HORACE, N.D. — To fulfill an item on his bucket list, Larry Richard had to do something unusual. “Grandpa had to grow a beard,” divulges his 12-year-old granddaughter Julianna Scraper.
After seeing him with his long, white facial hair, Julianna adds, a family friend remarked that he looked as if he’d “walked right out of the Bible.” Which was, in fact, the goal.
Julianna and her three siblings had the privilege recently of accompanying Larry on his dream trip to the Dallas area — Midlothian — to take part as extras in the filming of “The Chosen,” a popular crowdfunded television series depicting, and bringing to life, stories from the Bible .
Since Larry’s wife, Susan, couldn’t join them, he asked his daughter, Rebecca Scraper, from Perham, Minn., if she and her children wanted to accompany him on set June 7.
“Dad had been talking about it for quite a long time,” Rebecca says of her father’s enthusiasm for the series, and desire to be part of it. “Initially, we showed the kids the episode where Jesus is with the little children, and in talking about it afterward, we decided that for Lent, we were going to watch one episode per week as a family.”
After a few sessions, the kids started asking, “Can we watch the next one?” she says. “They wanted to binge-watch, but we said, ‘No, we’re going to wait.’ They came to really look forward to it.”
By the time Grandpa Larry told them about a possible summer trip to Texas to be part of the filming, the kids were primed and poised for the adventure. Rebecca says they began doing “a lot of thrift-store shopping to find the right things.”
They would be involved in Season 3, specifically the episode in which Jesus performs a miracle, feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. All costuming had to match the garb of first-century Palestinians.
“They could have no eyeglasses, no nail or toe polish, no tattoos,” Susan explains. “Things like pink hair had to be wrapped. You couldn’t have buckles, not even on your shoes.”
They found Larry’s costume online for $40. The shepherd’s cloak Jake, 10, used was pulled from a corner of the closet.
“I got it 30 years ago for a Nativity scene at church that I put on as a (religious education) teacher,” Susan says. “I paid $7 for it; it was the ugliest thing in the place… but it worked perfectly for him.”
Jake also looked the part, she says, with his darker skin and hair — a little more Middle Eastern than little Greta, 6, with her sandy-blond hair.
“I grew out my hair for it, 4 or 5 inches,” Jake says.
Gabby, 13, says her former school, St. Henry’s Catholic Elementary, also contributed a few pieces, borrowed from costumes used in their annual Christmas program.
Larry, a recently retired farmer, also contributed $1,000 to secure their spot on the set.
Happy in the heat
The film time ended up reduced from the intended 14 hours to four, due to the heat and humidity.
“It was like 100 degrees that day,” Gabby says, noting that a few people were even passing out, with Julianna adding that the crowd dubbed themselves “The Roasted Chosen.”
Mary Kerbaugh, with her friend Char Feldman, both of Fargo, also participated, and called the weather that day “hotter then blazes.”
“We were a bunch of cooked Christians,” she says, noting that the area was hilly, but fairly wide-open with few trees and shade. “We did have some tents to sit under; they took us in shifts, so that they could include all 5,000.”
Not only was the event run smoothly, especially given the size of the crowd, she says, but proved to be a very “ecumenical” experience.
“Everyone behaved themselves. There wasn’t any nastiness, and there were no dissenters,” but rather, “a spirit of cooperation” pervaded.
Participants brought umbrellas “to hide underneath the sun,” Larry says. But when it was time to film, those coverings had to disappear. “They would call, ‘Umbrella’s up!’ Julianna says. “And it was like a rainbow of umbrellas everywhere.”
During filming, however, Larry says, “you had to hide all your modern devices, like phones, food and water bottles.”
Julianna says she loved it when one of the actors playing a Roman soldier, hoisted on a horse, conversed with them. “I told him he was way too nice to be a Roman soldier,” she chuckles.
To keep the crowds engaged, organizers provided entertainment on the grounds near the set, including bouncy houses, food, games and concerts, Gabby says. But, as her grandpa points out, every time filming began, there was a callout for the crowds all around to be quiet. “They were taping over the hill, and the sound would carry.”
Rebecca says it was fun to experience the filming through the eyes of her children, who were a bit “starstruck” seeing the actors, such as Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus, in real life.
Spreading the good news
“It gives you a chance to focus on what’s positive in the world,” Kerbaugh says of “The Chosen” series. “If you think about it, less than 1% of people are causing all the royal commotion (in society). The rest of us are just trying to do the best we can.”
Despite having stayed back, Susan says she’s been a faithful follower of the series, too, and was grateful her family got to go. “It’s gone worldwide and is in many different languages,” she says. “It’s really amazing.”
To ensure accuracy of the stories, spiritual advisers — priests, rabbis and Protestant ministers — all contribute their biblical expertise to the finished product. Through the series, Larry says, the characters come to life.
“You see Jesus and the human relationships he had with people,” he says. “And he was doing normal things, like making his own food, cutting his cucumber and meat.”
Rebecca says she appreciates how Jesus is portrayed: patient and kind, but also with “a quiet sense of humor,” which “made him so much more relatable to me, and surprised me.”
Their episode will run around Easter time, Larry says, with Series 3 beginning this fall.
“They say just about everyone who watches this ends up identifying with one character or another,” he adds, noting that he seems most like Nicodemus, who, though invited to travel with Jesus’ brigade, decided not to because of his comfortable life.
“Although, in the eighth episode, he left gold for Jesus and the apostles, who were leaving to go do their ministry.”
Those interested in following the series can get “The Chosen” app on their smartphones, or stream it on a television or computer from YouTube or Amazon Prime Video, all at no cost. Larry recommends viewers use closed captioning to pick up the words more easily. “Sometimes you get lost in the accent.”
Kerbaugh says that reading through the Gospels, you see how the characters “followed by faith,” not knowing what was coming next.
“And the next thing you know, they’re showing the world a different way of living,” she says. “And of course, they go through lots of opposition through their ministries.”
The series allows followers to “get a chance to see what it might have been like for them, which is so inspiring,” she adds. “I watch the show, and frankly, get teary because it’s so moving in some places.”
Susan says the series doesn’t take away from Scripture, but offers relatability and context, removing “a barrier” that can sometimes present itself when people just pick up the Bible and read.
Over the last couple years, she’s heard from many who have experienced a faith transformation.
“Their heart has just gone to Christ,” she says. “I really believe it’s a movement of the Holy Spirit.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on July 8, 2022.]