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By Heather Donckels
Religion News Service

Cindy Cathcart was angry with God and on the brink of divorce and suicide on Oct. 30, 1998, when her nephew dragged her to “Hell House.”
Though raised Lutheran, she had repeatedly refused her sister’s invitations to come to church and had no desire for a relationship with God. All of that changed as she walked through Hell House.
Hell Houses are intended to literally scare the hell out of people.
Participants walk through several “scenes” depicting the consequences of things like abortion, homosexuality and drunkenness.
“As I went from scene to scene … (God) just started working on my heart and showing me that it’s not him that caused this,” Cathcart said.
“It was the lack of having God in my life.”
By the time she reached the heaven scene, Cathcart was on her knees, begging God for forgiveness and asking Jesus for salvation.
While some Christians aren’t certain what to make of Halloween — unsure whether to embrace or ignore all the goblins and ghoulishness — some evangelical churches use Oct. 31 as a day to evangelize.
“Hell House is not a celebration of Halloween,” said Pastor Keenan Roberts, of New Destiny Christian Center in Thornton, Colo., who created Hell House as an outreach tool in 1995. “It’s not even a Halloween event. It is the church taking advantage of America’s cultural influence of the haunted house. … It’s the church absolutely capitalizing on the time of year.”
Like Roberts, Terry Long, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Salt Lake City, believes the church can turn Halloween into something good.
“Instead of cursing the darkness,” he said, “just turn on the light.”
Each year, Long’s church hosts a Halloween-alternative “Hallelujah Party.” Kim Giebler, who helps coordinate the event, cited Romans 12:21 as their theme: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The annual Hallelujah Party allows about 1,000 kids to experience the usual Halloween costumes and candy, but also includes an invitation for them to ask Jesus to be their Savior.
Though many at Calvary Chapel participate in the party, some stay at home. Long has no condemnation for people who opt out of the Halloween alternative; rather, he encourages them to pray for the event’s success.
Mike Gilbart-Smith, assistant pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said that although his church does not sponsor a Halloween alternative, church members have found their own ways of dealing with the holiday.
Some use trick-or-treating as an evangelistic opportunity, giving out Bible tracts with candy. Others celebrate Reformation Day, recognizing Oct. 31 as the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door and sparked the Protestant Reformation.
A father of three, Gilbart-Smith said he and his family do not celebrate Halloween. He doesn’t see a point in doing so, and would have to have some positive reasons before getting involved.
Still, Gilbart-Smith knows the decision of whether or not to celebrate — or even recognize — Halloween can be a challenge for some Christians. He suggested people ask themselves one question: “What would your involvement or non-involvement be telling people about your stance toward evil?”
On the night of Oct. 31, Doug Phillips will spend the evening like he would on any other night: with “family devotions.” Phillips, president of Vision Forum, a Texas-based organization dedicated to restoring biblical family values, may tell his eight children stories about Martin Luther and other reformers, but other than that, life will run as normal.
Phillips enjoyed Halloween celebrations as a child, but when he became a Christian, he decided they were “unwise and inconsistent with biblical Christianity.”
“It’s about what saith the Scripture,” he said. “Go to the Bible and ask yourself the question: If all I had was the Bible to lead me to a wise conclusion, where would I end up?”
While Phillips commended sharing Bible tracts with neighbors on Halloween, he doesn’t think Christians should take on “the exteriors of … the occult” to reach non-Christians. “When it comes to evangelism, it isn’t anything goes,” he said.
Perhaps, says Steve Russo, author of “Halloween: What’s a Christian to Do?”, but on one of the darkest nights of the year, “why not talk about the light of the world, Jesus?” he asks.
“As an evangelist, I would say, `What a great opportunity we have!”‘
Russo doesn’t think Christians need to completely abandon traditional Halloween activities. Rather, he thinks they can find a “balanced, reasonable approach to Halloween” without celebrating its darker aspects.
Russo’s 11-year-old daughter plans to go trick-or-treating this year, an activity Russo says can be safe and fun with parental monitoring. “I don’t see anything wrong with that at all,” he said.
Almost a decade after her conversion, Cathcart is still married and now serves as a Bible study coordinator at Roberts’ church. Rather than trick-or-treating, she opts for helping with Hell House on Halloween.
“Sometimes we have to use extreme measures to save (God’s) people,”
Cathcart said. “After all, if someone were in a burning house, would you quietly say, `Come out, you will die’? No. You would run in there with your arms waving and screaming to the top of your lungs, grabbing them if need be, to save them from an untimely death.”
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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