Al Shrock doesn’t watch the scene before him any longer. Instead he stands in the corner, engineers the hydraulics and surveys the crowd as they step into Golgotha.
Roman soldiers hiss as they force a bloodstained Jesus onto a cross and nail spikes through his hands. Shrock maneuvers the hydraulics he built, raising the cross against the red-lit sky.
But it’s the faces of the observers that draw his attention.
“What affects me more than anything is seeing mother and husband holding each other, with the kids grabbing hold of their legs being very scared and looking at their father, who bends down and comforts their child,” Shrock said. “To watch them embrace each other after, and to know that this actually happened for them … watching their reactions, that’s the point of all our hard work.”
This is the sixth year Shrock has volunteered for “Journey to the Cross,” an 11-scene outdoor walk-through tour of Jesus’ life, held at Spokane Valley Adventist Church, 1601 S. Sullivan Road.
More than 250 volunteers, including three people from out of state, came together to put on the event, which began Thursday and will conclude today. The 30-minute tours will be from 4 to 9 p.m. today and begin every 10 minutes. The church’s sanctuary is designated as a waiting area between tours, where a praise band will perform.
Tickets are free, although online reservations are encouraged at www.journeyspokane.com/tickets. The weekend before the tour began more than 1,000 online tickets had already been booked.
The event draws between 3,000 and 5,000 people annually and has a reputation for its authentic costumes and interactive set.
The church put up seven billboards around town and distributed more than 250 yard signs promoting the event. Although the budget has been cut this year, in previous years the church has spent about $14,000 to market and produce “Journey to the Cross,” said co-director Tracie Husted.
Schrock, however, said it’s the narrative that keeps people coming back year after year.
“It’s a touching experience because you see what he (Jesus) actually did. Instead of talking about it, or telling the story, you’re seeing the process he had to go through,” he said.
Co-director Stacey Pedersen explained “Journey to the Cross” starts with Jesus turning water into wine and ends with the great commission. An alternative area is available for families with young children who don’t want to watch the crucifixion scene. An exit tent at the end of the tour allows people to pray or ask questions about Jesus.
She said many people who have visited the event in previous years are working as volunteers this season. Many nondenominational Christians have gotten involved and several neighboring Latter-day Saints helped create the sets, Pedersen said. Local businesses regularly donate food, props and landscaping.
“This is the first year we’re having so many non-Adventists involved, and most approached us about doing it,” she said.
The event started in 2007 with a cast of fewer than 100. Pedersen said it’s become an Easter custom for the community as well as the volunteers.
“They do this as part of the church. It’s part of them. It’s part of what they do,” she said. “They want to be a part of telling this story. They don’t feel like they’re giving up something, they feel like they’re giving something.”
She starts organizing the performance around November and said it’s a project worth devoting extra time to.
“For me, it’s listening to the stories people have in the exit tent. It changes lives. A lot of people are searching or are going through a rough time,” she said.
Kent Jones and his family have volunteered since “Journey to the Cross” began. Jones plays the Apostle Peter. His wife and teenage daughter perform in the triumphal entry scene and his teenage son is in the last supper act.
Jones said the performance is a way to bring the story of Jesus to life, “and make it real to people.”
Playing one of Jesus’ disciples, he said, has helped him understand what the apostles faced when Jesus was betrayed.
“It’s quite an experience to go through the emotions that the disciples went through, it was a real shock to them. They didn’t expect it,” he said.
Mark Weir, associate pastor of Spokane Valley Adventist Church, plays Jesus. He got involved with the event three years ago and said initially he was impressed by the group of people dedicated to making the tour a success.
He said he quickly realized, however, why they were so committed to re-enacting the Easter narrative.
“The story, to Christians, I believe is the most important story in the history of the world. It’s the reason we choose to follow Jesus. It’s the story of power over death,” he said. “And we try to tell that story to the best of our ability.”