WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–A YouTube video showing a Christmas pageant camel falling sideways into church pews has put a Baptist congregation in the national spotlight — and given church leaders an unexpected media opportunity to discuss spiritual matters.
It all began Thursday, Dec. 9, during a dress rehearsal at First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., when a 1,000-plus-pound camel named Lula Bell decided not to follow the script. The plan was to have Lula Bell kneel in the back of an aisle and let rider Alex Jones off so that he — playing one of the wise men — could walk to the front of the church and place his gift before Jesus.
Lula Bell, though, didn’t want to kneel.
Instead, after fighting briefly with the handler, she stood up, lost her balance and fell sideways into three pews, where college students who had been invited to a free show scrambled to get out of way. It lasted only 10-15 seconds, but for those who were in attendance, it seemed like an eternity.
Thankfully, no one — not even Lula Bell — was hurt, but the event made Lula Bell, and the church, an Internet sensation. The clip has been viewed more than 300,000 times on YouTube and been broadcast on “The O’Reilly Factor,” “Today Show,” “Anderson Cooper 360” and “Inside Edition.” While some media members have been interested only in broadcasting the clip, others have interviewed senior pastor Jimmy Scroggins or worship leader Chuck Lewis, giving them a chance to spread the Gospel.
The extra attention helped boost attendance and sell out the shows, which took place the following three days. The pageant, “Project Christmas,” spotlighted not only the Christmas story but also orphan care. More people attended this year than last year, Scroggins said.
“You get your 15 minutes of fame every once in a while,” Scroggins told Baptist Press Dec. 16 after finishing an interview on the radio program “Rick & Bubba.”
“We asked: How can we use it to highlight Christ and how can we use it to highlight orphan care — which is really the theme of the whole event. [Chuck and I] agreed, we said, ‘What we’re going to do is, every time we talk to someone we’re going to talk about Christ, we’re going to talk about the Gospel and the meaning of Christmas, and we’re going to talk about orphan care, which is a biblical expression of the Gospel working itself out in our lives.”
Not every media outlet used those faith-filled quotes, but some did.
Of course, the incident could have ended tragically: Adult camels can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. But Lula Bell’s quick fall took place on a night when the pews weren’t full, giving the quick-moving college students room to flee.
“When I’m watching this, I’m thinking, there could be serious injuries or dead bodies up under that camel,” Scroggins said. “… Somebody could have been injured. We’re thrilled that no one was injured.”
Scroggins added, “God has taken something that could have been a horrible accident and made it into a way to highlight Christ and highlight orphan care…. I personally had people that I know in the community who are not believers who called me after seeing the camel on the news and said, ‘Hey, isn’t that your church? We want to come to that thing.'”
Lost in the clamor over the camel is the fact that Jones — who was on top of Lula Bell — also tumbled off. He was OK, and in the video can be seen briefly at the end, hopping up from the pew. Scroggins said Jones began pushing Lula Bell, trying to keep her away from people.
The YouTube clip ends with Lula Bell still stuck in the pews. So, what happened next?
“Right after the video cuts off, the camel just stood up and walked out of the room,” Scroggins said. “It didn’t kick or flail around.”
Hopefully, Lula Bell didn’t have goals of greater stardom: She was cut from the cast.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. View the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFd3e3m4Eao&NR=1. View a TV report on the incident at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBgG8CNjdGw&feature=related.