The 20th annual “Risen: The Life of Christ Drive-Thru Drama” production can be seen at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. April 18-20 at Bethlehem Free Will Baptist Church, 3130 E. Pointer Trail in Van Buren. The family friendly presentation will come to walking, talking life via 17 scenes, said Freda Dickens, a production manager for the event.
“We are building a new tomb this year, and so that is one of the many exciting things about the drive-through this year,” she said. “I think it will be really nice and something that people will enjoy.
“And I think it might be a little bit of a surprise for people, too,” Dickens added.
Animals such as donkeys, goats, sheep and chickens will help bring an element of color and realism to the presentation, she said. Actors dressed as shepherds and other individuals will be on hand to greet those driving past, Dickens said.
“We will have a scene with the market and the tax collector, and we have a scene that documents Satan and the temptation in the wilderness,” she said. “There’s also the Lord’s supper and the trial.”
A pre-recorded CD will be provided to each vehicle to be played during the drive-through. The disc will describe the theme for each scene; if participants prefer, they can use a printed handout and/or they can use their phones to visit BethlehemFwbc.com/Risen to hear each scene’s description, Dickens said.
“I think it’s impressive because I work on it,” she said with a laugh. “But seriously, it is good and it is powerful.”
Traditionally, as many as 300 people see the drive-through drama each night, Dickens said.
“I think people talk the most about the scene that involves the punishment of Jesus — the Roman soldier beating Jesus,” she said. “One time, one little girl yelled ‘Stop!’ She wanted him to stop hurting Jesus. It is powerful.”
Other scenes will involve a crucial baptism, Jesus walking on water and Jesus’ ascension, Dickens said.
“People can stop at each scene for as long as they need to stop,” she said. “The whole thing doesn’t take a really long time to drive through.”
The idea for the event originated with Randall Ray, pastor for the Bethlehem Free Will Baptist Church. When was a youth pastor for another church in Fort Smith in the 1990s, he would put together a live nativity scene outside of the old Sears store at Central Mall.
“We would have animals there under the overhang back then; we always would take a donkey, sheep and goats there,” Ray said. “The shepherds would carry rabbits around where kids could pet the rabbits.”
Years later, Ray went to work at the Bethlehem church and would oversee a live nativity scene in Van Buren.
“One year, it iced terribly,” he said. “We were trying to set up the nativity scene, and we had to knock off an inch of ice from the cedar posts. We decided then to move the event to Easter instead of having it at Christmas.”
Following this year’s drive-through, attendees can enter the church’s Family Life Center for refreshments, Dickens said. The drive-through and refreshments will provide a rewarding experience for her church’s members and the public alike, she said.
“What I like about it is, it brings our whole church together,” Dickens said. “And we get to to people who might not otherwise go to a church. We get to reach a lot of people.”
Ray agreed, adding that the animals always are a hit with him and others.
“This year, I get to be one of the shepherds, so I get to take care of the animals,” he said before laughing. “And I get to help take care of the kids who are helping take care of the animals. We have a lot of fun with this.”