Lt. Col. Randall Raymer, a 40-year Salvation Army officer, as pastors in the denomination are called, needed a miracle.
Four years into his job leading the evangelical Christian group’s Texas operations, Lt. Col. Raymer saw business at the Hoblitzelle Camp and Conference Center, a 1,000-acre property in Midlothian, Texas, “stopped immediately” in 2020 by the global pandemic. No camps for inner-city and disadvantaged youth, no rentals to Christian groups. Nothing.
“Nobody was renting the place,” he recalled. “At a camp [this size], it’s a rather large budget to try to sustain without any income. We found ourselves in dire straits financially.”
Then came the miracle: Producers for “The Chosen,” the increasingly popular videostreaming series about the life of Jesus, were unable to view a mid-Texas location they’d wanted to use. An assistant to producer Dallas Jenkins suggested Hoblitzelle, named for the Dallas-based foundation that contributed to the acquisition of the property in 1954.
The team drove there, and it was an instant match.
“Dallas and the crew went out there in the middle of this land, and Dallas got a look at one of the hills and said, ‘This is it,’ ” Lt. Col. Raymer recalled. “And from the get-go, he decided, ‘We’re going to film the Sermon on the Mount here. This is where it has to take place.’ ”
A one-year rental agreement is now expanding to cover the entire seven-season projected run of “The Chosen,” Lt. Col. Raymer said. Producers are building a full-size recreation of first-century Capernaum, the town where Peter lived and where Jesus worshipped in the local synagogue, along with a 30,000-square-foot soundstage. Both will be donated to The Salvation Army, and they can use both whenever “The Chosen” isn’t in production.
Another organization that has helped “The Chosen” and also stands to benefit from its production is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Known popularly as the Mormons, the church has constructed a lifelike first-century Jerusalem in the middle of Utah, in a town appropriately named Goshen.
The set has been featured in numerous LDS Church-produced Bible story videos and is renowned for its authentic feel.
Dallas Jenkins, creator and producer of “The Chosen,” said filming in Israel today isn’t practical.
“It’s a tourist place now, it’s actually hard to find authentic parts of Jerusalem or of Israel that could be like the first century,” Mr. Jenkins said. However, he added, “In Utah, the Mormon Church actually built a first-century set recreation of Jerusalem that looks more authentic than almost anywhere I can find in Israel.”
Church officials had not opened the set to non-Mormon productions before, but Mr. Jenkins presented his case to two of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — whom he did not name. The Quorum is the second-highest level of LDS Church leadership.
“I just shared my heart,” Mr. Jenkins recalled. “I [said], ‘Hey I’m not LDS, but I want to tell Jesus stories and make Jesus known around the world.’ … And they believed in the concept of what we were doing.”
A spokeswoman for the production team said the cast and crew are set to return to Goshen, sometime this year, but an exact date has not been determined.