The Story Behind the Broken Heart Play

Below is some of the history of the play, if you are curious.

Over Presidents' Day weekend, February of 1980, I went forward for communion at a retreat sponsored by a youth organization called "Sought Out". One of the guest speakers was a youth pastor from Lynden, WA. When I approached him to take of the bread and juice, he began to pray for me. Near the end, his prayer took an unexpected turn, "But, like Peter, you've gotta get out of the boat; and if you do, thousands will be affected." I remember sitting in a chair the rest of the service, pondering what that could possibly mean. I mentioned it briefly in a journal entry and set it aside.

A few weeks later I felt the need to get away and be with the Lord. I drove up to Camano Island to stay at my deceased grandparents' place for some much needed solitude. I read the story about Peter getting out of the boat and walking on water. I prayed, asking Christ to open my heart to any spiritual insights the Lord might have for me. As I wrote in my journal, it struck me that Peter had scrambled out of the boat, without seeing any of his shipmates do the same. A thought dropped into my mind, as though from the Lord. I wrote, "Getting out of the boat means stepping out in faith; doing something you don't see anyone else doing. If you get out of the boat, I will burst my creativity in and through you."

A few months later, I had that prayer time with "Michelle" for several hours [as mentioned in Young Life's Relationships magazine, Fall/Winter 1998] while she gave up the thorns of bitterness to Jesus for a profound healing in her life.

Two weeks after that, I was preparing to give a talk on dating for a community youth retreat in Eastern Washington. I figured a skit to address the deeper issues in kids' lives would be more effective than merely a talk on the "do's and don'ts" of dating. I scribbled down a few ideas, based on my prayer time with Michelle, using thorns of bitterness and negative glasses. Nothing else seemed to come to mind.

I bowed my head and prayed, "Lord, what would put this all together?" The Lord instantly dropped the entire outline of the play into my head. Toys called Nails of Anger. A fireplace poker stick as a Rod of blame. A heart represented by an orange, damaged by sorrow, yet healed by the suffering Savior. I was so overwhelmed at the power of the cross, I wept for some time.

When I finally pulled myself together, fear struck my heart. "No one does skits with nails and sticks and oranges!" I felt foolish for considering a skit with such unusual props. I nearly scrapped the whole notion of the play, when the Lord reminded me of the youth pastor's words, "But you've gotta get out of the boat." I argued with God. "But what if they laugh?" The words from my weekend away returned, "Getting out of the boat means stepping out in faith; even if you don't see anyone else doing it."

The weekend of the retreat, I brought a bare-bones outline of what the cast needed to do and when. We practiced for 90 minutes until everyone basically had their parts down. I remember the look in Becky Folsom's eyes, one of our team members who watched us rehearse. I asked her if she thought it was dumb. She shook her head, and said, "Oh, no! It is really good." Her response kept us encouraged. However, none of us could have anticipated what was to come.

I played "Sally." Dave Nystrom played "Satan". Brian Stevens played both "Jesus" and "Macho Mike." Sharon Rahill was the narrator. We winged it through our parts as best we could. At the end of the play, when Jesus hugged Sally, we played Evie Tourquist's newly popular song, "Give Them All."

The moment we turned that song on, kids began to cry. Some allowed silent tears to flow, others wept aloud. A couple of kids were so overwhelmed with emotion, they burst out the door to cry alone. The cast and other team members went out among the kids to comfort, pray or just be with kids. We had not counted on this. Amazingly, the kids were having the same internal response as I did when the Lord revealed the outline of the play. It hit me hard that Jesus wants us to give him the hurtful toys we use to cope with the pains of life, and he has the means to free us through what he suffered on the cross.

Fortunately, I tape recorded this first meager version of the play as the actors ad libbed most of their parts. This recording became the basis for the first typed version of the script.

When my pastor, Lee Bennett, heard about the play, he asked me to put together a team to do it for the Sunday morning service. I figured if the first cast could put it together in 90 minutes, so could a new team. However, people found that learning their parts was not as easy as I imagined. Everyone was unbelievably nervous. So was I. I asked Jeryl Bangs to sing and play the song for us, live. I warned pastor Lee to be sure to have boxes of Kleenex available.

Somehow, by the Lord's grace, we pulled it off. Everyone, for the most part, remembered their cues and their basic lines. The new cast was grateful. By the time Jeryl sang, the 300 plus church attendees were spell-bound. Then the tears began to fall. The Lord's presence seemed near.

A girl in the audience from Tom Jonez' Young Life club in Snohomish immediately told Tom about the play and it's impact. He knew me from his experience as a staff trainee in the Bothell area, and he called and asked if we could put on the play for an upcoming Young Life weekend outreach camp at Warm Beach. It wasn't until later that I learned the grief Tom went through in order to change the Saturday night program agenda to fit us in.

I remember seeing Pam Gillet, a Young Life staffer, at the back of the auditorium, watching intently as the play unfolded. The kids responded at all the right places. Laughing when "Macho Mike" rose up out of the audience. Spellbound as Jesus asked Sally for her "toys". At the end, the kids were given a 15 minute quiet time and then ushered to their rooms for small group cabin times. Glowing reports of powerful responses from the kids spread like wild fire.

Doug Burleigh, then-President of Young Life, heard about the play and asked to have the play performed at Malibu that summer. Pam Gillet, a former drama major, was the staff person asked to direct the play. The results were so amazing, Broken Heart scripts spread to all of the Young Life properties in the country.

I received hundreds of letters from all over the country, requesting copies of the script. Churches, parachurch organizations and drama troops produced the play with similar results. to date, as far as we've been able to compute, the play has been viewed by more than three million people world wide.

Several years passed before I would re-read my journal entries and realize how predictive that Lynden youth pastor's words would be "But, like Peter, you've gotta get out of the boat; and if you do, thousands will be affected."

Thank you, Lord.

Emily Whitish