MESA, Ariz. Those who spend countless hours preparing for and presenting the Mesa Easter Pageant do so with one purpose in mind: To bring others to Jesus Christ. Each year, and in many ways, that goal is accomplished.
"The pageant produces a tremendous number of referrals," said Arizona Tempe Mission President Del R. Jones. People are touched by seeing the pageant or by going through the visitors center, he said. Others, who are members, see the pageant and are motivated to share the gospel by increasing their own missionary work.
The pageant, "Jesus the Christ," which is performed on the grounds of the Mesa Arizona Temple, combines music, dance and drama to portray the scriptural account of the Savior. More than 425 members of the cast participated in the production, which opened March 21 and runs through March 30. More than 100,000 people are expected to attend.
Johnny Moraga's conversion story is just one of many that came about as a result of being touched by the spirit of the pageant.
Last year the 36-year-old father happened to be driving past the temple grounds at the end of the 75-minute production when the illuminated actor portraying Christ ascended over the 35-foot-high stage. "I saw everyone looking up, so I looked up, too," he said. He then turned around and found a missionary to talk to about what was going on. He was told that the pageant would be presented again the following night.
He felt compelled to see the pageant. "I told my family, 'We have got to see this,' and we did." The next night he was so touched by the Spirit that he asked for the missionaries to teach him. "I was anxious for them to come," he said. "I wanted to know more."
Within six weeks, he had taken all of the missionary discussions and was baptized. His wife had already been a member for five years but he had not been interested before.
Now, nearly a year later, Brother Moraga is grateful for the gospel in his life. "I feel wonderful," he said. "Good things have happened to us."
This year Brother Moraga and his wife, Candy, took their three children, who are bilingual, to one of the two nights in which the pageant was performed in Spanish.
This was the first year that the 64-year-old pageant was performed in Spanish during the opening weekend. "We are trying to be more effective in reaching the Hispanic population," said the pageant's producer, Ron Evans. "We hope more and more people come to see this truly magnificent event and hear it in their native tongue."
Nanci Wudel, public affairs director for the pageant, said that having the Spanish performances on the weekend made it possible for more to come from long distances. "We heard that some came from California and others from Mexico City, driving all night to be able to see the pageant in Spanish," she said. "Those nights were so incredibly Spirit-filled," she added. "After the pageant, there were so many in the audience that couldn't express their gratitude enough. They were literally grabbing cast members to thank them."