April 9, 2011 in Features

This church heals, helps with Easter drama and big dreams

By The Spokesman-Review
J. Bart Rayniak photoBuy this photo

Stephen Rice plays Jesus in the Spokane Dream Center’s elaborate Easter drama, “Behold Jesus.” He was surprised how acting came naturally for him: “I look back to when I was a kid and an actor in my family, too.”
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If you go

What: “Behold Jesus: The Drama”

When: April 16, 1 and 6:30 p.m.

Where: INB Performing Arts Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd

Cost: It’s free. No tickets, no reservations required.

When Stephen Rice was asked to play Jesus in his church’s annual Easter drama, which happens a week from today, his hair was shaved close to his head.

Soon after he said yes, his hair grew faster than usual. By the time rehearsals for the drama started in January, Rice’s hair was Jesus-ready.

“I didn’t have to use Miracle-Gro or anything,” he joked.

But everyday-style miracles seem to be commonplace at the Spokane Dream Center, a church in the Spokane Valley near the intersection of Interstate 90 and Pines Road.

At least that’s how its pastors, Dave and Alice Darroch, explain the things that have happened there in the church’s two-decade history.

Consider the Easter drama. Its creation began in Alice’s imagination and the first year, five key people failed to show up.

Now in its 14th year, it features 150 cast members, 30 crew members and hundreds of props and costumes, crafted and sewn by volunteers from the church.

It costs the church about $16,000 to put on, much of that in rent to the INB Performing Arts Center. But it’s free for the audience.

“The Lord said you need to preach the gospel and not just in church on Sundays,” Dave Darroch said.

“You live it. You walk it. You sing it. You dramatize it. That’s what we do.”

In the beginning

The Darrochs have been married for 44 years. They met when Dave, who grew up in Zimbabwe, was a British Royal Air Force officer stationed in Malta, where Alice grew up.

The couple ventured to Whidbey Island with their children in 1972, part of a military officer exchange program with the United States. There, they became Christians and soon felt called to remain in this country, ministering to others.

Their three-year quest to become U.S. citizens was filled with what most might call “coincidences,” but what the Darrochs see as God’s will.

They recounted that journey in their 2006 book “Feeding on His Faithfulness.” Written in a breezy, friendly style, it reflects well the personalities of the two pastors, who never seem to take themselves too seriously, but never doubt that God guides their sometimes comical adventures.

“When people ask, ‘How did you get to Spokane?,’ we say, ‘The Lord brought us.’ That’s the short version,” Dave said.

They settled in Spokane in 1980 and a decade later established their church, now named Spokane Dream Center.

Though church members span the socioeconomic spectrum, Dream Center ministers to many people at society’s margins, especially those in recovery from addiction.

The church sponsors two residential recovery programs, one for men, the other for women. The name reflects the church’s mission to help broken people dream again.

That’s how recovering addicts turn up as angels in the annual Easter drama.

‘Behold Jesus: The Drama’

In 2004, Julie Peone, 50, was about to lose her house and live in her car. She was addicted to drugs. She felt shame that she had failed to provide her four children with a safe and secure home.

“We hauled water to flush toilets, warmed beans on a wood stove and did homework to headlights,” she said. “But even high as a kite, I would say prayers with my kids every single night.

“God had plans for me. He was waiting.”

Her son, who attended the church with a friend, invited his mother to services one Sunday.

“The first week, Alice was exuberantly happy to see me,” Peone said. “When I made it back a week later, she greeted me at the door and called me by name. That recognition saved my life.”

She soon asked Peone to be in the Easter drama, a seven-scene play that had come to Alice as a “spiritual download” in 1995. She explained:

“I was wide awake, preparing my (Sunday) message. Out of the blue, I began to see a vision of the drama. I saw seven scenes out of the life of Jesus. I saw it like a movie.

“I tried to shake it off. I needed a message, not a movie. I could not shake it off.”

Alice shared the “download” with the congregation the next day. And within two years, the drama was a reality, though shorter than now and performed in the church.

Over the years, it has grown into a major production. Peone has played an angel for seven years. Her personal life turned more angelic, too.

She was one of the first women in the church’s recovery program. She then earned a degree from the Community Colleges of Spokane and works as a dental assistant.

“It’s been one miracle after the other,” Peone said. “I have kids who wear their pants up and love having their hair cut and do well in school and I don’t deserve any of it. Who but God could make that happen?”

Rice, 26, who plays Jesus for the first time this year after a three-year stint as the apostle Peter, found Spokane Dream Center when his sister saw it advertised on a billboard. He’s been attending about six years, and is in the church’s long-term recovery program.

“I saw a lot of death around my friends,” Rice said of his life before recovery. “I thought, ‘If I don’t change my life, it could be me next.’ ”

At a recent rehearsal, he stood in the center of the sanctuary, surrounded by angels who sometimes seemed confused. Crowns sat lopsided on heads. The sound system had some issues. Chaos reigned in heaven.

But no worries for the Darrochs. They said the drama “miraculously” comes together each year by showtime, thanks to God – and three months of intense rehearsals.

“It’s amazing how much creativity there is,” Alice said. “People feel needed and useful.”

She envisions the drama performed at the Spokane Arena in the near future. And someday, she envisions the church building its own theater.

“We are just starting,” she said. “I want 100 angels. I only have about 50 now. We have a way bigger dream than this.”

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