Adventist Illusionist Shares his faith

Hong Kong: Things Aren't Always As They Appear; Adventist Illusionist Shares His Faith

July 27, 2004 Hong Kong, S.A.R., China ....
[Ansel Oliver/ANN]

Adventist illusionist Steve Varro tells a crowd in Hong Kong, July 7, "These are only illusions."

Magician Steve Varro has never pulled a rabbit out of a hat. Ironically, he's allergic to rabbits. But this Seventh-day Adventist performer has plenty of other illusions to keep audiences around the world entertained, all while making use of magic to share his faith.

"These are only illusions," he tells a crowd in Hong Kong, July 7. "But what I'm sharing is not an illusion--the love of Jesus Christ."

Being an illusionist in the Adventist Church has presented some challenges, though minor. Many people, he says, have semantic problems with the word "magic." People have written complaints against him, but none from those who have seen his show.

"You do a coin trick and some people who don't understand it say it's of the devil," says Varro. "Then you show them how it works and then they don't know what to say."

One church leader had strong concerns of him coming to Hong Kong to do "magic" at a youth conference. After the show the same church official told him to come back and do an evangelistic series.

Over the course of the youth conference Varro performed two shows and taught a four-session magic workshop. Then it was off to Indiana for the convention of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians. As immediate past president of the international organization, from 2000 to 2003, he had duties there. While in Hong Kong, he also addressed the Hong Kong FCM chapter.

"Magic has been good to me," says Varro. "It's taken me to 25 countries." He hits the road a lot doing 150 to 200 shows a year at weekend retreats, camp meetings and youth workshops.

His last illusion of a July 9 show is tearing up a newspaper and then reopening it and showing it as it first appeared. During the trick he makes the comparison about how Jesus can take the torn parts of a life and make a person whole again.

One young person rushes up to him after the show and says, "You've got to show me that trick."

He politely refuses.

"If I show them the secret, they'll remember that more than the message," says Varro.

When he was 10-years-old he saw a magician perform and knew that's what he wanted to be when he grew up. "He used me in a trick," says Varro. "He borrowed a dollar bill from the audience and made it appear in an orange that I happened to select."

Obviously, visuals are key in slight-of-hand tricks. But visuals, he says, need to be used more often, whether in church or school. "They add such a dynamic element. We need to start teaching more of these ... and not just to kids," says Varro. "Billions of dollars a year are spent on visual advertising because it works.

"But don't let the trick become more important than the message," he warns.

In his workshop he points out that Jesus used visuals--the coin Jesus asked for in his sermon, for example. Varro encourages future pastors to join theater groups to learn how to better communicate in front of people.

He became a Seventh-day Adventist in 1976. He saw a tract with a picture of a magic hat with the title, "Don't be fooled: things aren't always as they appear."

Varro picked it up and read it, figuring it was warning against magic. It turned out, however, to be explaining the church's interpretation of Saturday as the seventh-day Sabbath. "After that lesson I was converted," he says.

One show that made him nervous was when he had to go on after church leader H.M.S Richards, founder of the Voice of Prophecy radio programs. "I had just become an Adventist and was scared he would be checking to see if my show was kosher," says Varro. "After the show he was the first one who came up to me and he said, 'Young man, (I was young then) there are those who will be opposed to your method, but you have a message that must be heard. Don't let them deter you.'

"I was so honored," says Varro. "It kept me in the ministry."

He now lives in Hermitage, Tennessee, near Nashville with his wife, Barbara. Together they run Dock Haley Gospel Magic Company, selling some 200 tricks with a gospel twist, many of them original.

Before each show he prays that something he says will have a positive influence on someone.

"Of course all performers perform for the accolades," says Varro. "But in Christian performing when you see someone have a closer walk with Christ because of something you've said, that's the main thing."

While waiting backstage he paces back and forth, rechecking his props. He stops in a corner with his fingers on his forehead and says a last-minute prayer. Finally the curtain opens and he walks forward to greet the audience. His finger is on fire.