What if you could join a safari adventure that traveled not just around the world but all through time too? What if you had the chance to visit the places where Bible stories happened while those stories were actually happening? If you have had this experience, you were either dreaming or you were a part of the Riverside Church’s Bible Adventure program.
The Bible Adventure Program came into being when Riverside’s pastor, Walter Mancia, felt impressed to create an evangelistic series for kids. When he discovered that no other churches had held meetings of this type, he took the idea to the church board, who approved the idea. Then the real work began.
“The Bible Adventure program didn’t emerge overnight,” Rachel Scribner, a member of the planning committee and drama team coordinator, explains. “No one had ever done this sort of thing before and we didn’t know how we were going to do it either, but gradually this idea for a safari adventure through time that visits the Bible stories took shape.”
The Riverside Church has roughly 120 regularly-attending members, with approximately 70 people involved with the Bible Adventure program. "It was amazing to see how working together for Jesus dissolved our differences and made us a family," said Scribner.
For the main presentation each night, Mancia chose Young Disciple Ministries Truth for Youth sermons for a framework, but eventually he decided to have the sermons interrupted by a drama that would bring the featured Bible story to life. The result was a program designed to keep kids guessing—and listening.
On a typical night, Jacob Benjamin, the host, entered dressed in khakis and hiking boots and spun imaginative tales of other adventures he had led. Partway through the program Benjamin introduced the young adventurers to a stuffed chimpanzee he said had followed him home from Africa. The children were allowed to choose a name for the primate, and “Champ” became a faithful member of the Bible Adventure team.
Benjamin also operated the Adventure Meter, an unsteady-looking bucket of bolts with a spinning dial on the front. The Adventure Meter would bump and rattle as the dial spun amid brightly colored flashing lights and when it finally came to rest, the place where it stopped predicted the distance back in time the group would be traveling that night.
After song service and prizes from the treasure chest (Champ occasionally got in trouble for hiding or losing the all-important chest), Mancia would begin telling a Bible story. On the first night he told the story of creation with a giant fog machine simulating the formless earth. On the second night, and every night afterward however, Mancia would just begin his story, when suddenly the church would come alive with characters from the past. The kids met Lucifer and watched as he turned against God and tried to trick Eve. They saw Noah and his family go into the ark and they watched as the wicked people realized that water was coming down from the sky, just as Noah had said. They followed Joseph as he marched as a slave to Egypt, and they saw him choose to forgive his terrified brothers.
At one of the final meetings, Mancia spoke about baptism. At the end of the topic he asked all those who wished to be baptized to come forward. Sixteen children, eight from the surrounding community, came forward.
On the final night, the Adventure Meter registered “FF” and Benjamin solemnly explained that this stood for fast forward and meant that tonight the adventure would not go into the past but the future. As Mancia told the children what heaven would be like he motioned to three kids seated on the front row. “Let’s imagine,” Mancia told them, “that Jesus has already come and now we are up in the clouds meeting other people who accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation.” Immediately a cloudy fog fell over the stage and a parade of familiar characters filed down the center aisle. The children rushed from person to person asking them questions about their lives on Earth. Two angels came in and started introducing themselves to the people. Suddenly, Jesus appeared and a hush fell over the group. Gabriel announced that God would now dwell with men and Jesus spoke some familiar words beginning with, “Come you who are blessed of my Father…” When Jesus had finished, the people lined up and began to enter through the gates of heaven. Jesus and the angels handed out harps, robes and crowns. Mancia and the kids with him were at the end of the line. Just as the person in front of Mancia and his young friends walked through the gate, Jesus and all the angels suddenly disappeared into a thick cloud.
“Wha, wait! … They’re gone.” Alex realized sadly. “We imagined it all,” Miki added. “Oh, Pastor Walter,” Mayson cried, “When is it going to happen for real?”
As the three children returned to their seats, Mancia explained that we will all get to go to heaven very soon, as long as we accept Jesus' righteousness. He led the children in repeating John 3:16 and told them that this promise was for them. At the end of the night Mancia asked all the staff who were present to come forward and together the whole group sang Side by Side. “I’ll meet you in heaven; we’ll sing songs together. Brothers and sisters, I’ll be there. Pray that we all will be there.”