Faith for the Whole Family
You can catch a glimpse of the full–sized replica of Noah’s Ark from the parking lot, but you don’t really see it until you get closer. That’s when the “wow–factor” kicks in for most visitors to the $100–million Ark Encounter exhibit in Williamstown, Ky.
Captain Luva Blakely, a retired Salvation Army officer, visited the Ark Encounter shortly after it opened two years ago with a group from the Lexington, Ky., Corps. The ark, built to the exact dimensions described in the Bible, is billed as the largest timber–frame structure in the world.
“It’s a masterpiece,” Blakely said. “I found it to be very educational. It just takes your breath away. When you get down under the ark, it’s just so massive. It really puts it in perspective.
“It gives you kind of a new insight into how big it was. I don’t think you realize it until you get there and see that thing. It’s huge.”
Attractions like the Ark Encounter and the nearby Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., both operated by Answers in Genesis (AiG), the young earth creationist ministry, are drawing crowds to America’s heartland for family–friendly vacations. The two attractions are off I–75, about halfway between Cincinnati and Lexington.
“Northern Kentucky has been dubbed ‘the religious vacation place to be in the United States,’” says Patrick Kanewske, AiG’s director of ministry and media relations. “There’s just lots of stuff to do.”
That includes the Newport Aquarium in Newport, Ky., operated by Herschend Family Entertainment (see sidebar).
The main attraction these days is the full–sized Noah’s Ark, which is 510 feet long (1.5 football fields), 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high (five stories.) It took just two years to build using wood from Utah that was milled in Colorado. In contrast, AiG estimates it took Noah 50 to 75 years to build the real one.
“This was the lifeboat for all of mankind,” Kanewske said. “Without the ark, mankind wouldn’t be here.”
Anticipation builds as guests ride shuttle buses from the parking lot to the vessel.
“It’s a ‘wow–factor’ for every age,” Kanewske said. “When people come around the corner on the bus, and the ark is displayed in front of them, they say, ‘Whoa! It’s really amazing!’
“When you get inside and see the sheer size and how the timber framing is done, it’s another ‘wow–factor.’”
The ark, which has three decks of state–of–the–art exhibits, opened in July 2016, exactly two years after the groundbreaking.
“In our first two years, we had more than 2 million people come through here,” Kanewske said. “I’ve seen people here from every continent but Antarctica. It’s been something that people really, really want to see. They’re just in awe of what this is all about.
“Our organization is here to proclaim the truth. We’re a Bible–believing apologetics organization and we present the gospel here and at the Creation Museum.”
The exquisite woodworking and craftsmanship inside are as awe–inspiring as the ark’s size. The timber–framing was done by a crew of 100 Amish craftsmen from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky.
One of the unique features of the interior is that 62 large tree trunks, mostly Douglas fir and Inglemann spruce, serve as beams and extend all the way to the roof.
Visitors, who move between decks via long ramps through the center of the ship, are immediately greeted by a sign explaining the creative license AiG took with some elements of the ark.
“What we did was a lot of hypothesis,” Kanewske said. “We didn’t take leaps of faith, but how can we answer a question before we have the question? For example, ‘What is an animal kind? How many animals did that equate to on the ship? How did just eight people feed all those animals?’ We tried to answer questions like that.”
Everyone gets a name
For example, AiG theorizes that God would have brought younger animals to the ark, Kanewske said.
“Noah didn’t have to worry about going out and collecting the animals,” he said. “They came to him. God would have probably brought adolescent animals. God wouldn’t have brought a big, older elephant, for instance. Maybe it wouldn’t have survived the trip. Maybe it was too big and too hard to care for. It was probably an adolescent and that way it would have reproduced after it got off the ark.”
The first deck features models of some animals that AiG believes could have been on the ark (there are only a few live animals on the attraction). Many of the caged animals were made by AiG artisans and are quite realistic, but don’t move.
“A lot of the animals you’ll recognize and some you won’t,” Kanewske explained. “That’s because they’re extinct. We didn’t make any animals for the ark unless we had a fossil record for them or something that dated them back to the time of Noah.
“I think what people appreciate and we’ve heard this from all people groups and walks of life, is that it’s just ‘well done.’ There’s quality in the exhibits. They’re well–presented. We’re not cramming our theology down your throats, but at the same time we’re telling you what the truth is and then we contrast that to maybe what an evolutionist would say. We put both views on there and you decide. To me, the most compelling argument is what God’s Word says.”
The second deck contains more animal models, along with dioramas of Noah and his family feeding the animals and cleaning the ship. You can even ask Noah questions as he sits in his “office” and see his library and wood and metal shops, which are not described in the Bible.
Noah and his three sons are named in the Bible, but not their wives. AiG decided to give them names; Noah’s wife was named Emzara.
“We wanted to humanize them and give them some personality,” Kanewske said.
Taking it all in
One exhibit showcases several children’s books about Noah’s Ark and warns against allegorizing the biblical account. If you can do that with Noah, you can do it with heaven and hell, the warning reads. AiG offers free admission for all of Kentucky’s 175 school districts and overnight youth group trips are also popular.
“If we’re just telling our kids it’s a fairy tale, that’s probably not the right message,” Kanewske said. “It’s a biblical account of really a lot of destruction.”
Another dramatic exhibit shows Noah and his family praying together as the rain falls outside.
“I’ve seen people moved emotionally by what the exhibits display,” Kanewske said. “I go around and talk to people and ask what they think and by far the majority are positive comments.”
The exhibit of Noah’s family in prayer made an impression on Kyle Vogelmann, who drove from Campbellsport, Wis., with his wife, Hannah, and brother, Darryl, to see both the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum.
“That scene of Noah praying with his family really hit home,” Vogelmann said. “It’s like this is the end of the world, but they were being saved. They didn’t know what the future held. We know it as the past, but they didn’t know what it was going to be like.
“Hearing about the ark as a kid, you always see these cartoon pictures and it’s like this little boat with a few giraffes and lions hanging out of it, but then when you see how big it is and you think about the water and the food that was needed, this was a real journey.”
Vogelmann said it was definitely “worth the drive” to see the ark.
“It’s amazing and bigger than I would have guessed,” he said. “It’s hard to put it into words.”
His wife agreed, adding, “Obviously we grew up hearing the biblical account about the ark, but it’s very different seeing it than just reading about it.”
More than animals
Darryl Vogelmann said the sheer size of the ark impressed him, as did the storage for the provisions to feed the animals and Noah’s family. All three of the visitors from Wisconsin grew up on farms.
“When you see it in person, it’s just incredible,” he said. “It’s amazing thinking about the work that not only went into building it but stocking it.”
The third deck includes dioramas of the living quarters and more exhibits, including one showing what life might have been like outside the ark in the time of Noah.
“What we want to do is paint a picture for the guests about what was going on before the flood,” he said. “We start in the Garden of Eden and everything is fine, but then sin enters the world, and things get pretty dark.”
Visitors can also see displays on flood geology, the ensuing ice ages, the Tower of Babel, and two videos, “The Noah Interview” and “As in the Days of Noah.” The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., (see sidebar) also has a small exhibit on the ark.
“There’s a lot of science in here and a lot of educational things going on,” Kanewske said. “It’s not just animals in cages.”
There’s also exhibits on flood legends and the scientific evidence for a global flood.
“People groups throughout the world have stories about a global flood,” he said.
The Ark Encounter has Emzara’s Kitchen, a restaurant named after Noah’s wife. The eatery includes an impressive taxidermy display.
“As near as we can tell, it’s the largest seating–capacity restaurant in the United States with 1,500 seats,” Kanewske said.
The ark, restaurant, parking lot, zip line, and the outdoors Ararat Ridge Zoo cost just over $100 million, about 40 percent of which came from donations, Kanewske said.
“There are a lot of generous people out there who really want to see us succeed,” he said.
Big plans ahead
AiG is already expanding on the 800–acre site in Williamstown and has plans for more.
The Answers Center, with its 2,500–seat auditorium, opened this spring for conferences, movies, speakers, and concerts.
“It’s going to explode our capabilities here at the Ark Encounter,” Kanewske said.
The zoo reopened this spring with about double its original 80 animals, including larger species.
AiG also has plans for a walled city from the time of Noah, a replica of the Tower of Babel, a children’s adventure area, a first–century Jerusalem village with live actors, and an amusement ride featuring the 10 plagues of Egypt from the story of Moses.
“We’re building as we get funds,” Kanewske said. “This is all basically being done with donations, which is really amazing.”
AiG founders Ken Ham, Mark Looy, and Mike Zovath relocated from San Diego to Florence, Ky., just outside Cincinnati, in the mid–1990s. They chose the area because two–thirds of the U.S. population is within a day’s drive.
The ministry started a magazine and began to build support for the Creation Museum, which opened in 2007.
“As the Creation Museum opened, the Ark Encounter dream kept going up the to–do list,” Kanewske said. “They started looking for land and seeing whether it was engineeringly feasible to do something like that.”
AiG first looked at putting the ark near the Creation Museum, but there would have been little room for parking or expansion. The ministry got a good deal on the land in Williamstown about 40 minutes away.
As Kanewske wanders the ark, he urges people not to skip the Creation Museum, which is laid out to address history through what it calls the “7 C’s in God’s Eternal Plan: Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, and Consummation.”
‘I am the Door’
The museum includes a life–like Garden of Eden and takes guests through the life of Christ. There’s also a walk–through insect collection; a dinosaur den; a planetarium; and an 800–seat, 4–D special effects theater, which shows the film “In Six Days.” The museum also offers movies and speakers during the week.
About a third of the museum is undergoing renovation and will reopen in November, including sections contrasting God’s Word with man’s word and highlighting the authenticity of the Bible and the book of Genesis.
“We’re making it more relevant and giving it a facelift,” Kanewske said. “The exhibits at both locations are world–class and we make no bones about presenting the gospel as well.”
For example, one of the more touching parts of the ark is the large “door,” where visitors like to have their picture taken. A sign quoting John 10:9 reads, “I am the door. Whoever enters through Me will be saved.” It is just one of many references to Christ.
“The door is really a metaphor for salvation,” Kanewske said. “How did the family and the animals reach safety? That was through the door, so we really play up the door quite a bit.”
The ark’s last exhibit, called “Why the Bible is True,” is another example of Jesus permeating everything.
“One of the things that’s really great about this organization is we don’t equivocate on our stance,” Kanewske said. “We’re presenting and proclaiming the truth and the gospel from the Bible’s very first verse.”
by Robert Mitchell
Sight & Sound Theaters
Our purpose (of Sight & Sound Theaters) is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sow the Word of God into the lives of customers, guests and fellow workers by visualizing and dramatizing the scriptures, through inspirational productions, encouraging others and seeking always to be dedicated and wise stewards of our God-given talents and resources.
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Museum of the Bible