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Archive of February 14, 2009

‘Fireproof’ producer sees filmmaking as ministry, not business

San Diego, Calif., Feb 14, 2009 (CNA) - "Fireproof," which was released Jan. 27 on DVD, earned an impressive $33.4 million during its run in theaters. Not bad for a church-produced film that had a production budget of $500,000 and made use of an all-volunteer cast and 14 donated filming locations.

But box-office success is not the yardstick by which the makers of "Fireproof" choose to measure their success.

Stephen Kendrick, the film’s co-writer and producer, explained his outlook on filmmaking during a Jan. 29 phone interview with The Southern Cross. "Our goal has been to make an impact on lives," he said, "rather than to make money."

"If we make money, great. Praise God," he added. "If we don’t, then that’s fine."

"Fireproof" is a production of Sherwood Pictures, a film studio based out of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., where Kendrick serves as senior associate pastor. Unlike most studios, Sherwood Pictures views filmmaking as more of a ministry than a business.

With "Fireproof," Kendrick said he wanted to spread the message that "marriage is worth fighting for and that it is a covenant, as Scripture says, and not just a contract."

The film tells the story of a married couple – firefighter Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron) and his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea) – whose marriage is headed toward divorce. Guided by a book called The Love Dare, Caleb embarks a 40-day journey of personal growth to recapture his wife’s heart and save their marriage. He learns that love should be unconditional and that it is a decision rather than a feeling. Along the way, he opens his heart to God and recognizes that Jesus must be the foundation of a successful Christian marriage.

Kendrick told The Southern Cross it has been "very fulfilling" to know that "thousands upon thousands of marriages are being strengthened, saved [and] turned around" thanks to the film.

"It’s a lot more fulfilling than us going out and doing something for our own glory, or trying to further our careers or make money," he added.

The ministry of "Fireproof" began even before the film was completed.

Kendrick said the filmmaking process itself provided opportunities for ministry and spiritual growth. Even if the film had never been released, he said, each morning of shooting included shared prayer with the cast and crew. In the hands of Sherwood Pictures, he said, "the entire process of moviemaking [was transformed] into a harvest tool for ministry."

And that ministry has extended beyond the film, as well.

A book version of The Love Dare was published to help couples "fireproof" their own marriages. Various marriage resources are also available at www.FireproofMyMarriage.com.

The site, which serves as a companion to the official film Web site, www.FireprooftheMovie.com, includes a section exclusively devoted to "Catholic Resources."

Kendrick co-wrote "Fireproof" with his brother, Alex, who also directed the film and serves as associate pastor at Sherwood Baptist.

But Kendrick does not credit himself with the film’s success or its impact on audiences.

He compares the "best efforts" of the cast and crew to "five loaves and two fish" that God used to make something wonderful.

From a secular point-of-view, Kendrick said, there are many possible explanations for the film’s success: relatable subject matter; solid story-telling; a strong marketing campaign; the endorsement of more than 100 marriage ministries nationwide; and inter-denominational support, which included the endorsements of such prominent Catholic leaders as Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.

There was also the fact that Sherwood Pictures had developed such a strong following that its previous film had earned $10 million in theaters and sold 2 million DVDs.

But any secular explanation falls short, Kendrick said, because it overlooks God’s role in the film’s success. It was God, he said, who provided the storyline, blessed the cast and crew with success on each day of filming, facilitated collaborations with other denominations and marriage ministries, and allowed the film to reach so many people and touch so many hearts.

When congratulated on his box-office success, Kendrick replied: "We’re just thanking God for all that He’s done to make this happen."

As it says during the end credits of each Sherwood Pictures production, "To God be the glory."

Printed with permission from the Southern Cross, newspaper from the Diocese of San Diego.

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Georgia county approves waste station next to church

Lawrenceville, Ga., Feb 14, 2009 (CNA) - After long months of debate and hopeful prayer, thousands of Catholics received bitter news as Gwinnett County, Georgia commissioners voted early this month to rezone land to allow a solid waste transfer station to be built in the city of Norcross, adjacent to Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church.

The rezoning and special use permits were passed by a 3-2 vote.

Both the Gwinnett County Planning Department and Planning Commission had recommended that the requests be denied.

As newly elected District 1 Commissioner Shirley Lasseter made a motion for approval, and while she read aloud 34 conditions that would be placed on the development, nearly the entire auditorium was filled with church members and supporters holding large orange signs that said "NO."

Lasseter paused and addressed the crowd, asserting that the conditions were added to help the community adjacent to the site. They include an 81-truck maximum per day, no deliveries to the waste transfer station on Sundays, and all transfer and sorting activity to be completed indoors.

Other commissioners voting in favor were Charles Bannister, chairman, and Kevin Kenerly, District 4. Bert Nasuti, District 2, and Mike Beaudreau, District 3, voted against the proposal.

After the vote, several members of the Vietnamese community stormed out of the auditorium, some shouting comments as they left. Outside in the hall, the crowd was audibly upset as they discussed their disappointment. Many began chanting, "No trash, no trash."

Dennis Kelly, project manager for Catholic Construction Services, Inc., called the decision "disappointing," especially since the first meeting in November ended with the recommendation by county planners to deny the requests for rezoning and a special use permit.

"They ignored their own employees and appointees and made their own decision," Kelly said of the commissioners.

Father Francis Tuan Tran, administrator of the Norcross mission church, which ministers to nearly 900 families, addressed the press after the vote and echoed the frustration that many expressed.

"I am very, very disappointed," he said, but he added that this is not the end of their fight.

Father Tran said the community would use all of the resources at their disposal to continue their "difficult" fight against the project. He said legal action was one of the options being considered.

He also thanked nearby business owners, the media and members of surrounding communities that supported the church throughout this ordeal, as well as the office of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.

Parishioners who attended the meeting were very vocal in their distaste for the vote.

"I think it is shameful," said a flustered Q.T. Nguyen, a member of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church since it began in 2003. "If the station was next to Mr. Bannister’s house, he would think differently."

"How can we have a waste station right next to the house of God?" he asked aloud.

Chi Nguyen, a parishioner for four years, expressed her concern about the health of the children at the church.

"We believe in the child’s future," she said.

Surrounding business owners were also present and equally distraught.

Blake Dexter, who owns nearly 1.2 million square feet of office and industrial space near the proposed waste transfer station, underlined that the decision went against the recommendations of county planning professionals.

He fears that the Fortune 100 and international companies who currently occupy the space will consider leaving the property if a waste transfer station is built next door.

Dexter also said that he was concerned that the proposition was motioned for approval by the District 1 commissioner because he felt she did not have time to review the issue.

Lasseter just joined the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners in January.

The public debate began last November when Father Tran brought more than 600 people with him to a planning hearing to voice their opposition to the proposition. The meeting ended with a recommendation by county planners to deny the requests for rezoning and a special use permit.

The developer, Lancaster Enterprises, represented by the Mahaffey, Pickens, Tucker law firm, plans to construct two buildings on the nine-acre property. The company claims the buildings will look like office buildings and that all operations will be conducted inside.

However, Holy Vietnamese Martyrs parishioners, as well as surrounding business owners, expressed their concern about air pollution, dangerous truck traffic and increased noise levels that are sure to accompany a solid waste transfer station.

A public hearing on the proposition to rezone the land was held in December before county commissioners. More than 1,000 protestors showed up, filling the auditorium and the halls outside only to learn that the decision would be tabled until Feb. 3.

Father Tran and the church community knew there had to be some action taken, so he and several parishioners reached out to the surrounding Catholic community in other Gwinnett County parishes.

The mission formed 10 groups to visit neighboring Gwinnett County churches to share information.

"This idea actually originated from a comment I overheard that there are approximately 24,000 Catholic families who live in Gwinnett County," said C. C. Nguyen, a parish leader who arranged the visitations.

"How can we ask all of our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us with our fight in protecting our church and our archdiocese’s property from the proposed solid waste transfer station," he asked.

The groups spoke at Masses and also handed out flyers with information on how others could help, including an online petition.

Nearly 10,000 Catholics signed or verbally agreed to join in a petition supporting the stance of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, while others directly called or e-mailed the commissioners.

The Vietnamese church community also held a prayer vigil on Saturday, Jan. 31, from noon until midnight. Catholics from surrounding parishes, including St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, and St. Patrick Church, Norcross, attended the vigil to pray for the community and a good outcome.

However, despite the obvious opposition voiced over and over by thousands of Gwinnett residents, Catholic and otherwise, the proposal was passed.

According to Father Tran, the story does not end here. He said they will use "every available resource" to fight the approval, adding that there is current discussion about bringing legal action against Gwinnett County.

Pat Chivers, communications director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, said the Environmental Protection Agency would also be contacted, since that federal agency has to approve construction of this type of facility.

Printed with permission from the Georgia Bulletin, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

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Prayer groups, online sites good places to find future spouse, Catholic groups say

Denver, Colo., Feb 14, 2009 (CNA) - With the arrival of Valentine’s Day, Catholic organizations around the world are sharing their ideas to help singles find "Mr. or Mrs. Right." 

In England, the Catholic Enquiry Office, an agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has highlighted its ‘soulmates’ online prayer resource.

The resource directs people to their nearest prayer group and encourages people of all ages to consider attending a prayer evening. If they are looking for a husband or wife, the site encourages them to pray to St. Raphael, the patron saint of happy encounters.

The site also features tips from a matchmaker, a St. Raphael novena and links to prayer networks across England and Wales.

Rachel Romain at the Youth Desk of the bishops’ conference, said hundreds of young adults meet in weekly prayer groups across the country.

“It’s not unusual for people to find their future husband or wife at these gatherings,” she remarked in a press release from the Catholic Enquiry Office. “For those young adults who are still searching for their soulmate and also for general direction in life, spiritual networks are an important resource to tap into.”

Martyn and Fiona, who have been married for just over a year, met at one local prayer group.

“When you meet someone in a prayer group your relationship has a different emphasis from the outset, as you learn about one another in a different way,” Martyn said. 

“What's really nice about meeting someone in this kind of environment is that there's no pressure to connect, no expectations like there would be in a pub or nightclub because you're just meeting like-minded people in a safe environment.”

Fiona said that prayer, especially to St. Raphael, has been “central” to their relationship and eventual marriage.

“Shortly before Martyn and I started dating,” Fiona said, “I met with mutual friends who agreed to pray a prayer novena for Martyn and I and within five days we were a couple and we've never looked back.”

Roberta and Amanda, a couple married for 14 years with four children ages six to 13, met on a Catholic pilgrimage of prayer in their twenties.

“I didn't go on the pilgrimage with any thoughts of meeting the man I might marry,” Amanda said, “but we became good friends and remained so for several years before we got engaged”

“Because we had met in a prayerful environment, prayer provided the foundation stone of our relationship in the early years and continues to do so,” said her husband Robert.

Anthony Buono, the founder of the U.S.-based website Ave Maria Singles and a columnist for CNA, agrees that online dating services can be beneficial for couples who want to make faith a part of their relationship.

Speaking about his website, Buono explained how it provides a unique feature, “we start with requiring that you be a committed Catholic, that you have determined your vocation is to marriage, and are ready to make a commitment to the right person.”  

One often overlooked advantage of online dating services is their ability to connect people who would otherwise have never met, Buono noted.

“One couple that stands out for me involves a woman who contacted me 5 times over four years to tell me she was giving up; was done with the ‘online thing’ and wanted to cancel membership. All 5 times I talked her into staying on the site and giving it time because (as I always tell people) you never know when that one person you are praying for will join and discover you.”

“Sure enough,” recalled Buono, “after the 5th time of convincing her to stay and give it more time, a man joined who was 1,000 miles away from her, and contacted her.”  

“A year later they were married and she is happier than she ever thought she could be.  I just know God rewarded her for her faith and perseverance.  They now have three children in their growing family.”

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Nine pro-life protesters arrested in Birmingham allege civil rights violations

Birmingham, Ala., Feb 14, 2009 (CNA) - Pro-life protesters who were arrested on a public sidewalk near a high school in Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday have accused police of violating their ‘basic civil rights.’

The Survivors Campus Life Tour said that nine protesting group members were standing on a public sidewalk near Parker High School distributing educational literature to passing students. Two of the group’s members held large signs and conversed with students on the public sidewalk.

According to the group, a campus officer called the police department when they refused to leave the area.

Over a dozen squad cars reportedly arrived at the school and the police officers began arresting members of the group.

Lahoci Franco, 24, one of the sign holders, was the first arrested. According to the group’s press release, protestor Rev. Henry “Bud” Shaver, 30, was told that the sidewalk was not public property for “non-citizens of Birmingham.”

After other protesters were arrested, another group of Survivors members began packing up their van when officers reportedly approached and arrested them as well.

The protesters then were taken to the Birmingham City Jail, where they were reportedly forced to change into orange jumpsuits. Survivors Campus Life Tour says the protesters were held for six hours without water or access to a phone.

Protesters said they learned several of the guards at the jail also serve as security guards at a local abortion clinic.

The women were released at 7 a.m. and the men at 9 a.m. on Friday morning.

The group claims protesters were released without any citations but were given bond forms stating a “charge of trespassing.”

“We were arrested yesterday because of the content of our message,” claimed Kortney Blythe, Director of the Survivors Campus Life Tours. “It's clear from the attitudes and actions of the police officers that our message of life is not welcome in Birmingham, and prejudice is alive and well in this city. It is a shame that this historic city which saw the Civil Rights movement firsthand continues to refuse basic civil rights to peaceful activists simply on the basis of their message.”

“We are shocked by the Birmingham Police Department's response to our peaceful actions, and we call upon the Chief of Police to initiate a thorough investigation of yesterday's horrifying civil rights abuses,” she continued, saying the group’s pro-life work would continue regardless of the actions of “prejudiced police officers.”

Fr. Terry Gensemer, Rector of the Church of the Reconciler Charismatic Episcopal Church in Fairfield, called the situation “ironic” in light of Birmingham’s history in the Civil Rights Movement.

“The actions by the Birmingham Police Department are not only deplorable and shameful but are in direct conflict with the spirit and passion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated that ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. These young people who have correctly included unborn children as persons deserving of civil rights should be commended, not condemned.”

CNA contacted the Birmingham Police Department for comment but the appropriate spokesperson was not available by publication time.

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