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With permission slips, high school students attend ‘Passion’

ARDMORE, Okla. (BP)–With permission slips from their parents, more than 500 high school students in the Ardmore, Okla., area viewed “The Passion of The Christ.”

Three local ministers and the area’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes director teamed up to secure private screenings of the movie at 4 and 7 p.m. Feb. 24, the day before it was released nationwide.

“Our initial intention was to encourage the local schools to let their students out to watch a historical movie,” said Brent Smith, associate pastor for youth/music at Southwest Baptist Church in Ardmore, “but that didn’t work. So we approached the schools through the FCA. We put promotional materials in all of the schools, offering a free movie to anyone who wanted to come. The area church youth leaders asked our students to hold back and not sign up until the last minute, so that the majority of the kids we would see would be lost or unchurched.

“That was our hope, and that’s how it worked out,” Boles continued. “We had lots of unchurched and lost kids there, we believe. It went great. The theater seats 265, and we filled it at 4 p.m.; then at the 7 p.m. showing, we actually had a few more seated in chairs that were brought in.

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“We probably had just under 300 people for that showing. It was awesome. We had some adult sponsors there, of course, but we feel like we had more than 500 students from the area, which makes up about 20 percent of the student population” in four area high schools.

Each student who wanted to attend the movie was required to have a parent sign a permission slip because of The Passion’s “R” rating for its violent and graphic portrayal of the suffering of Christ.

“That was their ticket to get in,” Smith emphasized. “We enlisted either a teacher, an FCA huddle leader or a counselor in each district as a contact person. We told the students to go to that person and get their permission slips and sign up. As they did that, the contact person wrote their name, address and phone number on a list. Then, when they came to the theater, their signed permission slip was their ticket in. That was the best way we could think of to make sure we had a documented permission slip from each student.”

Smith said counselors were available in the theater lobby during the movie in case any of the students became overwhelmed by what they were seeing.

Some did.

“We did have a few come out, especially girls,” Smith said. “It was great that we had someone there to support them and give them a consoling hug if they needed it.”

As the students left the theater after the movie, each was given an invitation to attend a follow-up question-and-answer session held the next night in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church in Ardmore.

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The Gospel was shared with more than 250 students who showed up for the meeting.

“We understood that the movie wasn’t going to save anyone,” Smith said. “But we also believed that it could be similarly useful as the story in the Bible where Philip encounters the Ethiopian eunuch, who was reading the Book of Isaiah. The Ethiopian needed somebody to explain the Scripture to him.

“On the 25th, we shared the Gospel and explained what they saw, then we opened the meeting up for questions. For almost 90 minutes, it was just one question after another.” Smith said the organizers are now working on further follow-up.

“Along with the permission slips, we got a name, address, telephone number and a church affiliation, if any, for all students who came to see the movie,” Smith said. “We’ve got the names entered into a database and have given them on a CD to the appropriate church.”

Smith said the organizers’ intent was to reach as many students as possible at Ardmore, Dickson, Lone Grove and Plainview high schools.

“We were hoping it would open up their minds and their hearts to hear the Gospel,” he said. “Our hope is that The Passion will usher in another awakening that will allow us to share the Gospel — again similar to the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip experience — where the movie stirs their hearts and thoughts, and then we take advantage of the opportunity to share the Gospel.”

Joining Smith in coordinating the outreach were his pastor, Jeff Townsend; Randy Kendricks, youth minister at First Baptist in Ardmore; Kent Boles, area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
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Bob Nigh is managing editor of the Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.