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Life transformation inspires play at Living Word

Playwright Terry Kuhn (left) and Steve Olson collaborated on a new play, "Lightning Strikes," that will premiere at Living Word Chapel this weekend. The play is loosely based on Olson's real-life transformation from an alcoholic to a pastor.

You don't have to tell Pastor Steve Olson that God works in mysterious ways.

As Living Word Chapel's new drama "Lightning Strikes" approaches its world premiere, the irony of the moment isn't lost on the former alcoholic. When Olson was living his party life, he had no idea that his story would eventually end up being a play that would inspire others.

Real life

Olson has attended Living Word Chapel for about 18 years, initially agreeing to start going to church after his wife asked.

"I went to keep peace at home," he said. "But I was a chronic alcoholic at the time."

Even though Sunday sermons often made Olson feel guilty about his lifestyle of the past 20 years, he didn't change his habits.

"I was drunk in the pews quite often," he admitted.

Even though church members could smell the alcohol on his breath, Olson said the congregation didn't judge him nor push him away.

"They just loved me," Olson said, noting that many members of the congregation have struggled through similar challenges in their lives. "If someone would have jumped in my stuff, I would have never darkened the door again. I was accepted as I was and I kept coming back."

In 1998, after continuing his poor choices, his wife Ronda and several other church members prayed that God would change Olson's life by whatever means necessary.

A few weeks later, Olson was driving drunk and caused an accident. People in the other vehicle were injured in the crash, as was Olson when he was ejected from his truck.

"I still regret what happened," he said with tears in his eyes. "I still wish I could undo what happened that night, and undo many things from those previous 23 years of my life."

As he woke up in the roadside ditch, Olson said God gave him the peace and grace to know that things would work out if he would decide to change his life around.

"My life changed that night," he said. "God changed my mind and I changed my direction. That night was the worst and best night of my life. The decisions I made that night have defined the rest of my life."

After being charged with drunk driving and dealing with the legal issues related to the accident, Olson completed alcohol treatment and began taking his Christian walk more seriously.

"I went headlong for Jesus," he said. "And I haven't had a drink since that night."

To help others who struggle with chemical dependency, Olson went to school to become a counselor. He then completed several years of pastoral training to become a pastor.

In 2008, Olson and his wife launched Impact Ministries, a faith-based residential treatment program for men with addictions.

Olson said he's thankful that he was given a chance to use his past pain for good.

"It's not a secret what I am or where I came from," he said. "But it's a testimony of God's grace and mercy. I could have continued to stay stuck in the shame and the guilt, or I could choose to use my life's bad choices for good."

The play

Terry Kuhn knew Olson's story and thought it would make a good play. He said the play ended up being "loosely based" on Olson's life. He worked with Olson to use many details of his stories in "Lightning Strikes," a musical drama and comedy about a life transformation that leads the main character to help others.

"It's the first play I've ever written in my life," Kuhn admitted.

Kuhn has always been a fan of theater, however. Living Word Chapel has hosted numerous plays through the years and he's always one of the first to volunteer.

"We've been very successful with our dramas in the past," he said.

"Lightning Strikes" involves a cast of 13 people - Kuhn, Pastor Randy Dean, Ella Ristow, Joe Jensen, Lance Kuhn, Tanner Williamson, Cassie Olson, Joan Chamberlin, Kari Kuhn, Cindy Olson, Lisa Ristow, Mike Higgins and Hope Munson.

The play is directed by Ginger Dean and Karen Weinke.

"It's a comedy," Kuhn explained. "But there is both laughter and tears."

There is plenty of music as well, including one original song.

Rehearsals have been ongoing since last August. Kuhn said the cast is more than ready to present the play and can hardly wait to see the reaction from audience members.

"The play represents a lot of the heart of the church," Kuhn said. "The play is all about God's forgiveness. People will be entertained, but it will also make people think."

There is no admission charge for the play, but a free-will offering will be collected. Apple pie will be served at intermission, Kuhn said.

Audience members are encouraged to show up early for the best seating, and there is a possibility that seating capacity could be reached on any given night.

"Lightning Strikes" will be presented Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. on March 1, 2, 8 and 9.

For more information, call 715-265-4810.