Choir's living Christmas tree graces Guatemala City's National Theater

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--While Alabama Baptists were celebrating the Thanksgiving holidays in the traditional turkey and football fashion, 101 members of Birmingham's Lakeside Baptist Church choir experienced a once-in-a-lifetime Christmas ministry 1,800 miles from home.

The choir spent five days in Guatemala performing in Spanish their Christmas musical drama, "Laura's Christmas," along with their living Christmas tree on the stage of the National Theater in Guatemala City.

Not only were Lakeside's ambassadors given a "center stage," they also put Jesus Christ and the message of salvation in the spotlight, which was the ultimate goal of the trip -- a trip that almost did not happen.

Plans for the trip had been underway for more than 18 months but events such as the giant Christmas tree, props and equipment being held in customs until the last minute left the group a little concerned.

But as Roger Becks, minister of music and mastermind of Lakeside's "Christmas in the Magic City" production, said, "It was just phenomenal to see God's hand at work overcoming obstacle after obstacle."

Becks said the administrator of the National Theater also tried to stop the group from performing because it was Christian in nature. "He said as long as he was in charge we would not be performing," Becks said.

But a young woman in Guatemala heard about the concern through a cell prayer group and offered her help. She helped contact the president of the Guatemalan Senate, who is a Christian. He led the way to obtaining a proclamation signed by the Senate allowing Lakeside to perform.

The theater administrator resigned the following week, and the new administrator excitedly welcomed the group.

"Not only were we given permission to perform, but the new administrator asked to be a sponsor and agreed to waive the $8,000 rental fee with the only specification being a performance for underprivileged children," Becks said.

"We were delighted to have around 250 children attend our Friday evening dress rehearsal where we performed the first act for them." Becks pointed out that the show's first act is geared more toward young children and the guests were from the city's orphanages.

The living Christmas tree has been part of Lakeside's traditional Christmas production "Christmas in the Magic City" for four years.

While the theme changes each year, the production always incorporates a full orchestra and choir, dancers, actors and the tree.

The 24-foot-tall tree is individually designed and is adorned with 3,000 computerized lights. Choir members stand on platforms behind it, with only their heads and gloved hands showing while they perform. The giant tree enhances each presentation throughout the first act, which begins with a contemporary theme and concludes with the birth of Jesus.

The second act follows through with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and explains the purpose of his birth, death and resurrection and the meaning of salvation.

International Mission Board missionaries to Guatemala Mike and Kay Owens saw the performance in 1999 with their daughter and her husband who is a native of Guatemala.

The Owenses approached Becks about the possibility of bringing the production to Guatemala City. Becks, who had twice taken a living Christmas tree production out of the country with his former church in Clearwater, Fla., was intrigued with the idea.

The Owenses felt Lakeside's Christmas musical would be an ideal way of reaching middle- and upper-class Guatemalans, the segment of the population with which they work.

Becks presented the idea to the church and they approved, although he said initially there was some hesitation from a few members who questioned the need to reach this segment of the population.

Becks explained that much missions work is aimed at the poor, and the wealthier classes are often overlooked in being exposed to the gospel. He also pointed out that performing in the National Theater and charging for tickets would attract the upper classes.

His predictions were correct. For the five performances, more than 4,500 people purchased tickets ranging in price from $12 to $25.

Although Becks said they were not allowed to give an altar call following each performance, they invited anyone who was interested to a room to find out how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

"There were 227 decisions made for Christ, including seven of the 10 Guatemalan women who served as usherettes during the show," he said. "They thought they were just coming to work. They didn't know what they were in for," he said with a laugh, emphasizing the relationships that were established between the Alabama group and the Guatemalans who assisted with the production.

Becks said the purpose of the musical missions trip was twofold -- to lead people to Christ and to help establish churches.

While the performance in Guatemala was the first for the group overseas, it was not the first one presented in Spanish. Lakeside performed the same production for the Spanish community in Birmingham prior to the trip.

"There were 250 internationals who attended and 23 decisions were made," Becks said, pointing out that commitment of his choir to learn the show in Spanish was God-inspired.

"There's no doubt that the results of this program have all been a 'God thing.' He's had his hand in it every step of the way."


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TELLING THE STORY.

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