I remember being a part of a “haunted house” style event our church was hosting, one Halloween. Being the rambunctious and outgoing type, the people in charge thought “That Kris guy would do great as Satan”
It was a “reality” based maze that leads attendees through a cascade of “life” scenes, like: Drunk Driving, Family Abuse, Drug Use, eventually luring them through a Hell scene. Where yours truly convincingly and theatrically welcomed any who wanted to join me (Satan) – except that one time I forgot my lines, and in an awkward 15 year old voice, squeaked “Just go to the next room” … the next room was Heaven, complete with elderly angels with glittery wings and a Party City bearded Jesus welcoming the attendees and imploring them to choose Him.
As a 15 year old, relatively new Christian … I didn’t see a problem with this. Actually I thought it was fun to scare people! I loved Halloween and dressing up … THIS WAS A PERFECT COMBINATION! ….. 15 years later, I whistle a different tune.
For the last month, across the street from where I live, there’s been a giant red tent with the sign “The 99” on it. When I first saw it going up – they had advertisements that looked like “Halloween Horror Night” ads – complete with “The Ring” girl and the restricted “R” lodged in her eye.
Then one weekend … LIGHTS! It was open and the reports of what “The 99” really was started coming in. I had a feeling I knew what it was, mainly because of the people who were going … I didn’t want it to be true … I didn’t want this to be another “Hellhouse” in the middle of February … It was … They said it wasn’t – as advertised its “The Ultimate Near Death Experience” and “The production is not based on fear or scare tactics” … I decided to go – and literally drop my preconceived ideas of what “The 99” was.
Let me take you through my experience in two waves – theatrically and methodically
Black room with a single red light shining down on a 6′ tall, chain linked cage, which housed a kneeling cloaked figure. Over head there’s a droning soundscape with a slightly seditious sounding “radio friendly” voice saying something along the lines of “Your fears becoming reality” … Cloaked figure walks out from the cage and among the attendees then to the next room … we’re told to follow
Our cloaked “spirit guide” is standing against one of the back walls and we’re told to line up against the other … suddenly a slew of screeching middle school and high school students are yelling at one another – you can’t really tell what’s being said … just yelling. Oh, and that continual droning soundscape … Then the banshee kids start beating up on another kid … Why are they doing that? No idea … Suddenly a muffled sound of a car revving up … Head lights shine behind a bed sheet. Some words are exchanged, no idea what they’re saying … WHY IS SHE LAYING ON THE GROUND. Apparently, between the “words exchanged” and the “droning soundscape”, there were gun shots. She was shot by the car behind the bed sheet … The “radio friendly” voice is back. No idea what he’s saying … We’re told to go to the next room – passing the shot girl, who is now covered in “blood”
There are seats for us to sit in, in this room. Someone’s already sitting in one. It looks similar to a trailer, moments after a tornado moshed on through. This scene was hard to understand. There was an elderly lady hitting a boy with a newspaper, exclaiming “There isn’t anymore food”. A hefty, fresh out of high school, lad in a lay-z-boy with a bottle in his hand. 2 young boys on the couch facing us. One cutting baby powder and the other smoking an imaginary bong. To their right, our left, a young woman yelling at the aforementioned “hefty” lad in the lay-z-boy, on a mattress on the ground … some mystery guy in the corner … and another Lay-z-boy facing away from us. The scene was supposed to depict drug use, drinking, abuse and … hunger? While observing this scene a very loud and shocking scream came from the actor who was already sitting in a seat when we arrived … asking for money, drugs ect … then in the confusion, Mr. “radio friendly” is back saying something about drugs. The mysterious man in the corner then comes and turns the lay-z-boy and shows us there’s another young freshman with a syringe … He’s dead … more blood. We’re told to exit for the next room.
Already being familiar with the scene setup, from my previous theatrical showings … This had to be suicide. It’s dark. The television in the front of the room gives us light … We’re watching a young lady tell us how unworthy she is, how terrible of a daughter she OMG! DID YOU SEE THAT!! … It was like the ring! (She was talking, then the scene cut to her standing with her hair in front of her face, then back to her and another shot of her with her face in the camera … typical horror stuff) … The creepy soundscapes is still there … gun shot, kinda … We turn around to see a real live person, with the same hoodie the young woman was wearing … covered in blood. Asked to exit
Car accident. 2 cars facing each other. Blood everywhere. 8 middle school/high school actors drape over the mangled cars. Faint baby cry … I don’t remember if “radio friendly” dude said anything … What I do remember is, one of the passengers attempting to call 911 and dying … spitting blood all over the side of the car … we’re told to leave.
2 coffins … more really young actors wailing over them. Multiple news stories are played on the side of the tent … at a 45 degree angle, slightly out of focus. Texting and driving was the moral of this scene. We stood through 4 or 5 news clips and asked to move on.
Dark, black … faint red light in the far corner … we’re wrangled in like cattle. Waiting …. waiting. Then with a howl a young woman, wrapped in chains attached to the wall, pleads to be let go. Our spirit guide then unlatched her and escorts her to the “next room” …. Silence …. Another howl, but this time from the other side room, “HELP ME!” bellows the tight room … again, she’s ushered to the “next room” by our spirit guide … this happens two more times before we’re asked to go to the “next room”
If you haven’t guessed yet … the “next room” … is Hell.
Lining the walls were chain linked cages with young girls dolled up in white and black makeup, screaming to be let go. In the center of the room, another 6′ tall chain linked cage with a similar girl, pleading for freedom. Pouncing about a metal table in the back of the room was a cloaked, horned figure … with white and black make up. His lip-synched voice sounds familiar … AH! It’s Mr.”Radio Friendly” … He’s Satan?! You can’t hear what he’s saying, over the screaming caged girls, but I’m sure it’s sadistic. AH!! SOMEONE PULLING ON ME! AH! It’s a skull masked … thing … why is he pulling on me? Wait what happened? There’s a light … people are leaving for the next room …
Small room, bed sheets line the back area … Flight attendant voice comes overhead and says “Now leaving Hell” .. hmm cheeky. From here we’re watching a few clips from “The Passion of the Christ” … on the side of the tent, at a 45 degree angle. Then, after a few moments … a bloodied, party city bearded Jesus teenager walks his cross from behind a bed sheet and into the other room … by Roman centurions with the worst English accents I’ve ever heard. We exit.
… a few more clips from “The Passion” … Nothing is being said, just clips. The same party city bearded Jesus teenager is mechanically turned to reveal himself to the crowd. We stand there for about a minute, not sure what to do. We’re escorted to another room
Room #11 consisted of chairs placed in front of a television screen where we watched a patched together video of a movie called “The Bridge” where a train conductor, after a “tragic accident”, has to decide whether to save the oncoming train, or his son – who was caught on the tracks … The father chose to sacrifice the son. If you’re a Christian, you see the tie in … loosely. John 3:16 is splashed on the screen and some guy with a microphone tells us “We’re not here to scare you” … “Pray this prayer” … From there they led us to some volunteer counselors. Mine was a bright eyed young man who was all smiles. I asked him what he thought of the walk through … He hadn’t seen it. He didn’t know what kind of “realities” were on the other side of tent – he graciously volunteered for something he was ignorant of. Sweet kid, really … but unprepared and uninformed.
The thing is, “The 99” isn’t for Christians. It’s a bait and switch for non-believers.
“Halloween Horror Night” style advertisements, “The Ultimate Near Death Experience” tag line, the complete absence of anything remotely Christian … To bring in those who aren’t “saved” into the “reality” that is the hour walk through of “The 99”. Again, slightly off point – because the only REAL thing I observed (that being, NOT over dramatized) was the Crucifixion – and sadly was cheapened with an estimated minute worth of clips from “The Passion of the Christ”.
“The 99” says: “The production is not based on fear or scare tactics” … but really … it is.That’s all I experienced in my walk through … A poorly constructed, overly dramatic, theatrical “ministry” based on the backs of young middle school/high school volunteer actors, focused on death and Hell … and really quickly a few Jesus nuggets. No real Gospel was given. No real presentation of Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice was shown.
Only an obtrusively medieval Hell, it’s fallen angels and a cheapened defeated Jesus.
Human choices in this life really matter, we’re not just playing a game of chess where God will place the empty pieces back on the board and say “Alright, this was just a game. Now we’re doing something different” The real life choices we make, here on this created earth really do matter.
Now while “The 99″‘s idea of dramatizing life situations to point out the universal problem of sin and our need for a savior to deliver us from temptation on earth and ultimately hell, is indeed a necessity posture towards evangelism, their approach to life decisions and Hell is much like parents saying “If you don’t behave, Santa won’t bring you any presents”. It’s using Hell as a weapon to scare people into being good little “non-texting while driving” girls and boys and using Jesus as the brief salve. Without a clear message and a sound presentation of the gospel of grace, it’s just a carnival show.
In short “The 99” supplies an unhinged “reality” to act as the crux of a weighty eternal decisions … With no REAL solution given (a minutes worth of “The Passion” clips and a tortured Jim Caviezel), no real Gospel presentation (an inaudible “pastor” reciting John 3:16 and reiterating what we just walked through) … And, theatrically embarrassing. Now I’m aware “The 99” could be a Ballaams donkey. God can use whatever means He can to, by the Spirit, bring men to repentance … Even an overly dramatized, under performed, unbalanced theological presentation like “The 99”
Christ is not a tortured Party City bearded Jim Caviezel, the Gospel of Grace deserves more than a minutes worth of “out of focused” movie clips – and if the Spirit convicts those who are observing this walk through, it would be beneficial for the volunteer counselors to have first hand knowledge of what they’re counseling and know how to give the Gospel in relevance to what was experienced.
“Go, therefore, and theatrically scare people to heaven” – Said Jesus never …