The Bethlehem College Performing Arts Centre will be packed on Saturday, April 28 for the ‘Tabernacle of Worship’. Dancers will step out onto the stage resplendent in gold, purples, reds and turquoise, with satins and light fabric billowing overhead.
The evening of Christian celebration, music and praise is a dance journey through early biblical Israel’s expressions of worship.
Starting with Moses’ wilderness Tabernacle, and leading on to King Solomon’s temple built later in Jerusalem, the Messianic message culminates with the arrival of Christ.
The creative dance journey incorporates the historical Israelite artefacts of worship such as a bronze laver, golden lamp stand and altar of incense.
These led early Israelite worshippers through the temple courts into where the presence of God was experienced, before the Ark of the Covenant.
These artefacts have become powerful symbols for early New Testament Jewish and Gentile believers and are studied around the world in Christian communities. Each scene of the musical journey is dazzling, with colourful costumes, flags and the large pieces of silken fabric that float over the dancers.
The Jubilee Dancers’ inspiring performances are led by Gaynor Schiff, who started the Jubilee Dance Ministries International in 1987 in South Africa.
“I went to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem and caught the vision of worship in dance with glorious costumes, fabrics, banners and flags,” says Gaynor. “I brought it back to the Assemblies of God Church and formed the first Jubilee Dance team in Johannesburg.”
Growing up in Zimbabwe, (originally Rhodesia), Gaynor became Miss Rhodesia in 1966 and found herself stepping out with two cheetahs to promote Rhodesia Week in cities all over South Africa.
“Over half a century ago!” laughs Gaynor.
“We came out of Zimbabwe to South Africa with $30 in our pocket.
“We had to leave everything behind.”
On returning from Jerusalem, her 13-year-old daughter Kerry started dancing with her, and their dance team was asked to perform all over South Africa.
“We then moved to Cape Town where I formed a second Jubilee team. Kerry went to another town and formed a third one there, and eventually we had six Jubilee teams across South Africa, all dancing the same dances, same costumes, same kind of worship.
“I was asked to go to Dubai and teach an Arab Christian church to worship through dance. So another team was formed there in about 2000.
“That same year, back in Cape Town, about 55,000 people of all races and creeds came together to pray for South Africa,” says Gaynor. “My daughter, Kerry, and her husband, Peter, did the dance called ‘Embrace the Cross’ in the middle of the huge Newlands rugby stadium. It became something that the whole of South Africa witnessed. Because my son-in-law is a person of colour and my daughter is Caucasian, seeing the two dance together to the glory of God brought a beautiful picture of reconciliation, which is what South Africa was striving for at the time. It was the most incredible and powerful experience. They will be dancing that same dance in the Tabernacle on Saturday.”
Gaynor and husband Brian emigrated to New Zealand eight years ago.
“It was a big step at our stage in life as I was then 65,”says Gaynor, now aged 73. Her daughter and son-in-law Kerry and Peter Abels, both doctors, arrived first and settled in Wellington.
“It took me just 24 hours to love New Zealand, I was so happy to be here. We looked around the whole country, my husband Brian loved Tauranga and I agreed with him.
“I would have liked to be near my daughter and grandchildren in Wellington, but we so enjoy living here. I love the people. I love the All Blacks.”
Gaynor started the Tauranga-based Jubilee Dancers about six years ago.
“We’ve had amazing and overwhelming support from Graham Preston, the Christian Education Trust, Bethlehem College, the Tauranga Jubilee team, my own fellowship, and many wonderful gifted people coming alongside me, giving of their talents, time, energy and resources unstintingly and freely.
“I could not have done it without every single one of them.” The Minorah, a lampstand featuring in the performance, also appears in the college’s badge as a symbol of the foundation of the school that was established on an understanding of the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith.
“The Tabernacle was split into three sections,” says Gaynor. “The first section was for everybody, the next section for the priests and worshippers, and the holy place just for the High Priest. Nobody else could enter into that holy place in front of the Ark of the Covenant, which had golden cherubim angels.
“But now, because of Jesus, as the New Testament of the Bible states, ‘the temple curtain has been torn in two’, so, as believers, we are able to come right into the presence of God.”
Joining the Tauranga team on Saturday night will be Kerry and Peter and children, including for the first time, Daniel, their youngest son.
“I’ve made him a little outfit,” says Gaynor. “He’s going to have his debut, running to his mum during the opening item.”
Tickets for The Tabernacle of Worship will be available at the door from 6.30pm on April 28.