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Drama that's true to its source

An author's goal for her musical, presented by high school and college age young people, is to present Christ as the Bible reveals him to be.

By GAIL HOLLENBECK
Published July 8, 2006


HOMOSASSA SPRINGS - As Wendy Rivera sat through the Easter cantatas at her church for three years in a row, she found herself disappointed in the message and embarrassed for her church.

"My heart ached through these three productions," she said. "We were encouraged to bring many visitors to hear this message, but there was no real message, not to me, nor to those who did not know Christ."

Rivera observed that the writers of the plays were attempting to put a new "twist" on the story of Christ and trying to "help the message along" by making it relevant to modern audiences.

The result of that, Rivera felt, was a "poorly written, wrongly applied story of his own making."

As the daughter of Nicky and Sheri Chavers, founders of the Academy of Arts of Taylors, S.C., and a singer-actor-composer herself, Rivera knew what a well-written production that remained true to the Scriptures was like.

"I'd grown up in the Academy of Arts ministry and had seen my father write and produce biblical productions containing all the drama one could ever hope to see, and yet always remaining true to the word of God," Rivera said.

"He truly uses drama to communicate the word without feeling the need to sacrifice quality writing, nor the messages of the Scripture."

So though she'd never written a full-scale production before, Rivera set out to write her own musical drama that would present Christ as the Bible reveals him to be.

"The Lord laid it on my heart to begin writing a production that would portray Christ through the lives of those who knew him during his earthly ministry as recorded in the Scripture," she said.

The result? A musical drama currently being performed across the country by the drama teams from the academy.

But We See Jesus will be presented at 7 p.m. Monday at Faith Baptist Church.

Using music and drama, the play views Christ through the eyes of the disciples and first-century Christians whose lives Jesus transformed.

Peter, James and John are eyewitnesses to Christ's power over sin, disease, demons and even over nature itself.

Mary Magdalene, possessed of devils, is freed by Christ's command; the Samaritan woman meets the savior at the village well and is changed forever.

Even the betrayer Judas testifies of Christ's deity as he speaks directly to the audience, relating how he could be so disloyal as to betray the only innocent one who ever lived.

Through the eyes of the early believers, the audience sees the betrayal, the trial and crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus, as well as his appearance later to his disciples, proving he was indeed alive.

Rivera said as she studied the lives of New Testament characters, she found it having an impact on her own spiritual life.

"My heart was broken over and over at my own life - at how much I needed Christ in so many areas," she said.

"Each character rebuked me in specific ways as I saw how they were affected by Christ. So I let the characters speak directly to people today - people who claim to know Christ, but who have obviously moved away from him."

The author was able to relate to one character in particular.

"I love Peter," she said. "I am so similar to him in many ways. I want to serve Christ, but my fear of failure can hold me back. He is also such an encouraging character because even though he denied Christ, he was forgiven and molded by Christ into a vessel fit for his use."

There are four songs in the production. Rivera wrote the music for one of them and her older sister, Christy Chavers Stutzman, wrote the song that is sung by the Samaritan woman.

The finale includes a medley of songs including Our God Reigns and Crown Him With Many Crowns.

The crew uses professional stage lights, sound and representative costumes and props to convey the play's message. The cast is made up of high school and college age young people, who have dedicated their summer to the production.

Nicky Chavers shared his reasons for using students for the productions.

"This is an itinerant ministry," he said. "We minister in churches and schools in 16 states. Adults have responsibilities that prohibit them from traveling to the extent required.

"Young people of high school and college age are at the point of ofdecisionmaking in their lives. Since our purpose is to influence people through the message of the Bible, working with these young people is especially rewarding, because they will make life decisions as a result of being involved in this ministry."

Both father and daughter have similar hopes for the productions.

"The audiences are affected by the power and message of the plays," Chavers said.

"God moves them to make decisions about their homes, their families, their personal relationship to God and about the general message of the Bible. Each year a little over 100 people trust Christ and more than 1,200 decisions of dedication are made as a result of the drama team ministry."

Rivera offered an invitation to Citrus County residents.

"I hope that the message of Christ would be clear to everyone present," Rivera said of Monday's production, "and that by the light of the word, we would see ourselves in this generation, flee the darkness and come to the light.

"In the epilogue of the play, first John is quoted, 'If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanses us from all sin.' There is no sin too great for Christ to forgive - come, see him!"