Drama as the Vehicle for the Gospel
When Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew, he commanded his followers to make disciples of all nations. LU Send enables students to practically apply this instruction by giving them the opportunity to travel the globe with peers and professors.
One group of students employs their theatrical talents to spread the gospel both domestically and internationally. Barry Gawinsky, associate professor in the Department of Theatre Arts, leads students on mission trips through LU Send.
Students prepare several plays in advance of the trip, meeting twice a week for 75 minutes each time. Foreign audiences applaud these pieces because they get a glimpse of what an American performance is like.
They perform a wide variety of shows in the local communities they visit. The students typically perform Bible stories, even in secular locations. They tend to use fairytale pieces that teach a moral lesson that equates to a biblical value. They also present some musical pieces, such as songs from “Les Misérables.”
“We are presenting the gospel, but also, we are creating entertainment with the goal of drawing people in so that the local ministry team actually has more people that they can connect with,” Gawinsky said.
Although past shows used dialogue and translators to interpret for the audience, Gawinsky has found that wordless plays are far more effective. For example, one trip in France had an interpreter, but the area was filled with Syrian refugees who spoke very little French, so they couldn’t understand the content. Liberty’s Theater Department altered plays so that the dances and visual cues speak for themselves.
Ministry locations include hospitals, schools, orphanages, refugee centers, homeless shelters and rehabilitation centers. While their shows are for everyone, Gawinsky strives to make the shows connect with children. His hope is that when kids watch Liberty students’ perform, it excites them enough that they talk about it when they go home, and their parents take an interest. Planting seeds is the most essential part of the shows because even after the mission team leaves, local ministry centers can continue to cultivate those seeds.
“We are coming alongside the local ministry because we’re showing something that has a clear purpose and outcome, and then that local church needs to grab onto those people and not just disciple (but) continuing to tell them who this Jesus is, and then hopefully that leads to salvation and discipleship,” Gawinsky said.
After shows, theater students have observed the impact of their performances.
“We will oftentimes see a lot of crying and a lot of connection and reawakening because what theater and dance and art in general do is connect with your base emotions,” Gawinsky said. “I could stand in front of you and talk about Jesus, and Jesus is absolutely at work but people might zone out on my words because we listen to words all the time.”
Whether the show is five minutes or 35 minutes, the takeaway is the same — Jesus saves, and a life lived with him is more rewarding than anything else.
Not only do the theater students experience serving in a foreign community, they also experience cultural immersion. The academic component of LU Send mission trips enables students to gain firsthand knowledge of significant landmarks and museums. They hear about history, observe cultural artifacts and explore the streets of the cities they visit. Through this type of engagement with their surroundings, students learn more about different cultures and people than if they were simply reading a book in a classroom.
Sharing the gospel with others is essential for strengthening one’s faith, regardless of whether you are overseas or across the street from your own yard. LU Send theater students have seen God move in unimaginable ways through their performances. They are truly putting into practice Isaiah 52:7.
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
To get involved, contact Gawinski at firstname.lastname@example.org
Greene is a feature reporter for the Liberty Champion