By Bill Sorrell
Special to The Commercial Appeal
JACKSON, Tenn. — Lee Mayhall was 7 when he went with his parents to “Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames” — a staged, 10-scene dramatic presentation that depicted the consequences of the decision to accept or reject Christ.
“If the person died without Christ, it showed that person being escorted to hell by a demon,” said Lee’s father, Shannon Mayhall. “Lee told me and his mom that he didn’t like the devil and wanted to accept Christ.”
A few months later, Lee was baptized at Jackson’s Calvary Baptist Church, where his father is currently serving as chairman of deacons.
“I knew I wanted to be with Christ,” said Lee, now a freshman at the University of North Alabama. “I wanted to be in heaven and that night I got saved. A few days after, my dad talked to me. He made sure I knew what I was doing. I actually felt differently. I knew I had given my life to Christ. I know for sure I will be going to heaven.”
Like Lee, thousands of youth have made decisions for Christ through Halloween-season, heaven-or-hell type dramas such as “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames,” Judgement House, Hell House and other evangelical alternatives to haunted houses.
“We like to describe an actual Judgement House as a modern-day parable,” said Kyle Abernethy, director of evangelism and training for Judgement House, based in Clearwater, Fla.
From 800,000 to a million people a year attend a Judgement House, and about 10 percent make first-time professions of faith, Abernethy said. Judgement House is presented in 25 states and seven foreign countries. Participating churches pay for one of Judgement House’s 17 scripts.
Two West Tennessee churches are presenting Judgement House dramas through Oct. 31.
First Baptist Church of Selmer, Tenn., is using the script “Unexpected” about the deadly consequences of texting while driving.
“It is an alternative to Halloween but you could do it at any time of the year and be just as successful,” said Jackie Suggs, who is in charge of counseling those who make a response after viewing Judgement House in Selmer. “We present the gospel. We have gotten reports that it was a life-changing event that set their lives on a better plane for the Lord. It is planting a seed. You need to be prepared for whatever happens in life or face the consequences.”
Warren Community Church in Somerville, Tenn., is presenting “Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire.”
“The basic premise is a teenager throws a party while mom and dad aren’t there and the little brother burns down the house and it has a tragic ending,” said Jill Neiss, who directs Judgement House at Warren.
Shannon Mayhall was a counselor for Calvary Church’s Judgement House. “I got to lead a lot of people to salvation,” he said.
“I instilled this into Lee at an early age. After seeing a large number of people saved at Judgement House, I would come home all excited and Lee would ask, ‘How many did God win tonight?’”
Lee Mayhall’s salvation experience stayed with him as he became a star student and athlete at University School of Jackson, where he graduated with a 4.15 GPA.
Mayhall was the only high school athlete in Tennessee last year — and the first in USJ history — to make all-state in football, basketball and baseball.
On the football field, Mayhall’s 42 touchdowns last season for the 11-2 Bruins led all state classifications. He holds three all-time state receiving records and used his 4.5 speed to accumulate 2,740 yards as a slot receiver and running back. He scored 252 points, sixth most in the state. At safety, he made 73 tackles. He finished with 71 career touchdowns.
In basketball, he was first in the state in Division 2-A in assists average (3.8) and steals (2.6).
He also excels at baseball. He was a catcher and center fielder and helped lead the Bruins to the state championship. His .410 bating average was 8th best in the state.
“It’s not I gave myself the ability to do all three sports,” Mayhall said. “I think if God gives you a talent, then you should use it. I have used my abilities to glorify God. Everything we have is a blessing from God.”
Mayhall, 19, received a full scholarship to the University of North Alabama this year. He caught his first touchdown pass Oct. 18.
“He is playing for God. He is going to give God all the credit,” said Brad Dyer, USJ’s baseball coach.