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Each Person Per­sonally in Christ min­istries uses mime to evan­gelize. Jacob Hann | Courtesy

Before they went down to the square, they smeared white paint on their faces and drew del­icate black lines to accen­tuate their facial fea­tures.

There was no crowd ini­tially, just people milling about a public place in Guatemala.

The stu­dents arrived with their director and smiled at the Guatemalans as they climbed the stairs of the gazebo in the center of the San Marcos square. They unfurled a black backdrop, queued up music on a speaker, and began the play.

The only human sound was mum­bling in Spanish and Mayan dialects from the gath­ering crowd.

The stu­dents were on a high school mission trip in 2014 with EPPIC (Each Person Per­sonally in Christ) min­istries to evan­gelize through mime. Among their number was senior Jacob Hann.

When he decided to go to Guatemala for the mission with Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Min­nesota, he knew there were five dif­ferent teams: a medical team, sports and drama, children, service, and mime.

His older brother John had gone on the trip pre­vi­ously and he had par­tic­i­pated on the mime team and had already taught the “mime walk,” a motion akin to the moonwalk, to Jacob in middle school.

The trip orga­nizers asked him his pref­er­ences for which team he could be on.

“I put service first and mime second,” Hann said. “I had seen the per­for­mance and thought it was well-done, unique, and moving. Little did I know that no one was going to put mime any­where near their top choice.”

Though he thought he would be suited for the service team, he was the only person to show any pref­erence for the mime team.

“I was des­tined to be a mime,” Hann said.

But he wasn’t donning a zebra-pat­terned shirt or a beret to do physical comedy on street corners — he was sharing the gospel.

The team shares the story of the death and res­ur­rection of Christ while also telling char­acter-building stories through physical movement.

Evan­ge­lists must contend with the reality of Babel. They find them­selves in sit­u­a­tions where they may need to fully under­stand the lan­guage to pros­e­lytize.

But miming allows mis­sion­aries to expe­rience the miracle of Pen­tecost. It is like Luke wrote of the apostle’s evan­ge­lization: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

The director of EPPIC Min­istries, Chris Erickson, said he believes the body expresses uni­versal feelings and emo­tions.

“It doesn’t require expla­nation,” he said. “You can go any place in the world with it. It is like a lan­guage unto itself. Mime is a lan­guage where you use your body as a tool to talk.”

Hann agreed.

“You can take this and bring it any­where in the world and people still under­stand what is hap­pening,” he said.

Though modern con­cep­tions of mime portray a Parisian vagabond pre­tending he is in a box, or fig­u­ra­tively las­soing a passerby, mime actually arose from the ancient Greek the­atrical tra­dition.

The best mimes in Ancient Greece were known as etho­logues, and they were valued for their ability to teach and instill moral lessons in the audience. And those audi­ences were not simply passerby who might flick a nickel into a felt top hat, mimes were the main event and audi­ences num­bered over 10,000.

Charlie Chaplin’s roles as the “Little Tramp” show a mastery of physical control and Marcel Marceau, a frenchman, epit­o­mized mime in the twen­tieth century with his char­acter Bip the clown. Marceau referred to the art form as “the art of silence.”

“The art of silence speaks to the soul, like music, making comedy, tragedy, and romance, involving you and your life.… cre­ating char­acter and space, by making a whole show on stage – showing our lives, our dreams, our expec­ta­tions,” Marceau said in 1949.

EPPIC min­istries’ brand of mime uses the Christian nar­rative to evoke emo­tional responses from an audience and like Marceau, they want to speak directly to souls.

Erickson felt called into this min­istry in 1984 after seeing EPPIC, then only a two-year-old orga­ni­zation, do a Christmas per­for­mance at Eden Prairie Pres­by­terian in Eden Prairie, Min­nesota. At the time, Erickson was a high school teacher and was so moved by the per­for­mance. And he wasn’t the only one.

“In the audience I saw five dads, grown men, in tears and they couldn’t explain why,” he said.

He became so inspired by the intimate con­nection miming could have that he quit his job to become a full-time mis­sionary.

Jacob Hann, because of his stature and charisma, was chosen to play Jesus in the redemption sketch, called “For­given by his Love.”

Using simple cos­tumes to dis­tin­guish the char­acters — angels, humans, Jesus, and the devil — the actors show a great sac­rifice taking place and an empa­thetic char­acter who helps a strug­gling human find hap­piness.

The pow­erful symbols cause spec­tators to approach the mis­sion­aries after the per­for­mance to learn more about what the silent char­acters rep­re­sented. From there, often with the help of an inter­preter, the gospel can be shared in fuller detail.

It is a subtle routine, and the actors, with painted white faces and eye­liner, remain mas­ter­fully con­sistent as they create imag­inary props — walls, chairs, pens — and never forget about them, moving around and through them, while por­traying uni­versal human emo­tions in their posture and facial expression.

Both Hanns played the role of Jesus in “For­given by his Love.” The role, which is the most dif­ficult in the play, requires over 60 hours of practice and require the mime to hold his hands above his head for three minutes during the cru­ci­fiction. The mime has to be able to intimate the love of Jesus Christ to the audience without the help of the Sermon on the Mount or any other scripture.

But Erickson thought he, like his brother, was up for the job.

“Jacob has a good build and a good look,” Erickson said. “He caught on really well and has a great attitude.”

Hann has a group of friends back home who get together still to work on new material or stay fresh with their old stan­dards.

“Mime is a dying art form but when it is done well, it can be astounding,” he said.