Where the buffalo roam, a Passion play approaches the century mark

Oklahoma’s version of old Jerusalem provides the setting for what organizers describe as North America’s longest continuously running outdoor Passion play.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

WICHITA MOUNTAINS WILDLIFE REFUGE, Okla. — Before the sun sets at a remote mountain attraction called Holy City of the Wichitas, Jesus and a band of white-winged angels walk through a crowd gathering on the hillside.

Nobody seems fazed.

But a few hours later, a different visitor — this one an uninvited guest at the 93rd annual “Prince of Peace” Easter pageant — causes a stir among the men, women and children seated under the stars on blankets, lawn chairs and pickup beds.

An enormous buffalo wanders uncomfortably close to a group of spectators from the First Baptist Church of Olustee, diverting their attention from the donkey accompanying Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem on the living stage before them.

“Hopefully, there’s not a herd,” Morgan Adams, the southwestern Oklahoma congregation’s pastor, quips as he lifts his young daughter into his truck.

Oklahoma’s version of old Jerusalem — mixing rough stone structures resembling those in the Holy Land with occasional sightings of buffalo and longhorn — provides the setting for what organizers describe as North America’s longest-running outdoor Passion play. Although the public is welcome to tour the grounds and visit the gift shop year-round, the yearly performances draw enough of a crowd to disrupt the wildlife.

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Religion News Service is a national wire service whose media partners include The Associated Press, USA Today and the Washington Post.