It’s often hard for Christians to put into perspective the suffering that Christ endured when he was crucified.
The university’s Easter Pageant provides its audience with a visual representation of Christ’s sacrifice, but for those who are actually in the production, experiencing the crucifixion first-hand can be a life changing experience. That was the case for Karl Baker and Esther Gibbs, who played Jesus and Mary respectively in the 75th rendition of the annual pageant.
The roles of Jesus and Mary are hand selected by university president Dr. Randy O’Rear. Baker, who had played a temple guard in the previous two pageants, received a phone call last spring. Dr. O’Rear wanted to meet with him. During the meeting, the president selected Baker to play the role of Jesus.
“I was really humbled and honored just to be put in that position,” Baker said. “We just talked, and I was excited, and he told me he’d be praying for me. It was neat to just create that relationship with him.”
Gibbs was a crowd person her sophomore year and was then chosen to be one of Mary’s mourners the following year. Gibbs had been searching for ways to show God through her life, and that came through her role in the pageant.
“The year before I was asked, my prayer had been that during my last few years at UMHB, it would be God that would be seen through my actions, not me,” she said. “When Dr. O’Rear asked me, I was not expecting it, but I know it was nothing that I had done that made me be chosen. It was completely God.”
The two were each allowed to select a group of individuals whom they would rely on throughout the process – both in the pageant itself as well as behind the scenes.
“I was able to choose seven girls to be mourners and discipled them throughout the year, and the time I spent with them was so precious,” Gibbs said.
Baker selected 12 disciples and spent time in fellowship with them throughout the year.
“They’re all guys that I knew – some better than others — but they’re all guys who I saw as good leaders on this campus,” he said. “Since September, we met weekly at my house, so it was a neat way for us to become a group and for us to grow together. We had an intramural flag football team and got third place, and that was awesome. Just having them around was incredible.”
While the experience was rewarding, both Gibbs and Baker were challenged by their roles. Gibbs said portraying Mary through her daily life sometimes seemed like a lofty ambition.
“One of the biggest challenges and joys I faced was the pressure that came with the position. Portraying Jesus or Mary, people look at you and see you as this Christ-like person before they know you oftentimes, and the pressure you put on yourself to live up to expectations, is hard,” she said.
However, she said the experience was rewarding as she was forced to think about how her actions would reflect those of Mary.
“At the same time though, it is such a joy because it’s not every day you’re given a position that forces you to become more Christ-like each moment,” Gibbs said. “Being refined to become more like Christ is difficult, but at the same time, there is so much joy to be found through that process.”
Baker said carrying the role resulted in social interactions that were the complete opposite of what Christians usually encounter.
“It’s a weird time where everybody sees you as Jesus before they know you,” he said. “In your Christian life, you get to know people and then they see Jesus, so it’s kind of the direct inverse of how the rest of our lives go. It was always a challenge to resist that attention and not have it create pride in my life.”
Even though the students faced challenges along the way, Assistant Director of Campus Activities Jeff Sutton said Baker and Gibbs responded well to the pressure and embraced the expectations that were laid upon them.
“The journey that each of these students takes over the year is one of a lot of ups and downs and is very challenging on a personal level as well as just an involvement level,” Sutton said. “I feel like both Karl and Esther truly lived out their roles on campus. Esther is so humble and caring for people. And Karl is the epitome of a servant leader. I think they both did outstanding.”