News Release

Community Nativity Display Connects Cultures and Friends in Okinawa

The Japan Okinawa Military District, in partnership with the Japan Fukuoka Mission of The Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held a community Christmas Nativity Display on December 11, 12, and 13, to bring joy and peace to the people of Okinawa.


“This year has been difficult for the entire world,” explained District President Mark Francis. “Almost everything has been canceled, travel has been suspended, families have been quarantined, and people are feeling alone and discouraged. We wanted to bring our district members and community together and somehow celebrate Christmas in a safe yet spiritual way.”


The open house walk-through nativity—an idea born through the suggestion of President Spencer and Sister Jane Mack of the Fukuoka Mission—was the perfect answer. The theme of the display was “Come and See” and the activity purpose was to invite both Japanese and American friends to literally ‘come and see’ depictions of the Savior and feel the Spirit of Christmas.

“I cannot express the joy and love I felt during this event for the people of Okinawa,” expressed Sister Mack, who hosted with her husband during all three days of the nativity. “What a thrill to share the story of the birth of our Savior in such a unique way.”

Guests entered the district building through the front doors and were greeted with a large picture of Jesus Christ. On either side were “kakejiku,” traditional Japanese calligraphy scrolls, which shared messages of peace, hope, and faith. Visitors then walked through the chapel as musical numbers were performed. Stringed instruments, woodwinds, piano, and small choral numbers from volunteers of all ability levels were shared.

“The live music was absolutely key to bringing the spirit and the community together,” shared President Francis. “Due to Covid-19, we couldn’t gather as a crowd to hear a concert; but guests were allowed to enjoy the performances for a few minutes in the chapel, and then could hear the music wherever they were as they walked through the rest of the building.”

Sisters Stephanie Black and Shaela Beck coordinated live music for over thirteen hours of the display. The musical performances were also made available to district members via zoom.  Both members and non-members from the community shared musical talents; and youth, adults and missionaries all contributed.  “Music is a powerful medium that invites the Spirit to teach and touch the hearts of both visitors and contributors,” explained Sister Beck.

Once visitors entered the cultural hall, they were greeted with a gorgeous display of lights, Christmas trees, and over 150 nativities. Organized and arranged by the district Relief Society under the direction of President Jana Glass, the nativities were collected from members and non-members and set up in a one-way observation path.


“Collecting the nativities was a miracle,” shared Sister Glass. “Some sisters signed up to bring one or two, but arrived with many more. We also had nativities contributed by neighbors and friends who aren’t members of the Church, but wanted to participate.”

Nativities came in all styles and sizes, and represented many countries including Russia, the Philippines, Italy, France, Germany, Ghana, Sweden, Poland, and Israel. Homemade nativities were also displayed made of seashells, local Okinawan sea glass, Origami, barn wood, and even chocolate. Beautiful Christmas trees highlighted the various nativities, as well as a beautiful hand made Bethlehem silhouette along the front of the stage.

“My favorite part was interacting with attendees old and young, of all races, religions and cultures. It was a delight to watch them examine the details of each crèche while sharing their thoughts with family and friends,” commented Sister Mack. “Many of the people I interacted with had never seen a crèche, and the exhibit brought many smiles.”

“Since nativities are not widely used in Japan, we also wanted the display to connect with our Japanese friends,” explained Sister Nettie Francis. “Brother Satoshi Nishihara had the perfect answer when he suggested kakejiku hanging throughout the building.” The scrolls were made by young students, ages 5 – 15, at a local calligraphy school. “When we went to pick up the artwork at the school, the teacher told us that even though God is not part of their culture, the students felt a wonderful sense of peace and love as they worked on the project. The teacher and several of the students came to the nativity display to see the kakejiku and the nativities. It was an opportunity to build relationships between the church and the community.”

Caligraphy teacher Mrs. Fukuhara stands with her husband near a kakejiku scroll she painted of a Biblical scripture.© 2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

A live nativity vignette, provided by various district families, was the final nativity scene as visitors exited the cultural hall and entered the outdoor courtyard. “We saw people catch their breath as they looked up from the small nativities and suddenly saw a life-sized family, dressed as Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, angels, and wisemen,” explained Sister Francis. “Several of the families even had their own baby in their arms to portray the Christ child. It was stunning. The Japanese guests especially loved the live nativity and wanted pictures with the families.”

Full live nativity.© 2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Full live nativity.© 2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

After viewing the live vignette, visitors entered a classroom with a large picture of the Okinawa Temple. The missionaries also hung pictures of dozens of other temples on the walls, as well as information about the temple in both Japanese and English. Elders and Sisters from the Fukuoka Mission were in the room to answer questions.

“Timing couldn’t have been more perfect,” observed President Mack, as the Okinawa Temple Groundbreaking was held the week before the nativity display. “People in Okinawa are excited about the temple and were amazed at the beautiful structure that will be built on this island.”

“The temple room seemed to be a place where many liked to linger and talk about the new Okinawa Temple and other gospel topics,” shared Elder Brent and Sister Janet Butler. “There was a serene, quiet, sweet spirit there and effective missionary work was accomplished. Because of coronavirus, this was the first time for many missionaries to speak directly to people, and the missionaries found it exhilarating.”

Where guests exited the church, they received a Christmas star cookie, made by a local bakery, as well as pamphlets and information about the Church. “The guests loved the cookies, and this was also a blessing to our English class friends who own the bakery,” observed the Butlers. “Covid-19 has devastated their business, and we are grateful that this activity gave them a boost during this difficult year.”

Over 800 people came to view the display throughout the three days, with approximately half of the guests being Japanese and nearly half being non-members.

“Holding the event for three days allowed many people to safely come in and walk through, while observing recommended Covid guidelines including social distancing,” shared Brother Jason Perry, district councilman, who coordinated logistics. “We also used the outdoor atrium at the center of the building for good airflow, and had volunteers wiping down surfaces throughout.” Of course, masks were required and temperatures were checked at the door. During the busiest hours, visitors lined up outside until there was safely room to let them walk through the building.

Sister Terumi Tuckett from the Kadena Military Branch invited her friend to come to the nativity display. “We enjoyed the nativities so much,” Sister Tuckett shared. “My friend was crying the whole time because she was so impressed. The whole open house was so beautiful and spiritual. We stopped by the temple room and my friend was asking many questions to the missionaries.”

“It feels like a million miracles brought this event together at the end of this year,” concluded Sister Francis. “The nativity blessed those who helped to plan and conduct it, those who shared their musical talents, those who invited friends, and those who simply walked through and felt the Spirit. It was a Christmas miracle, which opened many hearts at this difficult time. I truly believe the Lord inspired all of us.”

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