Teaching the tabernacle

Saskatoon woman uses a life-size model of the Old Testament tabernacle as an object lesson in God’s love

July 31, 2019 | People | Volume 23 Issue 15D
Donna Schulz | Saskatchewan Correspondent
Rosthern, Sask.
Eleanor Funk uses a large red umbrella to illustrate how Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross covers the sins of those who put their trust in him. (Photo by Donna Schulz)

Eleanor Funk has been teaching people about the tabernacle for almost 40 years. “The passion has never left,” she says.


Eleanor, who lives in Saskatoon with her husband Don, grew up in Aberdeen, Sask. After high school, she attended Swift Current Bible Institute and later worked as an interior decorator.


In the 1980s, when Eleanor had lots of time on her hands, a friend suggested that she accompany her to Israel. While there, the friend suggested that Eleanor study the Old Testament. “I thought the Old Testament was just the history of the Jews,” she says, “but, because I respected her, I studied.”


She became intrigued with the description of the tabernacle and wanted to buy a model of it. When she couldn’t find one to purchase, she thought, “Okay, I’ll make one.”


At that time, the Funks attended Circle Drive Alliance Church in Saskatoon. She displayed the model she’d created in the church foyer and was surprised to discover that many adults in the congregation didn’t know what it was.


So the Funks decided to build a life-size model that she could use to teach people about the tabernacle and its meaning for Christians today. The first model lasted 10 years before it disintegrated.


Meanwhile, Eleanor changed careers, taking a job in financial planning, and pursued seminary studies online. She eventually earned a doctorate in biblical studies from International Seminary in Florida.


When Don retired in 2016, the couple decided to build another life-size model of the tabernacle and take it on the road. They also own a gym-sized model and a table-top model. Each model has been used as a teaching tool in Sunday schools and Vacation Bible Schools.


This summer, the life-size model is a special feature at Youth Farm Bible Camp, near Rosthern. Mark Wurtz, Youth Farm’s executive director, says the tabernacle provides an opportunity to “share the story [of Christ] in a way that’s new and engaging.”


This year’s Bible theme is “Jesus: the way, the truth and the life.” Wurtz says that the Funks’ tabernacle is a good fit with this theme, because “the tabernacle is pointing to Jesus.”


“We have kids here that don’t have much idea of what it means to be a follower of Jesus,” he says. “This is one more way of showing them about God’s love.”


He sees the tabernacle as an object lesson, and describes it as “a way for unholy people to meet a holy God.”


Campers learn about the tabernacle as part of skills time. They visit the structure three days in a row. “I don’t give it to them all at once,” says Eleanor. On the first day, they learn about the courtyard. They enter the holy place on the second day, and on the third, they are allowed to see what’s in the most holy place.


There are many lessons to be learned. Just as it was a personal decision for the ancient Israelites to enter the tabernacle through its eastern gate, so each individual must make a personal decision to follow Jesus.


On the bronze altar, where a model lamb sits placidly, lies a large, red umbrella. Eleanor teaches children that Jesus is the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of humankind. When an individual accepts Jesus, the blood of Jesus covers that individual’s sins and God no longer sees their sins, but only sees the blood of Jesus. She illustrates this teaching by opening the umbrella over her head.


The tabernacle is a testimony to her deep faith in Christ. “I have led my life to be searching for him,” she says. “I try to stick as close to Scripture as I can.”


Wurtz says the tabernacle will remain at Youth Farm throughout the fall corn-maze season, giving the public an opportunity to see it and learn its lessons as well. The corn maze opens Aug. 17 and runs until mid-October.

Eleanor Funk uses a large red umbrella to illustrate how Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross covers the sins of those who put their trust in him. (Photo by Donna Schulz)

The bronze altar dominates the courtyard of Eleanor Funk’s life-size model of the tabernacle. The model lamb sitting peacefully on the altar seems blissfully unaware of the fate that awaits it. (Photo by Donna Schulz)

Inside the tabernacle, the priest stands beside the altar of incense, in front of the curtain to the most holy place. (Photo by Donna Schulz)

Along the north wall of the tabernacle stands the table of showbread. (Photo by Donna Schulz)

Two seraphs guard the Ark of the Covenant inside the most holy place. The walls are lined with mirrors to simulate the polished gold that would have overlain the wooden walls of the original most holy place. (Photo by Donna Schulz)

Model sheep graze peacefully in the courtyard of the life-size tabernacle built by Eleanor Funk and her husband Don. (Photo by Donna Schulz)

Eleanor Funk, wearing a blue jacket, teaches campers at Youth Farm Bible Camp about the tabernacle of ancient Israel and how it points the way to Jesus. (Photo by Donna Schulz)

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