By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
DENHAM SPRINGS – That more people from further distances attend what has grown to eight performances of the annual Easter drama at Amite Baptist Church attests to the success of the event, which marked its 25th year of production in early April.
[img_assist|nid=7233|title=Amite Easter Drama|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=67]So too do the 400 or more spiritual decisions made each year.
Virtually every one of the 1,000 or more people who regularly participate in Sunday morning worship at Amite Baptist is involved in one way or another in the Easter drama, said Terry Booth, pastor since 1985. This includes those who pray, those who give, and those who tell people they know about it, in addition to those involved in one of eight teams of 31 crews.
“Hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder, people are crammed in” the worship center where the Easter Drama takes place two weeks before Easter each year, Booth said. “Not only does it stir up and revive the hearts of our people, it builds up the Kingdom and we’re blessing our church and other churches.”
More than 8,000 no-cost (but necessary for crowd control) ticket-holders watched this year’s production, which opened with a young boy watching his dad paint “blood” onto the top of a door into the family’s home. In response to the boy’s question, the dad started to tell the story of Moses. The light faded on that part of the stage, and went up on another part, where Moses was warning Pharaoh about the death angel.
Then seven families could be seen on stage, some Egyptian; some Hebrew. One by one the Egyptian firstborn sons crumple, and then Pharaoh re-appears, carrying his dead son. It was a powerful moment that brought freshness to a story heard countless times by Christians.[img_assist|nid=7234|title=Easter Drama sold out|desc=The 25th annual Easter Drama at Amite Baptist Church in Denham Springs drew more than 8,000 people to watch 250 actors depict in eight sold-out performances the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Actors (above) realistically portray the anguish of watching Jesus crucified – and hearing the gut-wrenching sound of nails being driven through His hands and feet – and (right) the great joy at his resurrection. (Photo by Karen Willoughby)|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=427]
“Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming!” So cried people streaming down the aisle toward the stage, and the excitement built. Each person in the drama remained in character even when they were part of large crowd scenes.
The excitement the audience felt at learning Jesus was coming turned to anguish when he appeared a few scenes later bloodied, and the sound of hammers hitting the nails on the cross was right at the edge of “over-the-top” of what a Christian could bear.
Amite’s might be the only major Easter production still being done in any church in Louisiana. The genesis of the production that now features about 250 people on stage (and another 150 behind the scenes) is among the ministry tools Terry and Ann Booth brought with them when he was called as pastor in August 1985. The following Easter, with the church’s buy-in, they brought it to fruition at Amite Baptist, and gave the congregation a vision.
Each year since, Amite Denham Spring has produced what essentially is the same story – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – with a new script written for the last few years by Music Minister Deloy Chapman and new music selected by him.
“In countless ways it [the production] certainly gives life to [the congregation’s] own witness and ministry,” Booth said. “I see a lot of spiritual growth each year because the people take it to heart. … They are literally sharing the gospel themselves.
“If we’re just going to go out there and sing songs and play parts and not be authentic, we short of mock the gospel message,” the pastor continued. “They work really hard on getting things right – in their relationship with the Lord, and in whatever role they play in the production.”
The church spends about $25,000 a year for the Easter Drama, but doesn’t budget for it. When major needs are made known – such as additional lighting or camera equipment, or set construction elements – offerings are taken.
“A certain amount of skill and relationships develop” in the production of the Easter Drama,” Booth said. “It helps our ongoing outreach in the community to have our people trained to share the gospel. Every week for the last 10 weeks we’ve had conversions. The Easter Drama gives families and parents an opportunity to personalize the gospel with their own children. …
“If there is anything I delight in, it’s that nobody gets billing,” the pastor continued. “It’s not about you. It’s about your witness.”
This year’s production was about the chains the bind people, and the Jesus who came to set His people free.
“God is ready to break the chains and set us free,” the narrator said early in the production. “You will see how God fulfills His promises. …” Halfway through he says, “Anyone who sins is chained to sin, but if the Son sets you free you are free indeed. …” And later, “Go – It will be done just as you have believed.”
What are your chains? Do you believe Jesus can break them?
A powerful script, powerful music, powerful cast and powerful message. Make plans now to attend the 2012 Easter Drama production at Amite Denham Springs.