Acting evangelist brings new life to Hebron
Published in The Pike County Journal-Reporter,
February 7, 2001 – page 1B
"What do you do for a living?" asked the alert nonagenerian. The question came as a surprise to Evangelist Dwain W. Penn as it was habit for him to visit the lady and many others in nursing homes every week since April, 1992.
He stammered for only a moment. "Exactly what I am doing now," came his witty retort. She knitted her eyebrows with a confused look." The pay must be awful!" she laughed." But the benefits are out of this world!" added Penn, grateful for the opportunity to bring some joy into her life.
Penn is not your ordinary evangelist, or minister, or preacher. He was cut from a distinct and rare mold. Born June, 1955 in North Upson County, his parents were staunch democrats.
"Mama wanted to name me Dwight to match the given names of my three siblings, all starting with a 'D'," explains Penn, "But Daddy didn't want a son named after a Republican President - so they settled on Dwain."
Penn's upbringing in rural Upson had a lot to do with where he is today. He is a successful evangelist traveling around the country doing one-man Bible and secular dramas.
"I am tremendously successful," notes Penn, "simply because I am exactly where God wants me to be, doing what God wants me to do." However, to the eyes of the world, Penn and success appear to be very far apart. He lives a very simple life in a rural section of southern Pike County.
Penn's walk with God began in 1977, his senior year in college. He was brought to the cross of salvation as his mother was dying of brain cancer. The spiritual calling to preach followed the next year. Yet, as with most young men, Penn wanted further proof of God's will and postponed that decision for five years. By 1986, Penn started preaching on the streets of downtown Thomaston and other cities, being arrested once in Milledgeville. Later the same year, a rural Upson church invited him to conduct a six-day, seven-message revival. Months later, no other invitations to preach were received.
Prodded by God's Spirit, Penn began, on January 1, 1988, memorizing parts of the New Testament. Five months later, June 14, he introduced his unique ministry to the area with the premiere of The Apostle Paul on Prayer Mountain. The people were mesmerized and inspired by the young man's sincerity and authenticity of his portrayal.
Immediately, Penn began to work on another drama and premiered Father Abraham just five months later. Jesus was added the following Easter. Since that fateful late spring evening in 1988, Penn has presented over 240 dramas in 85 churches spanning 11 denominations scattered among seven southern and mid-western states. The success of the ministry prompted Penn, a college graduate with a degree in architecture to leave a $20,000 per year job ten years
Penn has added more dramas as God leads him and sometimes by request of others. King David was added after a woman's request following a Christian Arts Revival in New Orleans. "She liked the way Paul danced during the drama," Penn recalls fondly. After building a replica of the Ark of the Covenant during the winter of 1995, Penn premiered King David on Palm Sunday at The Bright Star Church in Douglasville. This followed another premiere, Isaiah, at the same church on Palm Sunday of 1994. "Isaiah came about because a seminary teacher expressed her fondness of this prophet and his writings," explains Penn. Since 1995, no other Bible dramas have been added to the ministry.
"Joshua may be my next major Bible drama," says Penn. "It will give me the opportunity to tell the exciting story of the Exodus and utilize the Ark built for David. Each drama takes about 6 months to create with all the writing, memory work, props, costume, make-up and research of the right music for the soundtrack."
Even to this day, Penn remains busy. He has added St. Nicholas, Abraham Lincoln, Rev. Walter Dubois, a humorous southern preacher from New Orleans and Jonathan Edwards, a stoic 18th century puritan. For the year 2001, Penn plans to add Charles Wesley, an 18th century Methodist preacher and Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Dickens' annual penitent.
"I am very excited about Scrooge," says Penn. "His costume will allow me to do Beethoven on the side and eventually add Quaker William Penn to the ministry, perhaps next year." William Penn's life closely parallels that of the Apostle Paul. Both were imprisoned for religious reasons and did most of their writings while incarcerated. Of course, Dwain's reason for doing William Penn goes beyond religious tones. They are related. Twelve generations ago, Dwain's forefather was the brother of William's grandfather. The brothers married sisters making their lineages of closer relation than any two other Penn lineages since. "It will be nice to do Cousin Willie!" comments Penn.
Meanwhile, Penn, as a full-time evangelist, creates other ways to supplement his income. He was recently called as the preacher at New Hebron Baptist near Concord. Fortunately for his ministry, the church meets only once a month, every third Sunday at 3 p.m. He also cleans houses, though more as a ministry than a source of income as he sometimes charges as little as $1 per hour. He sells blank audio tapes to local churches, makes and sells anointing oil and videos of some of his dramas, and sells copies of the books he has written.
"Next to ministering in drama, I enjoy writing," says Penn. "I have been writing for over 30 years, penning my first novel at the age of 14." Penn's prolific writing is evident in his books. He has published seven in the last 30 months and he continues to write short stories, novels, newspaper articles and pen quarterly newsletters for his ministry, The Gospel, and New Hebron Baptist. Most of his books can be purchased in Zebulon at M & M's Office Supply and a free subscription to his newsletters can be requested by writing The Gospel, P. O. Box 101, The Rock, GA 30285.
"If God is not first in everything that I do, then it is all in vain," reasons Penn. "I am grateful that God has helped me in these efforts and He alone continues to bless."