A mom of three who sent her husband off to work with a smile and a bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies, Carol Endicott seemed to have the perfect life. Until she was killed in a car crash, denied entry to heaven and dispatched by demons to spend eternity in the broiling pits of hell.
Carol’s grim demise forms the plot of Unexpected, one of hundreds of evangelical Christian theatrical twists on haunted houses that are produced by American churches each year in the run-up to Halloween. They aim to scare the wayward on to the path of righteousness with a rather more serious question than “trick or treat?” – heaven or hell?
Groups of about 15 people, ranging from young children to seniors, waited in the basketball-court sized hall of Houston’s Central Baptist church last Friday for their visit to the Judgement House as a clock ticked down on a TV screen.
When it was our time we gathered outside the door leading to the first of a series of scenes acted out by volunteers in adjacent rooms. “This journey will take you through twists and turns that will ultimately cause you to ponder the reality of life beyond the grave,” our guide said.
We met the Endicott family at the breakfast table, then followed a daughter, Abby, as she went to a puppet ministry show at Bible school. In the third room, a friend, Sarah, persuaded Abby to accept Jesus as her Saviour.
This was timely since events took a dramatic lurch in the next scene as we arrived in a mocked-up TV news studio and watched a screen with a “live” report from outside a cafe. A teenage driver had lost control of a car while texting and ploughed into the terrace, killing Sarah, Abby and Carol, whose bodies were covered by white sheets next to the vehicle.
Next we went to the funeral home, where Abby’s little brother, Jason, touched their caskets tenderly and looked forward to seeing them again in the afterlife.
On to the shimmering gates of heaven, guarded by God (an old white man). God sat behind a desk with a gavel and a Bible and made big decisions. Abby? Check. Sarah? Go right along with the angels, too. Enter Carol.
“May I join the girls now?” she asked God. “I’m sorry, Carol,” he replied, “but you will not be allowed to enter heaven.” Though she had many qualities, she had not accepted Christ before her death. “You must now pay for your own sins,” said God.
Carol did not see this coming. “I volunteered at the soup kitchen! I’ve won awards for my good deeds! You’re God. Can’t you make an exception?” Then she was dragged away screaming by two black-hooded denizens of the underworld, which was about as definitive a “no” as it gets.
God called each member of the audience by name and asked us to step forward. “It’s not your time yet but do remember this,” he intoned sternly. “The unexpected happens every day and one day you will stand in judgment.”
We crossed the hall to catch up with Carol and found her cowering on the ground in a barren, fiery landscape as Satan towered over her and taunted her in a booming voice amplified by a reverb microphone. The devil did indeed get the best lines.
“IS THIS WHAT YOU EXPECTED, CAROL?” he yelled. “THE FLAMES NEVER GO OUT. YOU CAN FEEL YOUR SKIN MELTING THROUGH YOUR BODY AS THE WORMS BURROW THROUGH YOUR BONES.”
If Carol thought that being a kind person and going to church at Christmas and Easter would be enough to secure eternal bliss, she was sadly mistaken. “ALL ROADS LEAD TO HEAVEN, CAROL?” said Satan. “NOT GOOD ENOUGH, CAROL!”
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SOURCE: The Guardian, Tom Dart