Month: January 2018


The Christians-14

Pastor Paul looks down at the pulpit as he addresses his congregation in The Christians, a play at Hardin-Simmons University. Photo courtesy Ben Burke


What: The Christians
When: Jan. 31-Feb. 4 (7:30 p.m. Jan. 31-Feb. 3; 2 p.m. Feb. 4)
Where: Hardin-Simmons University Behrens Auditorium
Tickets: Order online at General admission, $10; senior citizens, military and non-HSU students, $5; groups of 10 or more, $4 (Call 670-1405 to order group tickets)
Details: The HSU Theater Department is presenting the play by Lucas Hnath (pronounced nayth); after the performances Wednesday-Saturday, a local pastor or chaplain will lead a 30-minute discussion for anyone who wishes to stay.

“It feels good to know people won’t just leave the show being entertained, but stirred in way that they want to look at their beliefs in a new way.”
Bridgett Mistrot (Elizabeth, pastor’s wife)


The theater department at a Christian university presenting a play titled The Christians seems like a no-brainer. Until you hear the opening.

On a day that a megachurch is celebrating its debt being paid off, the pastor drops a bombshell: The church will be going in a new direction–no longer will they believe in the existence of hell. The church will no longer be a church that says what it teaches is the only way to believe.

“We are no longer that kind of church,” Pastor Paul tells the congregation.

To say that all hell breaks loose would be an understatement. The congregation is confused, angry, and stretched to examine its beliefs. The audience may feel some of those emotions, too.

The 90-minute play will address those issues. Following the shows Wednesday-Saturday, a local pastor or chaplain will lead a 30-minute discussion. The audience is invited to participate or they can leave before the talk-back.

The play is directed by HSU theater professor Victoria Spangler. Cast members are Bridgett Mistrot (Elizabeth, pastor’s wife); Titanyna Hudson (Jennifer, congregant); Michael Kelly (Pastor Paul); Brandon Sparks-Moffett (Joshua, associate pastor); and Robert Taylor, Jr. (Jay, church elder)

Following are reflections from four of the cast members. Photos are courtesy of

Ben Burke, Hardin-Simmons University educational theater major

ROBERT TAYLOR JR. (Jay, church elder)
The Christians-3
The Christians is a very interesting show to me. After being cast, I was very excited to read the whole show and see how everything played out. My character Jay, is the only character in the show that seems to not be concerned with Pastor Paul’s sermon. His concern is that if people are leaving the church, there won’t be a church. He sees everything from a business standpoint which is very interesting to me. He puts aside personal views for what, in reality, is the most important aspect of the church. “What good is a church that no one goes to?” is a line Jay says, and it could very well be the theme of the show. If a church doesn’t have donors it will not last, that’s just the tragic truth.

TITANYNA HUDSON (Jennifer, a congregant)
The Christians-5 (1)
This play really opened my eyes up to the real theological questions that people are asking. At first, I thought this play was dangerous, because I didn’t want to be the one responsible for ingraining any doubts about the afterlife in people’s minds. But then I read the play again, I prayed, and God really opened my heart to the beauty of this play. I think God wants us to have questions. I now know that I can’t force someone to believe what I believe. All I can do is just be a witness and testify about why I believe what I believe and listen to others when they do the same.



Michael Bentea Kelly (Pastor Paul)
The Christians-17 (1)
When I first read The Christians it took me 20 minutes, (it’s not very long), but I’m still not done processing it. The show is one of the few I’ve read that keeps me up at night asking question after question and going in circles trying to figure out where I stand in all of the chaos I never knew about. I play Paul, the pastor of the megachurch that The Christians focuses on. He and the rest of the characters travel on an unexpected and almost terrifying journey of faith-crippling discovery. I’ve never connected so much to a character’s frustration than I have with Paul and his powerful yearning to connect with the people that he loves. It draws out of me a longing I’ve never experienced and a hunger to be understood. What I hope audiences take away from The Christians is the simple idea that we are all closer than we think we are. It doesn’t take much to make a small connection with the person next to you if we can all remember to see past ourselves and cherish the little time we have with each other.

BRANDON SPARKS-MOFFETT (Associate Pastor Joshua)

The Christians-20

The Christians is an uplifting play that battles with the internal struggles against the belief that many people feel strongly about. The script gives so much life to each character and challenges us as actors to understand the experiences these characters go through. Not all actors have been through what the characters have gone through, so it’s definitely a true test as actors to be able to present the struggles that I myself haven’t been through in my life. Its changed my opinion of how I view things, such as, I’ve found more compassion for others and the problems they face in their lives. When I take the script home and read over the lines I find a new personal message every time, which is a true testament of just how influential this play actually is. This play has helped me be more sympathetic and I’ve become more open-minded and realize that anyone can struggle with problems they face internally. In “The Christians” I play Associate Pastor Joshua, who has been given a sermon that not only disturbed his faith but opened his personal wounds that we don’t usually notice in people on a normal daily basis. It’s amazing that people can have these problems and we don’t even see it in them. I love this play and can’t wait to see the audience’s reactions and to see how well we as actors conveyed the message of the play.

BRIDGETT MISTROT (Elizabeth, pastor’s wife)

Bridgett (1)The Christians has been such a fascinating play to work on. Not only because of all of the layers I’ve found in my character but because of the theologically thought provoking questions it has made everyone in the cast ask ourselves. It has both challenged and affirmed my beliefs. I play the pastor’s wife Elizabeth who, along with the other characters, has to ask herself some extremely challenging and new questions. Her questions leave her wondering who she was, who she is, and who her faith will lead her to become–all questions that I have personally asked myself. What I love the most about taking on this show is that we have been given the opportunity to encourage the conversation about one of the most important topics of all: faith. It feels good to know people won’t just leave the show being entertained, but stirred in way that they want to look at their beliefs in a new way. 




Ryan Goodwin, director of operations for Sonrise Ministries’ Houses for Healing, brings a unique perspective to the job–one he wishes he didn’t have.

Houses for Healing are 392 square-foot tiny houses that will provide free lodging for people from area communities who are undergoing longterm medical treatment in Abilene. The first phase of the project consists of four houses on two lots on north Hickory Street.

The project is the brainstorm of Sonrise Ministries pastor, Brian Massey, who hopes to build 20 houses on two sites before all is said and done. Goodwin, who also is pastor of Tuscola United Methodist Church, knows firsthand just how important lodging and expression of care are in time of medical crisis.

His son was born in July 2016 weighing just 1 pound, 13 ounces. He had to be flown by medical helicopter to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. The story has a happy ending–his son will be 2 in July–but it was touch and go for a while. The family had to spend time in Fort Worth and understands needing help with lodging.

“This really hits home,” Goodwin said.

Each house will be named for an area community and will serve residents of that city and surrounding smaller towns. A two-day open house was held at the first house completed, the Sweetwater House, Jan. 17-18. Massey said $11,000 is needed to complete the second house, which will be for veterans. A third house, serving Brown County residents, is in the planning and fundraising stages.

“We’re looking at that being built before summer,” Massey said.

Massey is asking churches in Abilene to sponsor each one of the eventual 20 houses that will be built on two sites. Ridgemont Baptist Church is sponsoring the Sweetwater House and Grace Point Church is sponsoring the veterans house. Wylie United Methodist Church has committed to sponsoring the Brown County house.

The first phase of the Houses for Healing project will consist of the four tiny houses, a community room, patio, and picnic area on north Hickory Street. Massey is hoping for a donation of four acres near Hendrick Medical Center to build an additional 16 houses.

“We need that land,” Massey said.

When both sites are completed, 19 of the 20 houses will be for people in area communities and one will be for veterans. As he always does, Massey gives credit to God for the success of the Houses for Healing. Sometimes the going has been rough, as when a major donor dropped out. But whenever something of that magnitude happens, Massey knows what is going to happen next.

“Here comes the Lord doing something else,” he said.

People staying in the houses will be selected by a ministerial alliance in the area community that a house is named for. The Sweetwater Ministerial Alliance will vet applicants for the Sweetwater house, with people being selected on a priority basis.

Massey hopes an added blessing will be seeing churches of all denominations working together in area towns to facilitate the process. People applying to stay in one of the houses don’t have to be a member of any church, or even a Christian. Massey compared the ministry to a meal.

“That meal is for everybody,” he said. “You want everyone to come join.”

Massey’s Houses for Healing may not be limited to Abilene and the Big Country. Already, people from Greenville, Dallas, and College Station have contacted Massey wanting more information.

“What we’re doing here,” Massey said, “is a model that other people are going to grab hold of.”











Before Jeff Key started his annual State of the World address, the one he does annually for First Central Presbyterian Church, associate pastor Janice Six offered a different perspective.

Actually the perspective came from her daughter when she was a child. She wanted her mother to sing, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” but couldn’t quite remember the title.

“Mommy,” she said, “sing the one about Jesus has his hands full.”


Jeff Key

That misspeak could easily be the title of Key’s talk each year, too, as the world always seems to be in a mess. This year, though, Key offered a glimmer of hope.

“I think it’s going to be a better year,” he said, noting most problems in the world seem to be manageable.

Key originated his State of the World addresses for First Central Presbyterian, where he was a member when he taught political science at Hardin-Simmons University. He now is associate professor of government and international affairs at Sweet Briar College, located in Sweet Briar, Virginia. He addresses the audience at First Central via a visual telephone feed.

Among reasons to be optimistic, Key said, is that the upcoming Olympics in South Korea seem to be tamping down the tensions with North Korea. Key gave Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose sister, Rae Ann Hamilton is an Abilene physician, good grades.

“He’s reassured our allies,” Key said, “and opened lines of communication with our adversaries.”

Key added that he thought better candidates were available to serve as secretary of state but that Tillerson has done a good job.

As part of his address each year, Key makes some political predictions. Some are noteworthy for how far off they are, such as predicting a President Romney in 2012 and a President Clinton in 2016. He believes he has 2020 nailed, though.

“I don’t think it’s going to be Oprah,” he said.

Key’s address was the first for the spring edition of the Wednesday evening programs at First Central Presbyterian Church. The programs begin at 6:30 p.m. and are open to the public.

Each program begins with a prayer for church members or friends who are ill. For the Jan. 17 program, Six, the associate pastor, offered reassurance in a troubled world.

“Lord,” she said, “we depend totally on you for protection and restoration of this world.”




It was a Tuesday afternoon and I had ventured across the street to First Central Presbyterian Church’s Food Pantry. After greeting the volunteers, who were busy sacking groceries in the back room, I made my way to the lobby and spotted a vacant chair by the window. After a little while, a young woman came and sat in the last available chair, which happened to be right beside me. We struck up a conversation and at one point she mentioned that she was no longer able to work. She missed working. We talked some about how she spent her time, then after a long pause, she said, “Bingo just doesn’t cut it.


Janice Six

I had suspected as much but she now confirmed it. She was a sharp woman and this one conversation led to more. Most of our conversations seemed to always include a discussion of the need for meaningful work or the frustration of being given menial tasks just as a means of keeping everyone busy. My new friend was no different from me. She, too, yearned to make a difference, so I suggested she do what I and many of my friends do: Volunteer. This is when I became keenly aware of the invisible barrier separating those who give and those who receive.

She shared that in an attempt to “give back,” she responded to a plea for volunteers that was posted in one of the places she often turned to for assistance. During an interview with the volunteer coordinator, she happened to express her appreciation for the help she had received from time to time when unexpected expenses left her running short. Immediately the coordinator blurted out, “You can’t volunteer here.” Surprised, my friend asked why not and the coordinator explained that because she received services she wasn’t allowed to volunteer. My friend was not only caught off guard by this rejection but humiliated. She explained, “I just wanted to give back,” adding, “What sense does this make?”

Sadly, it makes a great deal of sense to those who maintain a dualistic worldview. The way they see it, there are two kinds of people: The “haves” who give and the “have-notswho receive. No way can a person be both. My friend’s story embarrassed me even though I had nothing to do with the incident. I tried to imagine being cast into the category of “have-nots, and having to ask for the basic necessities, or being told you don’t qualify as a volunteer, which translates: You have nothing to give.

I’m pretty sure that those of us who read books on compassion fatigue and how to say no, have yet to understand serving as the gift it is. My friend’s story prompts a series of questions: What would happen if recipients were invited to the other side of the invisible barrier—the serving side? How many would welcome the opportunity? What if charitable services focused on creating opportunities for recipients to serve as well as receive? How might the services offered be affected by including recipients at the decision-making table?

Granted there may be organizations that regularly welcome recipients’ willingness to volunteer and seek their suggestions and insights when making decisions that directly affect the people being served. These barrier-breaking experiences need to be shared–especially with skeptics, who insist on separating the givers from the receivers. Surely, the more we intentionally work side-by-side with the people we serve, the more likely we’ll be able to see that we all have something to offer and we all have needs that only others can fulfill. I’m convinced that when we see ourselves and others in the same light, the invisible barrier that divides givers and receivers will give way to mutual respect—a necessary disposition for building healthy relationships and a strong community.


Janice Six is associate pastor of First Central Presbyterian Church



Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, segregation of races was something that was just a part of life. In the small town in which I lived black and white mixed very little. Part of the town we designated as “colored” town. The schools were separate and the only time I can remember stepping into the black school building was when some of our science class were asked to judge the science fair contests. Not only was housing segregated but so were the theater, water fountains, restrooms, restaurants, and any other public facility.


Danny Minton

At the local Gulf station, there was a congenial black man who worked there whose name I recall was Piccalo. I don’t know how he got the nickname, but it may have been from eating Pickle Loaf sandwiches with Piccalo being the derivative. He was a nice guy as I remember, but most of all I remember one particular event. My dad and his friend were in the front seat of the car with his son and me in the back heading out of town for a football game. Piccalo came over to the car to greet us as he usually did. After greeting the dads in the front seat, he looked in the back window to talk to us boys. He happened to touch the other boy on the arm, and the boy went berserk. Screaming for him not to touch him because he didn’t want to turn black!

Needless to say, embarrassment swept through the car. But who told him he’d turn black if touched by a black person? Chances are it was a relative, maybe his father, but certainly someone who he believed when told this lie. Prejudice is like that. Prejudice toward people for whatever reason is not something with which we are born. Things happen in our life, or people teach us certain things that create a part of us in which we allow these feelings to develop.

In 1949 the songwriting team of Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote a play entitled “South Pacific” based on James Michener’s book “Tales of the South Pacific.” The play deals with prejudice with one song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” representing the central theme of the story. The song was the subject of widespread criticism, many critics suggested its removal or the play would flop. One Southern state even introduced a bill that would make it unlawful to have songs that promoted “communism.” As to this song, one lawmaker stated: “a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American Way of Life.”

Lieutenant Cable introduces the song with the statement that racism is “not born in you! It happens after you’re born…”

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Unfortunately, many of us have our prejudiced feelings because of the time in which we grew up or things we learned from our generation. We too often carry on the feelings and views of our past instead of making an effort to change the world of today.

I wish we could say that this is not a problem in our society today, but we all know that is far from the truth. Every part of the country has some group that is the target of prejudice in one way or another. Within cities and towns, we still see the divisions in communities, social events, and even churches. You hear it in the language, in the stares and the actions of people of all nationalities and races. It is certainly worse for some than others, but no one is immune from being either the target or the perpetrator of prejudicial actions and thinking.

Romans 2:11 tells us that God does not show favoritism. Looking at 1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

There is only one way that prejudice and racism will ever be eliminated in the world in which we live. That is simply to teach ourselves and our children to look at people through the eyes of God.


“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35


Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ




My words came back to help me.

No, I didnt muff the line. I know the cliché says, Your words will come back to haunt you.

Larry Baker

I have seen it happen–words previously written, pulled out of a file folder and read for others to hear. The exchange took place between two ministers. One was on the offensive and the other under attack. The examiner, the Reverend Dr. Peacock, asked, “Brother Greene, have you changed your mind on the topic?Brother Greene answered Noand nothing more. The Grand Inquisitor used the answer, one he didnt like, to launch an impassioned statement of his position. When the exchange neared its end, Brother Greene pulled a letter from a folder, read it aloud for all in the room to hear, and finished with the writers closing and name. The writer had previously expressed appreciation for Brother Greenes position on the topic under debate–and the writer was none other than the Reverend Doctor Peacock himself!

The Reverend Doctor Peacocks words had come back to haunt him!

Happens all the time. Politicians and pundits have staffers scouring articles, interviews, and speeches of their competitors with a fine-tooth comb to find words that might incriminate or undercut others. Nominees for government posts have elected officials and their aides digging through private documents, public records, and published accounts for words that might haunt their writers.

But words sometimes wing their way home with help and healing. That happened to me. More than once. I remember an occasion, years ago. I was unusually tired and disappointed in some folks and that combination plunged me into a funk. Over lunch, a friend and I talked through the matter. When we had eaten most of our food and I had said most of what I needed to say, my friend asked, Do you remember when_____?Then he asked, Do you remember what you said to me?I didn’t, but he did, and he repeated my earlier counsel. My words came back to help me!

Some of my words have come from others–the Bible, a favorite hymn, a treasured friend, a cherished book, a beloved parent–but I have tucked them away in my memory. When I least expected, they spoke up, Hey, remember______” and the words came out like stars on a cloudless night. They had come back to help me.

Some Bible words hang in my” room at home. My mother gave them to me when I was a college student: l can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me(Philippians 4:13, King James translation, no less) printed in calligraphy and modestly framed, a work created by a minister in her church. I have made them mine.As I look at them from time to time, they help me.

Words, however, can also rend the fabric of relationships and the social order. A brief look at the 20th Century puts us in touch with the Third Reich, Nazi Germany, and Adolph Hitler, who used words to attack, divide, destroy and throw the Western World into cataclysmic conflict. Or, take a look at what is taking place all around us now–in our society and others around the world. We often feel the dreadful power of words, within the church as well as outside.

I have seen an individual shatter a personal relationship with a few harsh words. Two sisters, former parishioners, took part regularly in worship — but refused to speak to each other because of harsh words hastily spoken decades before I became their pastor. Came in and went out different doors. Sat on opposite sides of the sanctuary. Encouraged me but never at the same time. All that because of some heated words.

Words are powerful. This may be why Paul counseled the Philippians: “whatever is true…. noble…. right…. pure….lovely admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (4:8). When we have filled our minds with the likes of such and made them ours, those words will come back to help us. Words have power to change us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. My words have power over my thoughts and actions. Poorly chosen words can kill my enthusiasm, shape the way I feel about myself, lower my expectations and hold me back. Well-chosen ones can motivate, offer hope, create vision. 

Maybe we could make a few good words from one of Davids prayers our words: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, NRSV ). Who knows? Maybe without warning, our words could come back–to help. We might call them lifelines.


 Larry Baker is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Hardin-Simmons University.