“Millions of Americans will never have a chance to go to the Holy Land. The Holy Land Experience is an opportunity for them to see the land for themselves and to feel as though they were there. From the Passion Play to the Upper Room to the model of the city and the temple, The Holy Land Experience is a wonderful way to gain firsthand understanding of the life and times of the Lord Jesus Christ.”—Franklin Graham
“As soon as people walk onto the property, they tell us they feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. They feel like they’re communing with the Lord.” This is how Jane Wilcox described the unique atmosphere of the Holy Land Experience, a theme park located in the heart of Orlando, Fla. Wilcox, who has served with the park’s guest services department for the past eight years, said that from the beginning, the Holy Land Experience has been a place that gives people “strength for today and hope for tomorrow.”
The park is a ministry of Trinity Broadcasting Network, and everything about it—from the five live shows each day to the “Smile of a Child” children’s area—reflects the special touch and attention to detail of TBN’s co-founder, Jan Crouch. “She’s the pied piper,” said Nick Kroger, production manager for the Holy Land Experience. “Everyone catches her vision. She sees everyone here, whether staff or guests, as an extension of her family.”
Among the many areas that bear the personal stamp of Miss Jan, as her staff affectionately calls her, are the five live shows, which take place in the park’s Church of All Nations. The day’s performances start with The Four Women Who Loved Jesus, which just last year won the “Best Overall Production” award from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). In this drama, the audience hears the testimony of four women whose lives were forever changed after meeting Jesus.
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Other shows include Legna, a thought-provoking play about God’s special messengers, angels, and Forgiven, which features three biblical accounts of redemption—David and Bathsheba, Hosea and Gomer, and the Apostle Paul. Each of these characters is brought to life by world-class actors, many of whom have performed in major motion pictures, on Broadway and in venues around the world. One of them is Melissa Vasquez, who has been an actor with the Holy Land Experience for eight years. “I came here because I knew it would be a labor of love,” she said. “We pour ourselves into these roles to serve God. I know even on my worst day, He will use it for His glory.”
This Christmas, guests can also see a unique re-telling of the Christmas story. The Fullness of Time Has Come gives a behind-the-scenes peak into what it might have been like in Heaven in the days before the birth of Jesus on earth. The archangel Michael prepares his army for a showdown with the forces of darkness, and the angel choir works feverishly to prepare just the right song to announce the arrival of the precious baby who is also the Savior of the world.
As with everything else at the Holy Land Experience, Crouch is intimately involved in the writing and production of each show. “We might go through several drafts before we get it just right,” Crouch said. “It’s a challenge, but I love doing it because I know that the Lord will use it to touch hearts. Our vision is to share the Gospel story so that people who come here know that God loves them. Then we leave it to Him to bring them into His kingdom.”
Between shows, park visitors can choose from a variety of experiences that also help bring the Gospel to life. The Christus Gardens feature a rare collection of beautifully crafted wax figures that bring key biblical events to life. Scenes include the birth of Jesus, the Last Supper and Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. These scenes have touched guests so deeply that the staff added kneeling benches for those moved to prayer.
Prayer is a key element at the Holy Land Experience. Guests can write their prayer requests, and staff members pray over these petitions. Actors also walk around the park and frequently stop to pray for those seeking comfort, encouragement and healing. “A lot of people bring unbelieving families and friends here,” said Wilcox. “They can have a very pleasant day just looking at everything and watching the dramas. However, we also see that their hearts are softened as they are surrounded by people praying and expressing the love of God to strangers. It’s a powerful ministry.”
Wilcox added that they have seen more than 1,000 salvations in a single month as they share the Gospel with park guests. One of the most special events of each day is the afternoon baptisms. Eunice Jemmott, from Brooklyn, N.Y., was one of the visitors who chose to be baptized while at the Holy Land Experience. “It has strengthened my faith to be here,” she said.
Guests can also get a taste of history at the Scriptorium for Biblical Antiquities, where a walk-through experience brings visitors through a history of the Bible. The Scriptorium houses the Van Kampen Collection of thousands of manuscripts, scrolls and other artifacts. The experience also features the work of notable historical figures like Bible translator John Wycliffe.
There is also a stirring tribute to the late Paul Crouch—Jan’s husband—which includes his personal art collection, his writing desk and even his favorite music. Crouch collected his paintings, sculptures, Russian icons and other art during more than 50 trips to Israel.
The Smile of a Child Adventure Land is a great stop for little ones. Based on the popular TBN programming series, children are invited to dress up as their favorite biblical characters and watch live shows created just for them. There is also a rock-climbing wall, bounce houses and face painting for the youngest park guests.
A full day—or two—of watching shows and strolling the expansive grounds to see exhibits culminates in what many consider the highlight of their Holy Land Experience: The Passion of the Christ live show. This majestic presentation of the life of Jesus from birth to resurrection keeps the audience spellbound.
“Like the rest of the park, the purpose of The Passion is to bring the Bible to life in a way that can be received deep into the heart,” said Wilcox. “Our guests go back to where they came from and tell others. Sometimes they bring their whole church back.”
The Passion is such a powerful and important part of the ministry that Crouch herself stands in the wings every day to make sure that everything runs smoothly. She watches the audience reaction and often makes changes based on what she sees. “We want our guests to see the beauty of the New Jerusalem—a glimpse of Heaven on earth.”
As they move toward the future, the vision of Crouch and all of the park staff is to do all they can to proclaim the Gospel, a mission they see as more urgent than ever as we inch closer to Christ’s return.
“As far as I’ve been able to see, Miss Jan works 24 hours per day, seven days per week,” said Wilcox. “She is relentless in what we can do to share Jesus. When it comes to the Gospel, she cannot be stopped.”
For more information on The Holy Land Experience, go to holylandexperience.com, call 800-447-7235 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.