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Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

Pastors predict bleak future if local casinos open (12/28/03)

Soap, figurines, candles keep books company in Christian stores (12/21/03)

In order to form a more perfect union (11/30/03)

Federal Marriage Amendment receives Fellowship’s endorsement (11/23/03)

Drug czar congratulates Teen Challenge (11/16/03)

Christian fiction no long back-shelf item (10/19/03)

DREAM3 benefits churches (10/19/03)

Youth rise to DC03 challenge (10/12/03)

Ministry uses drama, music to touch city for Christ (9/28/03)

Displeased viewers protest raunchy programs (9/21/03)

Grit, determination key to cities blocking cable pornography (8/31/03)

Economic slump doesn't always derail giving (8/24/03)

Ruling threatens family, Christian leaders say (8/17/03)

Anti-aging options require balanced approach to health, beauty (8/10/03)

Convoy of Hope reaches out to inner-city neighborhood (7/27/03)

Fight for the flag moves to nation’s schools (7/20/03)

Drama speaks volumes to alienated veterans (7/13/03)

Church's integrity well received following nightmarish ordeal (6/29/03)

Tornadoes cut wide swath across nation's midsection (6/22/03)

Accountability partners provide human feedback that filters don't (6/15/03)

Checking out your horoscope? God advises you to skip it (6/8/03)

Christian filmmakers pursue wider market success (5/25/03)

Intervention is key to preventing suicide (5/18/03)

Adoption often right decision for young expectant mothers (5/11/03)

Dallas-based ministry keeps inmates out of jail (4/27/03)

Medical analysis of Jesus' death generates interest (4/20/03)

Small-town church reaches community (4/13/03)

Young married couples lulled by false sense of security (3/30/03)

Virtual gambling days may be numbered (3/23/03)

Contemporary Christian music copes with its continuing success (3/16/03)

A/G prayer event set for gathering in nation's capital (3/9/03)

Volunteers give church voice in community (2/23/02)

Federal law protects churches in zoning battles (2/16/03)

Singles find cyberspace dating not always match made in heaven (2/9/03)

Predators often plan strategies long in advance (1/19/03)

The Cross and the Switchblade still makes impact 40 years later (1/12/03)

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

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Drama speaks volumes to alienated veterans

By John W. Kennedy in Yuba City (7/13/03)

The presence of military vehicles and the preservice precision parachute jump by Navy SEALs onto church property indicate that this isn’t standard operating procedure for Sunday services at Calvary Temple Assembly of God in Yuba City, Calif.

Instead, this is a day for a living history lesson in a sanctuary brimming with patriotic drama and pathos, sans tidy and simplistic answers that ignore the horrors of war. More importantly, it is an outreach geared to an often-ignored people group — veterans. During the two-hour-plus drama, a subtle message is conveyed: Only Jesus can heal wounds that can’t be seen. Along with many other churches, Calvary A/G on Memorial Day Sunday has patriotic hymn singing, a color guard presentation and war video clips. But then, with 200 church volunteers, members present a vivid production that takes those gathered on an emotional roller coaster.

In the first scene in the darkened sanctuary, Fine Arts Pastor Michael D. Ciociola recites a nearly 10-minute well-paced soliloquy as a World War II GI, somberly recounting various battle sites and burial grounds. “You don’t know my name, my age or my birthplace,” the soldier says. “But you know me; I’m your son, your brother, your uncle, your father, your friend.” As Ciociola, who wrote the production, speaks in front of a center stage replica of the Tomb of the Unknowns, apparitionlike soldiers from World War I and the Korean War appear from the mists beside him.

Active and retired soldiers make their way to the stage at the invitation of Senior Pastor Michael A. Ciociola. They come, men and women, young and old, muscular and infirm, in uniform and in blue jeans, balding and with mullets. With patriotic music stirring emotions, the crowd rises for sustained applause. Many on stage appear stunned that the audience is standing and cheering for them.

As the music continues, church youth distribute small U.S. flags plus pins stating “A Grateful Nation Remembers” to the veterans and military personnel. More eyes mist. A few men sob.

An oversized American flag on the back wall of the stage slowly lifts, revealing two active-duty U.S. Marines scaling a 16-foot statute of Saddam Hussein reminiscent of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The crowd cheers wildly.

The drama takes on an eerie sensation when a small platoon of soldiers make their way through the dimly lit sanctuary. Anxious-looking teenage boys crouch carefully on patrol in a Vietnam jungle, complete with bug and bird noises. Observers see their camouflaged faces, dirt-covered uniforms and perspiring arms. “Attention to detail generates credibility among hardened veterans,” Michael A. Ciociola says later. “Every weapon, piece of equipment and even bootlace is authentic.”

When the soldiers disappear, a simulated firefight ensues, with mock explosions and pyrotechnics. The scene shifts to a mobile unit field hospital at the left front of the sanctuary. Above the din of whirling helicopter blades, a nurse instructs soldiers where to carry stretchers containing the bloody wounded. The medical and military terminology is technically exact. The hospital scenes deftly blend the anger and stress about war with M*A*S*H-like humor. A delirious soldier dies on the table while a novice chaplain comforts him.

The final act is a poignant segment in which several congregants gather before a replica of six panels of the Vietnam War Memorial on the right side of the platform. Although these people are in a play, the emotions aren’t scripted. The tears are real. One by one, they come to the wall, leaving mementos, touching a name etched into the surface, weeping.

Vietnam veteran Ether Patton goes to the wall for the first time. He normally avoids Sunday morning church because he dreads crowds, a result of trauma from the war. Yet his healing process began eight years ago, when a young girl at Calvary A/G handed him a flag and simply said, “Welcome home.” Even though he had left Vietnam 25 years earlier, no one in America had ever expressed such a sentiment.

Recently, the retired soldier had his hair cut and beard trimmed for the first time in years. And today he has donned his old uniform that has been mothballed for more than two decades. At the wall, he pulls a snapshot from his army jacket pocket. It is a picture of a buddy who had 13 days remaining before his tour of duty ended. Instead, the soldier stepped on a land mine. Patton places the photo and his own Bronze Star at the base of the wall.

Despite his apprehension, Patton is glad he participated. “I shocked a lot of people, even myself, by going up there,” he says later, tears welling in his eyes. “Today really did something for me.”

In the presentation’s emotional conclusion, three of the panels are backlit and three U.S. soldiers stand with weapons poised in the jungles of Vietnam.

The final part of the service features guest speaker Clebe McClary, who has pensively watched the day’s activities. McClary spent more than two years in hospitals and has undergone 39 operations. He has spoken in every state and 30 foreign countries, but McClary calls this his toughest assignment because of the emotions involved. “The young man who died on that table was almost me,” says McClary, who lost his left arm and left eye in a 1968 Vietcong grenade attack.

The identical morning and afternoon services are each attended by more than 1,000 people, half of them visitors to the church. Many are active military personnel from Beale Air Force Base, located 15 miles east of the city.

Senior Pastor Michael A. Ciociola began the outreaches at Calvary A/G 11 years ago when he became convinced that veterans needed more than a verbal thank you on Memorial Day weekend.

“We are a people who have been set free spiritually,” he says, “but sometimes we forget to thank an entire segment of our culture who have paid the price for our democratic freedoms.”


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