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Building the Indoor Life Size Replica of the Tabernacle of Moses - Humble Beginnings, by Dr. Terry Harman

Updated: Feb 8

1984 Flannelgraphs of the Bible

In 1984 I began working part-time as an Interfaith Chaplain for the Illinois Department of Developmental Disabilities. My contractual assignment was to be one of the chaplains for the Shapiro Developmental

Center in Kankakee, Illinois. At that time, there were approximately 900 "developmentally disabled residents" that lived on the campus. I was working on my first master's degree and was accustomed to writing expository sermons on the Bible. Well, that's at least what I thought I was doing. Looking at some of those old sermon manuscripts, I say, "What in the world were you trying to say?" I may have received the invitation from the clergy to speak, so when they returned to the pulpit the next week, the people were thankful. They did not have to endure me again!

Photos by Terry Harman 2003

I was excited to be able to serve the institution. I planned to stay through the completion of my master's degree and then move on to "an assignment where I could teach the deep truths of the Bible to a hungry audience. There was one problem. I could not communicate what I was learning from the Bible. I'd taken all the right courses in Communication, Homiletics, Expository Preaching, and every "Old Testament" course the university offered. But everything was in my head and not in my heart. In their childlike manners and questions, the residents of Shapiro forced me to learn how to communicate.

I remained at Shapiro for 22 Years

I fell in love with the residents and the staff. I was fortunate to work alongside my mentor and fellow chaplain, Rabbi Minard Klein, of blessed memory. I was where the Lord wanted me to serve. I was taught by the residents many powerful principles about life, being a servant, and how to communicate "biblical principles to a sight and sound generation." Where did I learn how to teach biblical principles? I started with Flannelgraphs. My favorite lessons were on the Tabernacle of Moses!

The actual Flannelgraph I cut out for a lesson at Shapiro in 1984. I keep it as a reminder of Zechariah 4:10a NLT.

"Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin."

Beyond Flannelgraphs - High Priest Garments

For many years I've been known as The Tabernacle Man. I cannot explain it, but everything about the Mishkan or Tabernacle of Moses excites me, and the fire was ignited while I was serving as a Chaplain at Shapiro. My first attempt to go beyond the Flannelgraphs was to craft the High Priest garments.

I used simple red coat wool painting the designs with fabric paint. The turban was made from a black plastic Halloween caldron covered with glued-on white fabric and a gold-painted crown cut out of tin attached with a blue ribbon. The unengraved stones were made from colored plastic and glued onto the breastplate. There were speaking engagements once or twice a year. I am humbled as I look at the 2000 picture of my first garments compared with the handwoven garments and engraved stones pictured in 2022.

September 11, 2001

I was visiting the life-size Tabernacle of Moses in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The teacher for the exhibit, Rev. Richard James Ludig, age 73 at the time, ignited a fire in my soul. His teaching style captured my imagination and intellect. I brought my second set of woven garments made earlier to show him. Once he saw the breastplate and garments, he said, "My brother, the Lord will use you today to help me teach the Tabernacle of Moses. Put those garments on and meet me at the entrance of the Tabernacle in 15 minutes. Go ahead now. Get to it."

That day I whispered a prayer asking the Lord to help me build a tabernacle like the one I saw before me. It seemed like an impossible task. Rev. Ludig lived until the age of 91. His memory is a blessing. Pictures were taken by my friend - Pastor James L. Sparks.

Terry pictured with Dick Ludig in 2001 with 2nd Set of Garments now Woven on a loom.

I knew in my heart teaching the Mishkan was what I was born to do. Honestly, I never believed the prayer would come true. I had the garments. The cost alone for the rest of the furniture and Tabernacle structure would be enough to deter anyone. I offered the prayer anyway and hoped for the best.

Building the Furniture

In 2003, my son Aaron and I built the altar of burnt sacrifice in our driveway! The neighbors thought we were crazy, so we moved inside the garage for filming. My wife was elated to see the transformation of her garage. I painted the garage floor flat black and asked her to hold the extension cord so Aaron could snap a picture. Aaron and I kept building pieces and taking "process shots" of everything we made.

Altar of Burnt Sacrifice - Photo by Aaron Harman © 2003.

Adding the Walls

At one point, I had the garments, all the furniture, 9 PVC pillars, and one veil' So I decided to build the walls for a side view of the Tabernacle. In 2006, I could only stretch my faith to build 12' x 27" x 6" Styrofoam walls painted gold.

Styrofoam walls painted gold with furniture and pillars - Photo Aaron Harman, © 2006.

Feeling Like a Mannequin

Congregations or a television station would ask me to come dressed in the High Priest's garments as the designated speaker or pastor would deliver their sermon on the garments or duties of the High Priest or the ark of the covenant. I could not get speaking engagements.

In my heart, I believed, "What I help others do the Lord will do for me one day."

I did my best to be humble and generous with my time and the teaching props the Lord made possible. I've never felt comfortable doing ministry by setting fees and writing contracts. Several people told me I was crazy for "not charging a set fee" to come dressed in biblical costumes or to bring the ark of the covenant. Honestly, there were times I cried as I drove several hours to return home with my 12-foot trailer in tow.

Adding a Model of the Tabernacle

In 2008 I commissioned a craftsman in Cleveland, Tennessee to construct an 8' x 5' model of the Tabernacle of Moses. At that time, I thought, "I have everything I need to build a teaching ministry. I'm ready for the road."

8'x5' Model of the Tabernacle of Moses - Photo by Terry Harman © 2008

Facing Discouragement

Too often, I departed for home with the "honorarium," which did not cover the costs of my trip. Smaller congregations of 75 or 100 were better stewards of my time. The small congregations were always appreciative, and their sacrificial offering was just what was needed. Over time, I became more selective in saying, "Yes. I will come." I was learning a valuable lesson in ministry.

The larger the seminar or congregation, the more painful the experience might be for me.

Once, my son Aaron traveled seven hours with me to Ohio for a three-day conference. It was a disaster. The promised help for setting up was nowhere to be found. The custodian saw my dilemma and helped Aaron and me.

When I looked at the speaking agenda, I learned there had been a change. I was no longer one of the teachers. The brochure had a caption at the bottom. "We thank Terry Harman for providing the wonderful displays that will be used throughout the conference." The promised hotel room and meals that were agreed upon did not materialize. A check for travel expenses - "not available at this time."

A Raven Came to Feed Me

I was hurt and wanted to pack up and leave, but I did not because I did not know what I would say to Aaron. Early Monday morning Aaron and I returned home. Aaron was tired and sleeping. I wept. My heart was crushed, and I wanted to throw in the towel. My cell phone rang at 7:30 AM. On the other end was an encouraging voice said,

"Brother Harman. This is Apostle Wilson from Valley Kingdom Ministries in Chicago, Illinois. The Lord laid you on my heart this morning as I was praying. Can you come to the Valley to preach?"

"The Valley Experience" was my first time being asked to "bring your stuff and teach us the Word." This invitation came on the heels of the disappointing Ohio conference. The "offering at the Valley was more than I'd ever received. In fact, it was larger than my two-week paycheck from the prison. Apostle Wilson became "my brother from another mother." We've been "covenant brothers" for many years.

Several times he has called, not knowing my circumstance, but it has always been what the Bible calls a "suddenly" moment in my life. He has continued to encourage me through the years. The honorarium from "The Valley" taught me another valuable lesson.

The Lord heard the cry of my heart and would remember my faithfulness.

Time to Build Real Walls

By 2012 All the furniture was added to the collection with a few animals as props to illustrate the Levitical

offerings. In the spring of 2012, my friend Gary Plunk who builds custom furniture agreed to work with me to upgrade the Tabernacle display. Plans were drawn. The lumber was delivered to his shop in Michigan City, Indiana. We decided to use 1/8-inch-thick birch sheets to enclose the wood skeleton framing. The silver sockets would be constructed with 5/8-inch plywood to act as a firm base for the display.

Over the winter of 2012-13, we framed every wall 27" wide and 6" deep. It was a labor of love. Without the craftsmanship of Gary and the use of his woodshop, the project would never have happened.

The speaking engagements were few and far between. I was uncomfortable asking for donations and partners in the project.

I told the Lord, "If you are crazy enough to lay this project on my heart and trust me to obey, then the costs will be your problem. When there is a piece, I don't know how the craft. Send someone with that skill my way." The Lord sent people my way to build what I could not do alone. I was fearful to ask for donations. Therefore, the costs were borne by my wife and me.

All the materials, teaching props, and labor costs were paid for by personal funds from our counseling business and my second job at the prison. My wife was understanding and supported and encouraged me to continue.

Piece by Piece Tabernacle Grew

I wanted to quit and use what was already created. I kept believing, "One day, it will all come together, and it will be clear to me where all this is going." The pictures that follow show how the Tabernacle Project continued to grow.

The display grew, and various teaching props were added to the collection. Slowly, speaking engagements would come in. I still held to "not setting a standard fee" despite many discouraging me from "doing business that way." But the Lord was faithful.

YouTube and a Website

My son Aaron encouraged me to build a YouTube page in 2009. More people were finding me on YouTube and calling for speaking engagements. I expanded my lesson material and spoke whenever my work schedule would allow. My older son Damon kept saying, "You need a website." I was working full-time at the prison as a chaplain.

In 2018, the website came into being. A website was not on my to-do list. I received a call from a pastor in San Diego, California. Pastor David Dailey called and told me he came across "The Tabernacle Man" YouTube page but could not find my website. Then he did something unexpected. He sent a $1,000 donation with instructions to build a website! Aaron, my son, created the website you are viewing today.

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,

Neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are My ways higher than your ways,

And My thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55: 8-9 JPS 1917

Closing Thoughts

When you have a dream, and it sounds impossible, do not give up. If the task is too big for you to accomplish, good. That dream will become a reality. You will know it was the Lord and his people that helped you. Do not despise small beginnings. Using Flannelgraphs of the Tabernacle in 1984, I would not have believed I would have a full-size Tabernacle of Moses to display.

There is a story behind each piece of tabernacle furniture. Blessings were experienced when the veils and walls were erected. In a 50'x100' warehouse, all the videos were filmed. "The Shofar Man," believed in the project and discounted the rental fee for the warehouse. Adam Charles Hershman of "Take 2 Productions" offered his time and talent many late nights until 3:00 AM. T.J. Boozer hung and operated the lights. Gary Plunk invested his skills, tools, and shop at a discounted price to help me bring the vision alive. Dr. David Hamilton of "Mishkan Ministries" would encourage me when I was without hope. Pastor Steve Munsey of Family Christian Center would give me fresh ideas and inspire me to go one more step. Aaron, my son, helped me from age nine onward. Apostle H.D. Wilson allowed me to teach and test my new lessons and props. A special thank you to the congregations of The Salvation Army Corps in East Chicago Indiana, Desplaines Illinois, Grand Rapids Michigan, and the summer camp in Wisconsin. Rabbi Michael Stevens and Principal Francie Gerson of Temple Beth-El graciously offered a classroom in the early days to test out my props during Sunday School and Friday night services. My wife never discouraged the work. She sacrificed many nice things so I might do what I felt called in.

And Then There Was No Tabernacle

Yes, you read correctly. The Tabernacle Man was without a Tabernacle. You might say he was just "a man now without a tabernacle." I no longer have most of what you see pictured. Twenty-two years of blood, sweat, and tears vanished! The Brazen Altar and the Brazen Laver found a home in Houston, Texas. The walls, silver sockets, pillars, veils, animals, menorah, table of showbread, the altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant went to a church in Champaign, Illinois. The first two sets of High Priest garments are now in the hands of other teachers.


You must read my next blog to learn the answer to that question. Just know this. I am not retiring.

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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Excellent…your narrative is cautivant. It memory .

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Jun 07, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Greetings from the town of Cwmbran, Wales, Uk. What a joy to read about your journey. How can a Christian not be blessed when they understand the truths of the tabernacle? Thank you for playing your part in delivering this truth.


Michael Pirtle
Michael Pirtle
Jun 05, 2023

Thank you for your Kingdom work.

Dr. Terry Harman
Dr. Terry Harman
Jun 05, 2023
Replying to

Thank you. May the Lord show you favor as you build the vision cast forth of the City of Refuge


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

What an amazing journey of faith & sacrifice! So many spirits touched through your vision over 22 years! The spiritual harvest field has been sown with beautiful & totally original multimedia projects because you were given great gifts and chose to use them to bring alive these ancient stories, because you were faithful and true - thank you for sharing this story!

Dr. Terry Harman
Dr. Terry Harman
Jun 05, 2023
Replying to

Thank you. Please consider sharing this story with others.


Jun 04, 2023

Thank you for sharing Dr Terry,

This is very encouraging and inspiring . I have a vision to build a life size Tabernacle for teaching purposes, would love to fellowship with you someday.

Dr. Terry Harman
Dr. Terry Harman
Jun 05, 2023
Replying to

Thank you. If this is your vision then start with one small thing then move forward step by step.

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