An Altoona church is hoping to change lives and give hope this Easter season.
For the past 25 years, Pleasant Valley Assembly of God in Altoona has produced a dramatic Easter performance. This year's script "Set Free" is targeting families or individuals who may be suffering from dysfunction in their lives.
"Set Free" will be performed at 7 p.m. today, Saturday and Sunday and 2 p.m. Saturday at the church, 801 Pleasant Valley Blvd. Tickets are free but should be reserved.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) D-Jay Dunio, 17, plays David, a teen who uses drugs in “Set Free,” the Easter drama at Pleasant Valley Assemby of God.
Troy Ferguson, senior associate pastor at the church, who wrote the piece, wanted to touch people in the community who may be struggling with those problems.
"My desire is for people who have family members or people who struggle with a type of dysfunction, that they will reconnect through Jesus and trust in him," said Ferguson, who has a musical theater background. "They can be set free from this type of bondage, through prayer and understanding what the Bible says."
The 90-minute production (not for young children because of the graphic nature of the topics) is the traditional biblical Easter story sandwiched between a modern family's problems.
In the story, a single mother tries to cope with everyday life, while her teenage son abuses drugs and teenage daughter is a cutter.
"They just struggle with life," Ferguson said.
The mother eventually seeks help at a church meeting for women, and there she hears the story of Jesus on the Cross. In that segment of the production, the biblical Passion story is presented onstage.
The set is transformed to portray biblical times; those scenes take place behind a curtain.
"Those are the typical [Passion] scenes we do every year," said set designer Ron Ross Sr.
While some of the scenery does not change, the script does, so there are always new sets to build. Ross, 63, of Altoona began helping with the production many years ago. He designs and helps build the set, along with other church members.
This year's script also involves modern day scenery, including bedrooms, a kitchen and a church banquet hall.
The biblical scenes are supposed to appear almost abstract.
"She's [the mother] almost visualizing that in a sense," Ferguson said. "We go through several aspects of the Passion and then we come back at the end to her response to that story in modern day life and applying that to her life."
About 400 people attend each of the four performances.
While most of the audience members are church-goers, some are members of the community. With this year's script focusing on difficult topics, Ferguson is hoping to reach members of the community who may be struggling. Flyers have been placed around the area, especially targeting people who may attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
"We are trying to, at least with this one, promote this in some areas that may bring people that will identify with these issues," Ferguson said.
By attracting people from different backgrounds, Pleasant Valley Assembly of God church members hope to make a difference.
Chuck Tanneyhill of Altoona plays Jesus in the production and he hopes people turn toward God after watching the production.
Tanneyhill wanted the part of Jesus because he said he physically fits the part. He's a trim 33-year-old man, and he wants audience members to relate to Jesus.
"I feel like it's a good opportunity to spread the Gospel message to our community," Tanneyhill said. "We live in a very troubled area. It's a great message to have people come out and understand the meaning of Easter."
"We don't do it as entertainment. We truly believe it's a ministry," Ross said. "We are presenting the gospel. We hope that people who come in will have a better understanding that Christ died for them and the Bible has answers to their problems. We hope they're entertained along the way, but that's not the main goal."