By Lydia Gingerich
Storytelling is one of the most influential ways to change hearts, minds, and attitudes across cultures. People are drawn to God through stories. In this piece, we look at two examples of the story of Jesus’ birth displayed through theater in the Middle East and an interactive dramatization in Mechanicsburg, Ohio.
In the Middle East, RMM worker Esta Felder* writes and directs dramas, training believers and non-believers in the art of theater. She works with an experienced group of young people who perform gospel-based dramas in churches, youth groups, and other venues. Below is a Christmas drama she wrote that has been performed two different times in the Middle East. Grab a couple of friends to read or act out this story and experience a fresh take on Joseph’s dream.
Characters: Gabriel, Isaiah, Joseph
Gabriel: (To the congregation...) My name is Gabriel, I’m an angel of the Lord. It’s my privilege to deliver messages on behalf of the Lord, God to mortal men. In this case to Joseph, whom you see here...
Isaiah: And my name is Isaiah, I’m a prophet of the Lord. Yes, we’re here to give a message to Joseph by entering his dream.
Gabriel: As you can see, it’s more of a nightmare! It has to do with the birth of Jesus the Messiah.
Isaiah: Joseph is engaged to the young woman, Mary. But he just found out that she’s pregnant.
Joseph: (Startled awake) Pregnant! I’ve known her family all my life! I never would have guessed this! It turns out she’s either unfaithful, or... or mentally unstable!
Isaiah: Joseph, are you wondering about Mary?
Joseph: What? Who is that? Am I dreaming?
Gabriel: You seem troubled over what to do about your engagement.
Joseph: What she’s done is against God’s law. I could go public and completely ruin her, but I’m better than that. No, I’ll quietly break off the engagement for her sake. It’s the right thing to do.
Isaiah: That’s generous of you. But like most people, you don’t have a clue what God’s doing in your life, do you?
Joseph: She’ll be disgraced eventually, but not because of me.
Gabriel: We have a message for you, Joseph! Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife! What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Joseph: Conceived by the Holy Spirit?
Isaiah: Yes! Fulfilling the prophecy, The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
Joseph: God with us?
Isaiah: It’s what the human race has been waiting for! God is coming along side us. He’s making it possible for humans to have an intimate, personal relationship with him!
Joseph becomes even more anxious.
Gabriel: I told you Joseph, don’t be afraid.
Joseph: What? What did you say?
Isaiah: He said, don’t be a coward!!
Gabriel: To play your part in God’s plan takes courage. No matter how you try to explain it, everyone will judge you, they may even hate you.
Isaiah: You have to be willing to endure the world’s disdain to be a part of God’s plan, Joseph. Mary is willing to suffer the disgrace. Are you?
Joseph: Tell me again what’s happening?
Gabriel: Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Isaiah: Do you accept your part in this plan?
Joseph: If what you say is true, then of course, I will raise him as my own. I’ll give him my name.
Isaiah rolls his eyes and Gabriel shakes his head.
Gabriel: You will not name him. God will name him!
Joseph: What? Every parent has a right to name their child!
Gabriel: Exactly. God, his father, will name him.
Isaiah: This child is God... He will eventually be naming you!
Gabriel: The world needs a Savior, Joseph. And so do you. You think of yourself as a good man, but being good is not enough.
Isaiah: What do you say? Are you willing to let God have his way in your life so that the world may be saved?
Joseph: (Becomes calm.) Yes. I think I finally understand. This baby is being born for all of us— including me. (Repeats.) This baby is being born for me.
Isaiah: (Tests him.) Mary can’t escape her disgrace, but you still can...
Joseph: No! Her disgrace will become mine.
Gabriel: Okay, it’s time.
Gabriel and Isaiah: Joseph, wake up!
Joseph: (Wakes up.) I know what I have to do! (Looks up) Yes, Lord. I will do as you say. I’m still afraid, but ...I’ll obey. I’ll take Mary as my wife. She will give birth to a son and his name will be Jesus, the Savior of the world. ...Let the adventure begin!
Joseph’s Dream is published with the permission of the author. This original play and many others are published in the book by Esta, please contact email@example.com for more details. To Learn more about Esta’s work in the Middle East and how you can be a part of RMM’s ministry, read our year-end letter at yearend.rmmweb.org.
*Name changed for security
Locally Grown: “A live, interactive nativity adventure”
Here in North America, another story of ministering through the arts at Christmas has been unfolding for the past sixteen years in Mechanicsburg, Ohio. In 2000 Cathy Troyer (then the secretary for Mechanicsburg Christian Fellowship) had the idea of hosting an interactive Christmas drama based on a production she had seen at another church. The Director of Children and Youth Ministries at MCF, Christa Wolf, “caught the vision and wrote a very basic script.”
Since that time, the script has evolved, and the cast has grown from about twenty to fifty actors. Christa writes, “the Christmas Walk is a live, interactive nativity adventure. Groups of fifteen to twenty people are guided by a narrator as they witness the unfolding story surrounding the birth of Christ as they walk from scene to scene.” There are usually about eight to ten of these scenes which play out across the three-acre field behind the church, “starting with a brief history of the Israelites and the prophecies foretelling Jesus’ birth, and ending with an explanation of how the baby in the manger is also the man on the cross—God’s gift of salvation offered to the world.”
Such a complex and involved drama is not an easy task to pull off. It takes about 100 people to help with grounds, hospitality, tech, publicity, acting, baking, coordinating, and many more tasks. In 2006, MCF decided to scale back and perform the Walk every other year to ensure that all of these volunteers have enough energy and excitement for the production.
“Our church has really taken hold of the Walk as our gift to the community, ” says Christa, “and consider it to be one of our primary evangelistic tools.” Over two nights, 450 guests come to participate in the Walk, many of whom are unchurched. At the end of the evening, members of the congregation are available to converse and minister to visitors over refreshments. Christa reveals that these interactions “often lead to important conversations about Christ.” She adds that the Walk provides opportunities for discussion—even beyond the two night, it is presented. People on the street will recognize her from a scene in the drama and say, “that was the first time I really understood the whole story of why Jesus was born. I’m bringing my family next time.” Those connections bless Christa’s heart, she says, “because whether they have come to Christ or not, I know I have been a small part of pointing them in the right direction.”
The next MCF Christmas Walk will be held in 2017. Please pray that this ministry, as well as Esta’s in the Middle East, would continue to flourish and present the gospel in a way that connects with those who have not yet understood the magnitude of this story.
Let us know how God is using your congregation to be his hands and feet in your community. Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.