilliantly, as we thought outside our western culture and each considered how we welcome Jesus in our home and community.
Interestingly the new NIVUK version has updated, 'there was no room in the inn' to 'there was no guest room available'. I suspect that Bethlehem Town is the first children's Christmas storybook ever to be published where Jesus is born in a typical village home.' - Andrew McDonough