By Jason A. Smith
A local church will present its final performance tonight of a gripping depiction of the end times.
Tribulation Trail, a ministry of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Stockbridge, is in its 18th year as an October tradition in the area. According to Kim Cleveland, one of the directors of the attraction, the trail gives spectators "an interactive walk through the book of Revelation" from the Bible.
"The purpose is to see how the Tribulation will occur, and to tell people they need to make a decision to follow Christ before the Tribulation," said Cleveland. "The Tribulation is the seven-year period when Satan will have his reign before Jesus banishes him to the Lake of Fire," he said. "This [production] has a lot of realistic points to it, that get people thinking about how bad things are going to be."
The one-hour trail contains 12 scenes, beginning with "God's Plan" - a scripted conversation among God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit on the day before the world was created. According to a program for the trail, the event moves forward in time to the present day, and through the time of the Rapture, and on to Jesus' final battle with Satan.
Throughout the trail, those in attendance are warned of a "new world order for worship and survival," the program states. According to Cleveland, Tribulation Trail has served as a vehicle for a large number of "re-dedications" for Christians, and has helped to lead many people to have faith in Jesus Christ. One reason for this, he added, is due to the "dynamic and graphic" presentation given on the trail.
Approximately 300 people, from 10 area churches, in Henry and Rockdale counties, are involved in the production. Cleveland acknowledged that he and the other cast members view their participation as a way to minister to the public.
"We are commanded to go out and preach the Word," said Cleveland. "This is just a different way of preaching the gospel. We get a lot of comments about what a great ministry this is, especially for younger people."
Cleveland described Tribulation Trail as being "successful" in 2009, as 10-11,000 people have gone through the trail since the beginning of October.
Allan Green, another of the trail's directors, has been associated with the endeavor for 17 years. He said Tribulation Trail brings elements of the Bible to life. "People have to generate an image of what things look like," said Green. "What this does is, it gives a visual imagery of Scripture, rather than having to use your imagination."
In the trail's early years, the production was presented solely on Halloween night, but was extended to the whole month several years ago. Green said this was done as a response to the trail's growth in popularity.
"It gives a Christian alternative to a secular celebration," he said. Green said the trail is visited predominantly by church groups, many of whom are composed of teenagers. He sees Tribulation Trail as a "witnessing tool" for youth leaders in the area.
"A lot of times, when youths go through it, they come back again and bring their friends, who are lost," said Green. "So, it becomes a ... tool that a lot of churches use to minister to their people."
Friday was the second time Larla Brown, of Jackson, has seen Tribulation Trail. Brown, who first experienced it last year, described the production as an "awesome" rendering of the end times. "It's just really an eye-opener of how things are going to be," she said.
Katy Flinn, of Decatur, said she came for educational, and not religious, purposes. Flinn, 20, is a student at Agnes Scott College, and said she was referred to the Stockbridge production by a professor in her "Politics of the Apocalypse" course.
"Some people interpret Revelation metaphorically, but [the trail] doesn't seem to be about that," said Flinn. "It seems to be interpreting it in a very literal way." She added that the trail gives those who see it "a more realistic, more visceral experience of what they envision the apocalypse to be."
McKenzie Cooper, of Stockbridge, a member of Mount Vernon Baptist, and part of the Tribulation Trail cast, portrays a beggar in a scene titled "The Reckoning," in which her character is killed by agents of Satan.
Cooper, 16, said she first saw the production when she was eight years old. "At first, I didn't understand it," she said. "But once I got older and I saw it again, I began to understand what's going to happen when God comes back."
Tickets are sold out for the Saturday presentation of the trail. However, the production's web site indicates that a limited number of tickets will be available for those who purchase them at the gate, at a cost of $10 each.
For more details, call (770) 474-6700, or visit www.tribulationtrail.org.