A sobering drama depicting the reality of hell apparently has been the sparkplug in a citywide awakening in Modesto, California, a Central Valley city of 176,000, where more than 33,000 people have made professions of Christian faith since January.

Many local Christians believe a four-day prayer summit in early 1994, involving 53 pastors, established the foundation for the revival. But the three-night production of Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames in January at the Modesto Assembly of God Calvary Temple Worship Center served as the catalyst for the large-scale revival.

Rudy and Karen Krulik of Reality Outreach Ministries in Niagara Falls, New York, wrote the play and trained Calvary Temple members to act the roles. With costumes and scenery, men, women, and children portrayed those who die and find themselves at heaven's gate. If their names are written in the Book of Life, they are ushered into the arms of Christ by a multitude of angels. Otherwise, a host of Satan's demons drags them into hellfire.

Glen Berteau, Calvary Temple's senior pastor, was taken aback by the size of the crowds. "We can seat 2,400, but we had to turn away thousands," he says. When people began standing in line for four hours before performances, Berteau determined to extend the drama.

After 28 performances, seen by 81,000 viewers, Berteau decided to bring it to a close. "I was concerned we were not going to be able to follow up on that many people," he says. "I have a heart for evangelism, but also for discipleship."

Of the total 33,000 salvation packets distributed during counseling sessions after performances, Calvary Temple received 25,000 response cards. Calvary Temple visitation teams telephoned everyone within two days. The church shared those cards with 250 area churches to help in follow-up, based on inquirers' residential location or church affiliation, if indicated.

PLANTING THE SEEDS: The Calvary Temple congregation had fasted and prayed for 40 days early last year. Hundreds of members took turns substituting prayer for meal times, asking God for a vision for winning souls and discipling them.

About the same time, 53 pastors representing the Greater Modesto Ministerial Association gathered at a mountain retreat "with no agenda except for seeking God in prayer," says David Seifert, senior pastor of Big Valley Grace Community Church and president of the ministerium. The pastors asked God to break down denominational walls and help them learn to love one another. Before leaving, they vowed to meet in weekly prayer for the next year. During a second summit this January, 73 pastors interceded for each other and prayed that God would send forth a spirit of revival in Modesto.

Three days before Heaven's Gates opened, the Calvary Temple congregation again devoted itself to fasting and prayer, this time specifically for unbelieving family members, friends, and neighbors. As a result, people accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, left gangs, quit using illegal drugs, and mended broken family relationships.

A CHANGED COMMUNITY: Following the drama, Calvary Temple grew by 600 members and immediately added a second Sunday service and a new-convert class.

"All over town it seems people are talking about the Lord," says Marcus Jones, pastor of communication at Modesto's Neighborhood Church. "There's a noticeable difference in this community. New converts, not just those shifting churches, are coming in through the doors."

Other pastors also report phenomenal church growth. For instance, North Modesto Church of God has discipled 100 new people through its Tender Loving Care groups. Pastor John Krueger attributes the recent attendance growth and baptisms at his Grace Lutheran Church to unity among the pastors and the drama at Calvary Temple.

As thousands were being turned away at Calvary Temple's doors in February, a three-night crusade took place at the charismatic, nondenominational Central Valley Christian Fellowship in Modesto, featuring preacher/musician Kim Clement. "The building holds 250, and there were over 400 each night," pastor Allen Peters says. "A line of people spilled out into the street, and we were turning them away."

Even church planter Jeff Kreiser is overwhelmed with the spiritual environment he senses in Modesto. "There seems to be a high awareness level of what's happening in the community," he says. "And there's immediate fruit." Kreiser's four-month, door-to-door effort for the Reformed Church in America has resulted in 100 people committing themselves to establishing a new congregation.

Calvary Temple's Berteau believes God has allowed churches to grow numerically and spiritually because the competitive spirit among area congregations has dissipated.

"We are very humbled by it all, that God chose us in the church to spearhead something we never would have understood before this time," Berteau says. "This has given us hope to believe again that God is able."

The awakening is continuing during regular services. For instance, as Berteau read announcements one Sunday morning last month, a visitor came forward and declared his desire to be saved. Sensing others might also be called, Berteau stopped the planned service and issued an altar call. Forty people came forward.


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