By Lanell Downs Smith
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
Choctaw and Washington Baptist associations presented the evangelistic drama Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames on Nov. 3–6 at First Baptist Church, Butler.
Initially scheduled for three nights, the production was so well received and enthusiasm was so high it ran an extra night. Attendance averaged 400 per night, reaching around 1,400 people.
Volunteers registered 340 decisions, most of which were salvation decisions.
“We had people saved from age eight to age 82,” said Terry Long, director of missions for Choctaw association.
Guests who made decisions were asked to complete decision cards which were distributed to area churches for follow up after the production.
“We’ve already heard from some churches where kids and adults have made professions of faith and they are planning baptism services,” Long said. “It was a wonderful week. I think we touched several counties for Christ.”
According to Long, all four Choctaw County high schools allowed him to present a short video preview and to invite students to attend the performance.
“It was the buzz around the schools,” Long said. “It really impacted our youth and our communities. There’s a lot of excitement and some are talking about doing it again in another part of the county in a couple of years.”
Heaven’s Gates is a production of Reality Outreach Ministries, presented in more than 100 different countries in the last 40 years. The ministry sends a team with everything needed to present the story of salvation. Characters in each scene experience death and discover whether or not their name is written in the book of life. Local groups may present nine or 10 of the 28 scenarios available, depending on the location and available volunteers.
Long said the Choctaw/Washington production featured nine depictions of circumstances where characters faced death and the afterlife. In each one, characters were either welcomed into heaven or cast into hell.
Each night opened with a clear presentation of the gospel. The audience was asked to stand if they didn’t know Christ.
Long said 90 people stood on the first night. Every night between 70 and 90 people responded to the invitation and were counseled by volunteers, many of whom were members of the cast.
“To see that stream of 90 people coming down the hall, and they were crying, they were moved and it was phenomenal to see,” Long said. “There were big high school football players giving their hearts to Christ.”
Long said many who made decisions returned the next night and brought others to hear the good news. At least three people were later baptized in Washington churches.
‘Bathed in prayer’
“I think the strength of this event comes from the fact that it was bathed in prayer from the beginning,” Long said. “Each night before the play we had a full worship service. The team kept us on point. We were there to see souls saved.”
The event steering committee, led by Steve Marcereau, planned the production for more than a year.
Between 30 and 35 local volunteers from both associations served on the cast and crew. Long said many more worked behind the scenes to plan, construct the set, provide child care and feed volunteers.
“Sometimes we think we are loners in all this,” said Larry Thompson, Washington’s associational missionary. “Our associations are not that far apart. We want to try to do more things together to encourage churches in both associations.”
Thompson said some Washington volunteers traveled almost 100 miles to help out.
“It was a team effort with both associations working together to win souls and bring glory to God,” Long said.
Both associations have seen a lasting impact in the lives of the volunteers.
“We are a small rural association,” Long said. “People see this and realize it’s not how small our association is, it’s how big our God is. Now we know God can do great things in small rural places. It has impacted the way we see lostness in our community. Who knows where it will end? Jesus will return one day and we don’t want to be sitting idly by. We want to be busy bringing folks to God.”
Thompson said the production lit a spark in the lives of Washington Association church members.
“We see the need in a new light. It opened our eyes that we need to do more in our communities to share the gospel.”