LuAnne Baker can tell a Bible story in a way you've never heard it before.
Dressed in a robe for the appropriate biblical period, she uses movement, facial expressions and inflections in her voice to transport the minds of her audience to such places as Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nineveh and Bethany.
The dramatic artist will tell the story of Jonah from his daughter JJ's point of view at the 8 and 10:45 a.m. services Sunday at Altoona Alliance Church, 3220 Pleasant Valley Blvd. She also will talk about the lifestyle of a Muslim woman living in the Middle East in a second 10-minute presentation.
(Courtesy photo) LuAnne Baker of Commodore tells Bible stories from the eye of a bystander or as the subject of the story in her portrayals from biblical times. Here she is dressed as Mrs. Noah, one of her 10 characters.
Baker, who lives in Commodore, Indiana County , said she chose the characters as a prelude to Altoona Alliance's focus on missions scheduled for the next Sunday.
Jonah, whose story is told in the Old Testament, refused to share God's message of repentance and forgiveness with the people of Nineveh. Instead, he boards a ship for Tarshish. During a storm, he tells the sailors he has disobeyed God and to throw him overboard. He is swallowed by a big fish.
"JJ tells what her reluctant missionary father went through in the belly of a whale," Baker said.
Despite his uncanny situation, JJ does not give Jonah much of a break.
"She tells it right up front," Baker said.
Her portrayal of a female Muslim compares the Middle Eastern woman's life to that of a female American. Baker said she studied the Islamic faith as part of a national project for Alliance Women about 12 years ago.
"I learned so much I did not know," she said.
Gail Keller of Altoona watched Baker's dramatization of the Muslim woman several years ago at the Western Pennsylvania District women's retreat at the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown.
"It was wonderful," Keller said. She said she did not realize what a Muslim woman goes through until she saw Baker's portrayal which also speaks of the freedom that faith in Jesus Christ brings.
At another retreat, Keller witnessed Baker's portrayal of Esther's handmaiden.
"She's just amazing," Keller said. "You want to listen to everything she says."
Baker gives you a different perspective on the Bible stories, said Deb Conner of Duncansville who saw the same productions as Keller.
"It makes you think about what people of that time were doing, what their lives were like," Conner said. "The Muslim lady really grabbed me. Before I had heard so much about Muslims. She brought that person's life out."
"She's wonderful," Conner said of Baker's work. "I know LuAnne, but you don't see her. You get so wrapped up in her character that she becomes somebody different. God has given her a special gift."
Baker would agree that her talent is a gift.
She has never had an acting lesson, nor did she ever aspire to take the stage.
The impetus for her portrayals began about 20 years ago when she heard a storyteller at a National Alliance Council conference in Columbus, Ohio.
She said she was fascinated by the storyteller's presentation and thought about it on the way home. She decided she could do that and then heard a voice in her head tell her not to just embellish the story, but to act it out, to become that person.
Baker believes God was nudging her to become a dramatic artist.
"He gives me all the skits," she said. And she never knows when an idea will come.
"I will be sitting in church and God will give me a script. I will wake up in the middle of the night or may be watching TV."
She said when she grabs a notebook, her husband, John, knows an idea is coming.
"Just as fast as I can, I write to keep the idea in my head. When God gives it, he pours it out."
Among her 10 programs are: Mrs. Noah: A Woman's Point of View of the Great Flood," "Martha's Kitchen: Preparation for Jesus' Visit," "Esther: Making Your Moments Count" and "Ruth: Dedication and Obedience."
"Every portrayal has the message of salvation and comedy," she said. The only exception is "Mary: the Mother of Jesus," where the story of his beating and crucifixion is too solemn for humor.
But she has fun with the Christmas message titled "Innkeeper's Wife: The Holy Night that Changed Her Life." She chides the innkeeper for not listening to her and adding more rooms the previous spring so Mary and Joseph wouldn't have to sleep in the animals' quarters.
Baker said for each program she researches and puts together three components. She studies the Bible and learns everything she can about the person who is the focus of the portrayal.
Then she studies the culture of the time period. Once the research is intact, she puts herself in the situation.
"How would I react under those circumstances," she asks herself. "After all three components come together, I write it out and practice, practice, practice," she said.
Her fame has spread by word of mouth and she has done programs in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and throughout Pennsylvania. She does about two portrayals a week at conferences, churches, fire halls and other venues.
John Baker travels with her and back ups her program with prayer.
"He's 100 percent supportive," she said.
The couple have been active in other ministries, having served as youth leaders for more than 20 years. LuAnne Baker is also serving a third term as the Western Pennsylvania Christian & Missionary Alliance women's director. While John is retired, she continues to work as a secretary for the Purchase Line School District.
Pastor Tim McGarvey of Altoona Alliance said he has wanted to have Baker give a portrayal at this church for some time. He said he saw her do "The Innkeeper's Wife."
"She's a very creative writer," he said, "and very good at drama. That 30 minutes went so fast."