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Live Nativity in Lehi raises close to $45,000 for local refugees

By Ashtyn Asay - | Dec 24, 2021
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Refugee actors, from left, Elias Bayizirie, Yvonne and baby Kaylee Rugendo, and Rosette Bahati participate in a live Nativity in Lehi on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021.
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The Star of Bethlehem is lofted outside the A Babe is Born live Nativity in Lehi on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021.

Joe Coccimiglio stood by the entrance to the live Nativity dressed as a shepherd. He animatedly told passersby the story of Mary and Joseph and their search for shelter before the birth of baby Jesus, finishing it with one evocative line:

“Jesus Christ was a refugee,” Coccimiglio said.

Coccimiglio is co-founder of the nonprofit organization A Babe is Born, which hosted its second annual live Nativity this year in Lehi. The Nativity was staffed by refugees who work as paid actors and ultimately raised nearly $45,000 in funds and goods that will benefit refugee communities in Utah.

Coccimiglio’s goal was not only to help as many refugee families as possible this year but also to help his fellow community members get to know their refugee neighbors and their stories.

“They have every right to be (angry) at the world, they have every right to be angry at God. … Instead of being mad or angry with the world, … every single person I’ve met has been so kind and loving and amazing.” Coccimiglio said. “It’s been a big blessing in my life to be able to do this, far more than I think it even blesses them.”

This year’s Nativity design featured live animals like donkeys and alpacas and took attendees through scenes straight from the small town of Bethlehem, ultimately bringing them to the final Nativity scene featuring actors portraying Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

Before guests entered, they were asked to pay a “tax” or a donation of money or goods, reminiscent of the taxes that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to pay.

“We’ve had carfuls of donations just get dropped off,” said Megan Chytraus, a Nativity designer. “The impact that we’re going to be able to have on these families is substantial.”

The Nativity was open for five nights, closing on Wednesday. Each night, according to Chytraus, A Babe is Born was able to raise more funds and donated goods than they had the night before.

Flavia Mukasa, a refugee from Uganda and single mother of three, worked as an actress alongside her children in the live Nativity.

“It’s one of the best Christmases I’ve had in the USA. I feel happy, I feel loved, I feel at home,” she said. “I had a challenge when I had just come here and I felt like my heart was broken. But I feel like I am falling in love again because during this activity I’ve seen people who are expressing love, who are sharing love and kindness, and so I am so happy.”

Mukasa and her children came to the United States in 2019 from a refugee camp in Kenya, and they have had a challenging time settling into their new life. She said that working at the Nativity has provided her with not only much-needed income but love and emotional support as well.

“It means so much to us as people who are struggling to settle in the United States,” Mukasa said. “I feel so blessed to get something out of this activity because there are so many things I wouldn’t have during this period. But because of this activity, we are able to get some of the stuff we wouldn’t get. … I’ve been telling Joe that I wish I could take this kind of love to my country.”

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