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Small town experiences impact of ‘Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s

EDMONTON, Ky. (BP)–Despite its unusual and somewhat controversial name, the play “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames” has had a dramatic impact on the 1,500 people in the southern-Kentucky town of Edmonton.
One hundred and twenty-five people accepted Christ as Lord and Savior and 37 others rededicated their lives to him during a recent three-night run, according to Larry Noe, pastor of Edmonton Worship Center Baptist Church, which hosted the performances.
Produced by Canadian-based Reality Outreach Ministries, the play has two dozen directors’ teams who travel across North America, and eight more overseas. The teams spend two days preparing members of local congregations to stage scenes that depict the eternal consequences of choices people make in daily life.
“It’s been exciting down here the last (few) weeks,” said Noe. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The drama “really spoke to our young people,” added Steve Sholar, pastor of Edmonton Baptist Church. “I think what it did was put the issue of eternity — with and without Christ — in front of them. And, in a way that sermons hadn’t done.”
Three weeks afterwards, Edmonton Worship Center baptized 10 converts who accepted Christ at “Heaven’s Gates.” Attendance at that service passed the 200 mark, compared to an average of 140 at Sunday services before the production.
The same afternoon, Sulphur Springs Baptist Church borrowed the Worship Center’s facilities to baptize three newcomers into God’s kingdom.
Eight were baptized at Edmonton Baptist the following Sunday, all young people who either saw the play or heard about it at school. In addition, Sholar has prayed with three other teens who accepted Christ because of its influence. The youth haven’t made public professions of their decisions.
Members from half a dozen area churches participated in the Edmonton cast. The largest single number of decisions for Christ (33,000) from a “Heaven’s Gates” production occurred during a month-long show in Modesto, Calif., in 1995. The next year there, 6,000 more were saved in nine days, according to a story in Charisma magazine.
Noe contacted the ministry 18 months ago after talking with Kentucky Baptist pastors in Albany and Greensburg. Both had seen large turnouts and resulting salvations after booking the play, he said.
“I was amazed at how folks chosen to be part of the cast had been prepared in such a short time,” said Noe, a bivocational pastor who is part owner of a local business. “It’s as if God had moved in and took over.”
He said many adults were among the converts, including a 70-year-old man.
The play continues to reach residents, the pastor said, through a video of an earlier production which was sold during the event. He has seen other family members watching the tape during follow-up visits.
Scheduled for a return engagement next March, the play also brought churches closer together, Noe said. About 10 pastors participated in various ways, such as offering prayer support and inviting their congregations.
“It brought an awareness to this community of church and the work of the Lord that I haven’t seen before,” he said. “People in restaurants are talking about what’s going on in church. That’s unusual.”
Noting some members didn’t care for the play’s name or the colorful posters advertising the event, Sholar attributed its impressive results to the Holy Spirit.
“Sometimes we think people ought to come to Christ in a certain way, but here God used something that some people didn’t like,” said Edmonton Baptist’s pastor.
He said the two members from his church who had acting roles have become more dedicated Christians, with a deeper appreciation for the seriousness of sharing Christ.
“The Holy Spirit has used it,” he said of the resulting salvations. “God has been using a lot of different things but when this drama came along, it was like something clicked. It was very visual.”
Russell Janes, pastor of Edmonton and Elm View United Methodist churches, said members from Edmonton who participated in the production also credited the Holy Spirit for its success.
“This is one of the greatest ways to reach people for Christ today,” said Janes, who had seen the play previously when he lived in Albany. “You can see the affect it has on people.”
Although half a dozen members of Edmonton Methodist served in the cast or as counselors and parking attendants, the pastor said it had a greater impact at Elm View. The latter is located nine miles from town.
A greater percentage of young people attend the county church, he explained, and they seemed most attracted to the play. Elm View welcomed four new young members recently, three of them newcomers to the church.
“I would say (Edmonton Methodist) will be more active next year because they’ve heard about the impact it had,” he said. “They realized it was something extraordinary.”

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  • Ken Walker