By Daniel Silliman
The demons laugh with evil laughs.
Bathed in red light, shrouded by an odd-smelling smoke, the three demons at a small table laugh in an eerie uproar. The two men guffaw with guttural, villains' voices and the woman, leaning back and throwing up her hands, screeches like a shrew.
Satan himself doesn't laugh, when he storms on stage at "Odyssey: A Journey Through Judgment." Satan stomps his feet, shouts and throws his arms around, demanding details of damnation.
Somewhere, in the black behind flames and fierce fiend faces, a girl screams she's burning and Satan shouts, "What do you think? It's hell."
At Corinth Baptist Church, 398 Corinth Road, in Jonesboro, it's hell every night, 6:30 to 9:30, from Oct. 22 to 26. The "salvation drama," performed in eight scenes by church actors, leads people through the Baptist doctrines of sin and salvation, urging them to accept the free gift of God's grace, given through Jesus Christ's death, or suffer the eternal consequences of "mocking God."
"It's just dramatic enough to get our point across," said Michelle Voyles, the program's director. "We're using the trial and hell scenes to attract their attention and really communicate, we're talking about eternity here."
Voyles said the event is targeted at teenagers and people who don't go to church. The event is a Christian alternative to the Haunted Houses of Halloween, and is believed to be an "outside-of-the-box" presentation of the Christian message. The event wasn't held last year, but Voyles said that in 2006, there were 920 people who took the journey, and the dramatic depiction of judgment and damnation led 90 people to accept Jesus.
Ken Egan, a church member who has played a part in the drama five times, said his nephew's wife and son were saved through the event.
This year, Egan is playing "The Judge," at the pivotal scene where the saved are separated from the unsaved. Wearing a white robe, he stands under a bright white light and explains the concept of personal salvation.
"Scripture firmly says you will be cast into hell where the fire will not be quenched," the judge bellows at a sullen boy. "Do you remember saying all that Jesus stuff gives you the creeps ... and you didn't want to have anything to do with the goody-goody prayers? You had plenty of chance to accept Christ. I'm sorry, it's too late."
Egan and Voyles both say the real theme of the Journey Through Judgment isn't judgment, but choice. Egan says the boy, in the story, isn't being punished by God, but has chosen to burn forever by rejecting Jesus. Voyles said the actors and guides make it clear you can't go to heaven just because you're good, and it doesn't matter who you are, you have to accept Jesus.
"'Mike,' the boy in the story, is judged because he made the choice not to receive the Lord," Voyles said. "'Choice' is the theme all the way through. We're trying to tell these people, No matter who they've been or what they've done, 'Jesus loves you.'"
The journey ends with a five-minute counseling session with a minister. Voyles said the minister doesn't try to strong-arm anyone into praying the Sinner's Prayer, but answers questions and "highlights the salvation message, from the Baptist point of view, of course."
The Baptist point of view on cultural issues comes across, too. In hell, the church members playing demons describe a number of debated cultural issues as part of Satan's plot to lead people astray, including homosexuality, homosexual marriage, the banning of public prayer at public school, the banning of the Ten Commandments from public places, and divorce. When Satan stomps onto the stage, a cowering and scowling demon says "Your master plan is still disguised as world peace."
Satan shouts "Yeah!" at every account of Earthly iniquity, opening his mouth and exhaling, "ha ha ha ha!" He raises his hands in victory, when he hears how people were gunned down in church and there are gangs in even the "hoity-toity" malls, and he yells out, "Yes!"
As the visitors leave the re-creation of eternal fire, passing from the dark, red-lit room out under the red EXIT sign, one of the demons brakes character, becoming a Baptist again.
"Oh yeah," he says. "You're way scarier than a ghost."
"Odyssey: A Journey Through Judgment," opens at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, and runs for three hours every night through Oct. 26. A single journey takes less than an hour, and there's a recommended donation of $3. The event is being held at Corinth Baptist Church, 398 Corinth Road, off of Fayetteville Road, in Jonesboro.