Jacksonville, FL—On October 2, the 2013 Gracias Christmas Cantata Tour made a splash in one of the biggest cities in Florida, Jacksonville. The cool breeze and warm sunshine of October greeted Gracias Choir as it crossed over from Georgia into Florida.
Built in 1927. Jacksonville’s Florida Theater hosted the Cantata for the second time in a row. The history and tradition of the venue attracted both audience members and the short-term volunteers who helped make the performance possible. The 1900-seat hall was filled to capacity by the MC’s opening remarks.
“I am the usher coordinator here at the theater. I was here last year when Christmas Cantata came for the first time. I remember it being such a beautiful performance and I am glad I can experience it again. We recruit volunteers to help us usher our events whenever they happen, and we had a lot of applicants request to help usher the Gracias Christmas Cantata. I was also able to peek in and watch some of it and I have to say in terms of quality, I consider Cantata leaps and bounds above other performances.”
-Jerry Steekloff Usher Coordinator for Florida Theater
This Christmas Cantata also coincided with “Art Walk” Day, a public art appreciation event held the first Wednesday of each month where many citizens of Jacksonville can be found out and about walking the streets. Many of them gathered around the Florida Theater once they realized the show that was about to start.
Among this crowd were several church pastors. 500 churches were given invitations to the Cantata and several pastors forewent their own Wednesday services to be a part of the performance and meet pastor Ock Soo Park.
The Pastoral Meeting and Reception with pastor Park ended at 7 PM, and participants joined the packed Florida Theater hall as Act 1, Bethlehem 2000 years ago, began. The hot weather and loose atmosphere created a harmony between the seats and stage, the audience finding themselves breathing in sync with the performers as they sang.
Both thankfulness and sentiment were felt with the conclusion of Act 1. Everyone on stage bowed to baby Jesus in reverence as each single person in Florida Theater held his or her breath. The last note ignited thunderous applause and cheers.
The Little Santas dance show in between Acts 1 and 2 drew sighs and laughter from the crowd. And then came Act 2, a powerful portrayal of love that comes from the family. The applause of the audience was filled with a collective expression of how joyful and touched they were from the Cantata performance.
“I was able to be here tonight because my daughter is volunteering. Actually, I almost didn’t make it because my mother passed away a few weeks ago and I was in a lot pain in my heart. I was crying every day and couldn’t pick myself up, so it was really difficult for me to come. Still, I was attracted because my daughter was involved and it was a Christmas-themed. It was much better than I expected and it’s been a really long time since I felt happy like this. Today, I felt my heart being healed.”
-Kelly Ebanks, Jacksonville
After Gracias Choir exited the stage, pastor Ock Soo Park began preaching the Word of God by citing the example of missionary John Choi, who survived a scorpion sting while serving overseas in Liberia as a volunteer.
“If you become one with the Word of God, you not only physically overcome poison, you are able to overcome the sin, pain, and despair in your heart. God has stated that you are righteous. If He says you’re righteous, then you are. If He has inscribed it, it is inscribed. ‘God, I am righteous. I no longer have sin.’”
“Hallelujah!” “Bravo!” “Amen!”
Each time the audience heard that God made them righteous, they responded in excitement. The louder the cheers got, the more we could feel them getting fired up through of the Word.
“I thought the pastor’s message was the most important part of the Cantata. Like he said, I could have figuratively thrown my sin into the sea, but I’ve lived my life holding on to all of it. The mistakes I made when I was in my 20’s, those things haunted me and caused me a lot of inner turmoil. I’ve been to a lot of churches and a lot of Bible Seminars. But the words of pastor Ock Soo Park rang in my heart. Without any regard to our actions, Jesus Christ being nailed to the cross, that and that alone has made us righteous. I had allowed this truth to so easily slip away from me. I am thankful I was able to hear the precious Words I had once lost.”
-Maureen Ambrose, Jacksonville
While on the Cantata Tour, the weather changes and so does they dynamic of each city’s audience. The performance may be the same, but the way God works at each stop is different, as well as the way people react to what they hear and see on stage. One thing remains the same wherever we go: the Gospel. The venue staff and the Cantata volunteers, the pastors from the Jacksonville region, the immersed audience members, whoever it was, they were all able to hear the Gospel. And that is the one thing that remains in the hearts of the Christmas Cantata performers and staff. Gracias Christmas Cantata Tour will continue bearing the gifts of God across Florida over the next few days. We now make our way to Miami.