PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

March 29, 2013

Smith no longer shy portraying Christ

Erinn Callahan
Port Arthur News

— With his flowing brown locks and benevolent demeanor, there’s no denying it — Richard Smith bears a striking resemblance to modern-day depictions of Jesus Christ.

But the similarities do not end at the exterior. Much like Jesus, Smith, 40, has traveled some distance from his home — San Augustine — to help the people of another land — Triangle Baptist Church, 3605 U.S. 69, Nederland. He is taking on the role of Christianity’s central figure in the church’s passion play, “Risen,” which Triangle Baptist will present tonight at 7 p.m. and Saturday, March 30, at 3 p.m.

Even their professions are closely linked. Smith is a mechanic — the modern-day counterpart to Jesus’ carpenter.

The painfully shy Smith first stepped into Jesus’ shoes 14 years ago, at the urging of his sister, director Sissy Jimenez.

“I encouraged him to do it, but he said, ‘I can’t talk,’” said Jimenez, who lives in Nederland. “I said, ‘That’s OK, just dress the part and we’ll be fine.’”

Smith did just that for at least two years, but then people became eager to hear his voice.

“ I was like, ‘Just try a little,’” Jimenez said. “And he started to, and it got easier for him to do that. When he’s on the stage and the lights are shining, you don’t see all those people, even though you know they’re there. He’s comfortable now with the people who are around him.”

While Smith hasn’t completely emerged from his shell, his sister said the role has done wonders for him.

“He’s definitely grown,” said Jimenez, ever the protective elder sister as a hint of pride creeps into her voice. “I’ve seen a change in him over the years as he’s grown spiritually. He’s very quiet, and his faith is very personal to him. But what he can’t speak out, his actions speak for him.

“You know when they say, ‘We are known by the fruits we bear?’ Well,  he bears those fruits.”

Jimenez’s daughter, Jennifer Fournier of Nederland, agreed with her mother.

“It’s pretty intense, seeing him on the cross,” said Fournier, who plays Mary, mother of Jesus. “I kind of forget that he’s my uncle.”

Church member Debbie Hays will also attest to Smith’s transformation.

“He’s so shy, so quiet, but when he gets up there, you’re like, ‘That’s the same person?’” she said.

Indeed, Smith seems much more at ease on the stage. As he rehearses the scene where Jesus rises from his tomb, he spreads his arms wide, a beatific smile falling over his face.

Jimenez said that her brother takes his role very seriously — as does the entire cast.

“I want people to understand that we’re not getting up here putting on a show,” she said. “We do the very best we can to portray it as closely as possible — especially given the main points and coming home to the fact that he was beaten, he died on the cross, and he rose on the third day. That’s our hope. I think God has impressed this upon my heart that sometimes you hear the stories and you read the books, but when you see it, it just brings it a little closer to home and you can understand it a little more.

“We’re not forcing anybody to do anything. We’re just show them the story from the Bible’s perspective. Anything good that happens here, it’s all because God has blessed the efforts of the people trying to deliver the message.”

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA