On the bank of the San Diego River, Mission San Diego de Alcalá, California’s first Franciscan mission, represents the birthplace of Christianity on the West Coast. For the past few years, Storyland Studios and Visioneering Studios have been Valley into a new type of mission: the Legacy International Center.
A pioneer of global evangelism since 1961, Morris Cerullo’s wish for his legacy was to create a training center that would continue his ministry long after his passing. But the concept he was dreaming of wouldn’t just be a church and conference center. Instead, he wanted it to be a unique, experiential destination that would offer a taste of Israel, while inspiring visitors from all backgrounds with the impact of global evangelism. That would be a challenge, as the center would be competing with other area tourist attractions, including SeaWorld, LEGOLAND and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
As I got to know Dr. Cerullo, I was impacted with the power of his personal life narrative as a perfect case study of how God writes us into what we ended up calling HIStory: God’s metanarrative of his creation, the redemption of his people and his ever-present place throughout time.
Dr. Cerullo’s inspiring story from a Jewish orphanage to the world stage was an inspiring opportunity for guests to walk away hyperaware of their own potential for impact as disciples of Christ. Our resulting collaboration is hard to describe: part World’s Fair pavilion, part presidential library and museum, part seminary, part resort/conference center and part theme park.
Inspired by San Diego’s rare Mediterranean climate, we conceived of an experiential narrative journey, which would weave inside and outside from an upper level plaza into a high-tech pavilion featuring a dome theater, through an art gallery housed in catacombs and an international bazaar marketplace, and culminating in an homage to Jerusalem’s Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall). The former Mission Valley Resort was demolished and now includes not only the attraction, but also a four-star resort hotel and conference center, shopping and dining. One reporter dubbed the $200 million project “the inverted cathedral.”
THE LEGACY CENTER
When guests enter the main complex, the first thing they see is a giant LED dome of the world that signifies the theme of global evangelism. This flexible first impression can be easily updated, such as transforming it into a digital snow globe at Christmastime. The theatrical pre-show to the rest of the attraction consists of four theater galleries with immersive screens on every wall that tell the story of the world in four parts. Once the pre-show is over, Dr. Cerullo in digital form provides a welcome and orientation to the main event.
The 4D HIStory Dome is equipped with motion seats, allowing guests to experience two different “rides” inside. Walk Through the Bible allows guests to step into the story with all five senses, such as feeling the mist during the parting of the Red Sea and the gut-wrenching vibrations caused by the hammer pounding the nails through Christ to the cross.
Dr. Cerullo had a lifelong collection of eagle sculptures, some of which are on display at the center. After we went to Disney California Adventure and rode Soarin’ Over California together, I proposed that we create an attraction inspired by an eagle’s flight over the Holy Land and our shared experience on the ride.
An additional exhibit shows off biblical artifacts such as a rare 12-foot-long, 350-year-old Torah written on deerskin by a rabbinical scribe in Morocco. The scribe was specially trained to translate and transcribe the Torah. During the transcription process, he was required to carefully adhere to ancient Jewish traditions for cleanliness and holiness. The exhibit also features a 1657 Walton Polyglot Bible.
The theater opens into “catacombs,” an underground recreation of the Catacombs of Rome that serves as an art gallery. The gallery features 3D paintings by Kurt Wenner, which are styled after first century art pieces and tell the story of persecuted humans throughout history.
Kids and families can enjoy the Legends of Lightfall interactive series, based on a gospel-focused comic book. Finally, guests can visit the Legacy of Nations, an educational facility created to train guests from other countries to return home and spread the gospel.
From there, they emerge into the international marketplace, an indoor/outdoor setting modeled after Jerusalem market stalls. At the Western Wall, guests can insert prayer scrolls into the gaps in the wall. The wall’s courtyard opens to a dancing water fountain and Gardens of Faith plaza, which is designed to be a focal point for the region, especially during the holidays.
The Legacy International Center is positioned to become an inspirational hub for evangelism for years to come. By focusing on the legacy of the early church and those who came before, guests will be inspired to reflect on how each of them can use their lives to impact the world for Christ.
To learn more about the Legacy International Center, visit TheCenter.LegacySanDiego.com.