Believe Me?

Movie Producer Alex Carroll dove into the film industry with two friends after graduating from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. They wanted to engage with other people and challenge them to “ask the right questions” about life.” Their latest movie, “Believe Me,” released this month, makes people laugh while challenging them to face tough questions about truth and the choices we make.

The New York Times has a review of the film Here.

War Cry: How did you get into the film industry and form Riot Studios?
Alex Carroll: I saw Will Bakke’s first documentary, “One Nation Under God.” He made it with Michael Allen while they were in college. We have been friends since high school. As a young entrepreneur, I was learning how to spot talent. I saw the talent in Will and Mike and just said, “Man, I want to be a part of that.” We’ve been in the film industry now for 4 ½ years. We just wanted to spend our time on stuff that we feel matters. We want to tell good stories and make compelling art that challenges people. It would be terrible for us to spend three years on a movie that didn’t mean anything and didn’t go deeper.

WC: Your earlier film, “Beware of Christians,” consisted of your crew traveling through Europe and asking people what they thought about God and religion. How has working on that movie and “Believe Me” influenced your views on contemporary Christian culture?
AC: It has made me question why more people don’t ask more questions. Working on “Beware of Christians” and traveling around the country talking about the film and getting to converse with high school students and college students about Jesus, about our faith in God, made me realize that we are not asking the right questions about why we believe what we believe.

WC: What was your role as producer for “Believe Me?”
AC: To oversee, manage and pick and choose people for different positions within the film. I was involved with the script while Michael and Will were writing it. Then we planned how to shoot it, and how to raise the money for it. We had made enough money by the grace of God through “Beware of Christians” to justify raising the amount we needed. Then I had to figure out who to work with to cast the film.

WC: What do you hope the movie will accomplish?
AC: First and foremost, I hope it makes people laugh. We wanted to tell a great story about four guys in a comedy of errors. Second, when people walk out of the movie, we hope they begin a dialogue about what Sam should do as the movie ends. Tell the truth? Come clean? Cover it up? Something that can lead to deeper, meaningful conversations. I think one thing “Believe Me” does well is to challenge the idea of platforms. Alex Russell, our lead actor who plays Sam, is a good–looking, charismatic guy. When you see him preaching you don’t really question what he’s saying and where his heart is. You just listen to him because he’s on a stage and he’s got great production value and it looks and feels good. Do we believe because someone stands on a stage and sells something to us, or do we believe it because it is truth? Taking classes in college like The Problem of God opened up so many questions about the authenticity of the Bible, like “Why should we believe what they’re saying? How do we know all of these things are true?” I think it’s really important for believers to keep challenging what they believe so they can understand it better.

WC: What compels you to probe those deeper questions?
AC: Our understanding and our relationships with Jesus. Your voice can come through the script in a lot of different ways, in the way that we treat our crew, the cast, the people we employ. I love making film. We’re fascinated by the film industry, we’re fascinated by all of these actors, just the whole process in general. We’d never done this before and being able to come out the other side with a pretty good movie is very exciting for us.

WC: “Believe Me?” questions Christian stereotypes, and suggests we look beyond them to live more honestly. In movie land, people are all about playing roles and wearing masks. We all do. How are audiences reacting to such honesty? What do you think they are looking for in such movies as yours?
AC:
Our primary intended audience is young adults who either grew up in the Christian culture or have an understanding of who God is. The millennials in general don’t process message–driven or unauthentic media at all. If the director in the film has an agenda, people can see right through it. The success of “Beware of Christians” came from us being authentic in front of the camera. When you’re authentic and you are true to the characters in your story and in your script, that goes down better than anything else. Since I am 25 and this is my first feature film, I can’t say I know what audiences want, but one thing that helps with younger audiences is pacing. Because of social media, smart phones and technology, people’s attention spans are so much shorter now. We took a two-hour film and cut it down to 89 minutes. You have to cut out every single piece of dialogue that isn’t perfect for the story. And it is so much more fun when you’re sitting in a theater and people are able to laugh out loud.

WC: How did you come to faith?
AC:
I came to faith my senior year in high school. I was brought up in a church home but my parents didn’t force me to go church. When I turned 16 they said I could do whatever I wanted on Sunday. I began to realize that life wasn’t about me. And like everyone I wondered, “How the heck was I here?” “Who created me?”

WC: What stories or writers inspire you?
AC:
Books like Crazy Love and Forgotten God, and people like Tim Keller and Francis Chan.

WC: Recently films about Christianity and faith have attracted a lot of attention. Do you see signs that the revival might be sparked in part by Hollywood?
AC:
Honestly, I think the only reason Hollywood is interested in Christian films is because these movies are bringing people out of the woodwork to buy movie tickets. Agents and studio sales want to get in on the action.

WC: I understand you have a unique way of marketing “Believe Me.”
AC:
We’ve implemented this new system where we just pay our fans and consumers to promote the film. You just put in your email address at believemefilm.com, and once you confirm your account we give you unique links. Every time you share that link on Twitter and Facebook and say something like, “check out this cool trailer for the film and someone clicks on it, you get paid .10¢.

WC: How do you maintain your equilibrium and not let the pursuit of success and the trappings that go with it infringe on your goals?
AC:
It’s not very hard now. It’s not very cool to spend a bunch of money and be in debt at a young age. We’re just nerds trying to make movies. That stuff can get in the way, but we have a balanced work life and social life. Michael and I are both married, have amazing wives and are active in our churches. You have to realize where your priorities are and what’s most important in life. It’s definitely not all wrapped up in the success of “Believe Me.”

WC: Is there anything else you want us to know?
AC:
Go see “Believe Me” and if you like it and want us to make another movie, we will be able to do that through your support of the film. The wave of the future for some in the film industry is developing a brand and a fan base around the type of voice people want represented in the film world.

Turning Point

It was Tuesday afternoon at three o’clock. Sheryl* sat on the side of her bed clutching a tiny cellphone as if inside it held a magic key that would unlock the door to a whole new world. The world she imagined was free of demeaning words and hard fists, a place where she could play outside with her kids and wear that pretty yellow sundress with the butterfly sleeves. Sheryl felt like she was inside one of those cartoons with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, each arguing about the pros and cons of calling the number for the Salvation Army shelter she’d found on a card in the gas station restroom. She pictured the look on the faces of her two little girls the evening before when her husband had her pinned to the couch as he spewed vulgarities about her inability to cook a decent meal. When he let her up, he spun on his heels and caught the bridge of her nose with his fist, leaving her with a noticeable L-shape at the top and two blackened eyes.

The angel on her shoulder reminded her of the example she was setting for her girls and cautioned her that they could be his next targets. The devil told her he’d kill her if he found her and reminded her that she didn’t have two nickels to rub together, let alone enough money to pay rent on her own. And so she sat, urgently praying to a God she hadn’t talked to since the first night she’d become a human punching bag.

Making major life decisions can be difficult, but for the victim of domestic violence, deciding to leave an abuser can be the most serious event of their lives. At that moment, victims must decide their own fate, choosing between the uncertainties of life without their abuser and potentially losing their life if they stay.

Exiting a violent relationship can be very dangerous. An abuser might lash out upon perceiving a loss of power and control. For that reason, it is imperative that victims carefully plan their escape.

Many agencies specializing in domestic violence support services offer a local, 24-hour hotline where victims can find out about available resources and enter an emergency shelter. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) can be reached from anywhere in the United States and provides information about services available near the caller’s location.

Joshua 1:9 provides encouraging words about the decision to leave. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Domestic violence shelters across the country exist to ensure that survivors indeed have a place to go that is safe and supportive during such as terrifying time. The Salvation Army Turning Point, one such shelter in Roanoke, Virginia, houses up to sixty survivors. Here skilled staff members feed and clothe victims and attend to their spiritual needs as they begin the healing process. They keep them safe behind fences with razor wire and gates with magnet locks. They walk them through the legal process and partner with community agencies for counseling services, housing assistance and job training. They greet survivors with an open door and an open heart, and walk alongside them on a journey toward independence and wholeness.

It was Tuesday afternoon and the hotline phone rang at the Salvation Army Turning Point. The counselor listened as the caller paused — the kind of pause that lets you know the person on the other end is trying to summon up the courage to utter the first syllable. The counselor offered up a silent prayer, “Lord, help us both,” before hearing the words “My name’s Sheryl and I need a place to stay.”

The War Cry: Ever Constant, Ever New

From The Salvation Army Today:

The Salvation Army’s War Cry in the USA is one of few publications in circulation since 1881. Today, The War Cry continues to carry stories, articles and features that foster hope and renewal for individuals, families, and communities.

Domestic Violence: How to Help Those Who Stay

The pain and power struggles between men and women in unhealthy romantic relationships can surface in a variety of violent ways: harsh words or manipulative behavior that assault victims’ minds, physical attacks such as slaps or squeezes that hurt but don’t cause serious injuries and more aggressive violence such as kicks, punches and attacks with weapons that result in bruises, broken bones or even death. Sometimes the violence includes sexual abuse, such as assault and rape.

Domestic Violence is a pervasive problem in the United States. Each year, approximately 960,000 domestic violence incidents take place between Americans, according to a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 85 percent of the victims are women; 15 percent are men. More than six million children witness violence taking place between their parents and other adults in their homes every year.

Yet despite the prevalence of domestic violence, only 25 percent of the incidents in 2013 were reported to the police, the study shows. When such crimes go unreported, the violence can continue for years or until people are killed. On average, the study reveals, three women and one man will be murdered in the United States every day by their spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends. About 75 percent of the time, victims are murdered either while they’re in the process of trying to leave their abusive partners or after leaving, according to the Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys, which also says that abused women make an average of seven attempts to leave their abusive partners before they finally are able to do so.

While it seems obvious to people who want to help domestic violence victims that leaving abusive relationships is a good idea, those who are caught in the dangerous web of such violence often choose to stay. Why? The reasons are complex…

Fear of what could happen if they try to leave is a significant issue for domestic violence victims. They may be afraid of being harmed or killed or they may fear that their abusers will carry out suicide threats after the relationship ends. Victims who are parents also may fear losing their children if they try to leave.

Sometimes wishful thinking plays a role in keeping victims stuck in domestic violence. Many victims love the romantic partners who abuse them, and abusers may apologize and act lovingly in between violent incidents, so the people who suffer abuse often want to believe that their partner will eventually change.

If victims are financially dependent on the people who abuse them (such as stay-at-home moms married to abusive husbands), or if they’ve become isolated from family and friends (as many are, since abusers tend to try to control their partners using isolation) they often worry that they won’t have the economic or emotional resources they need to support themselves and their families if they leave.

Since the experience of going through domestic violence can shatter victims’ self-confidence, they may eventually come to feel as if they simply don’t deserve to be treated better in a romantic relationship—so they won’t bother trying to leave the one they already have. Or, they may feel so worthless and ashamed that they don’t think they could ever attract the love of a healthy romantic partner.

Misguided spiritual beliefs may also lead victims to stay in violent romantic relationships. They may believe that in order to faithfully obey God’s call to forgive those who hurt them, they must reconcile with the people who abuse them—even though reconciliation isn’t necessary to forgive, and reconciling is unwise when abusers haven’t repented and changed. If victims are married, they may believe that since God designed marriage to be a lifelong relationship, they should stay married no matter what—even when they’re being abused. Sometimes they interpret the biblical call to sub-mission in marriage as a command to do whatever their spouse demands—even though God never intends for people to submit to sinful behavior like abuse.

Understanding these reasons for staying can help you fight frustration in your efforts to help people you know who are caught in domestic violence situations. If you remind yourself of how challenging it can be for people to leave and acknowledge the reality that some will never leave—you can avoid the temptation to give up your efforts to help, and approach each situation with grace. By being patient and nonjudgmental with victims, you can earn their trust, which will put you in the right position for God to work through you to bring real change to victims’ lives.

While you may not see those you care about leave their abusive situations, you can still do a lot to help them right where they are, especially if you rely on God to guide you in the process. So the next time you’re in contact with someone who’s suffering domestic violence, tell the person honestly that you’re concerned about her or his safety and want to do whatever you can to help. But also assure the victim that you will respect any request to keep information that she or he shares confidential. Make sure the person knows that she or he can risk being completely open and honest with you about the situation.

Then make yourself available to listen whenever the person you’re hoping to help chooses to share thoughts and feelings with you. The gift of listening is precious to someone who is dealing with pressures of navigating domestic violence. After listening, refrain from judging and instead promise to pray about whatever the person has shared with you. Finally, offer to help in any practical ways that might make the victim’s life easier, such as providing a meal, childcare or transportation when needed.

Domestic violence victims desperately need to know that they can safely open up to a caring person about they’re going through. With God’s help, you can be that person for someone!

For the number to Salvation Army Domestic Violence Shelters in the United States, Click Here.

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By Whitney Hopler

Battered to Blessed

He reeled me in by pretending to care. He hooked me with his sympathetic ear, but it was all smoke and mirrors. In sharing myself, I gave him the formula, so he knew how to hurt me. He recreated the rape, and his disturbed mind experimented with new ways to traumatize me that I dare not write about.

This man was a magician. He distracted me with slight of hand, and he never told me anything intimate about himself. I was a CIA agent; he was a domestic terrorist who just wouldn’t confess.

During the relationship, I invited Christ to be my Savior. My boyfriend’s blatant blasphemy and attempts to deter me from church were the hardest things I had to endure. All the while, I prayed fervently for his salvation. The nearer I drew to God, the worse his demeanor became. Don’t ever date someone who is unequally yoked! “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?”(2 Corinthians 6:14).

One evening he came home at midnight. I went to bed at 3:00 a.m., and he roused me from my sleep around 5:00 a.m. Jumping on the bed, he exclaimed: “Heather, wake up, they’re trying to erase you!”(Later I realized that was a line from a movie.) At first I thought he was joking, but I was entering a whole new nightmare.

He punched out all the windows in our living room, and I called 911. “There’s something wrong with my boyfriend.” Outside, I was coherent and aware but inside I felt confused and petrified. He was running around in his shorts and jersey at the supermarket across the street. The operator encouraged me to call him back inside.

He stormed the front door with ferocious tenacity, followed me to the kitchen and started beating the living daylights out of me. I dropped the phone near the refrigerator. As I felt my life slipping away, I cried,”Oh God, please help me!” After what seemed like an eternity, the Erie Police walked into the house. “Get away from her or we’ll mace you.”

Unfortunately, they hit me too, but I was just grateful my heroes were finally there to catch my villain in the act. They took him away, handcuffed and hog tied, assuming he was on PCP.

I thank God and the Erie Police Department for saving my life. I’m here for a purpose! God has plans for me! “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

After my grandma and I visited my boyfriend in the hospital, we both decided that the man I should stand by was Jesus. Grandma bought me a mobile home outside of the city, and my entire life changed. Reclaiming my salvation in Christ, and therefore my victory, I began storming the harvest fields with a consuming fire.

If not for all the horrible things we go through, most of us wouldn’t see our need for Christ because of our brokenness. God allowed me to go through all this and more in order to make me strong, yet He has kept me gentle enough to help others through their experiences. “He comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others when they are troubled. We will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to tolerate abuse or any other type of mistreatment. Just the opposite is true. The Scriptures clearly command: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19). God showed us how to love by sending His son to live among us (John 3:16).

We need to realize what love is and what it isn’t. Love is not verbal, financial, spiritual or sexual abuse. It requires direct, honest communication. It means serving others and showing them they’re important to you through your actions. It is also about accepting love from others, which you deserve as a child of God. Love also calls for self-sacrifice. So be the embodiment of Jesus and seek out others who do the same! Saying you love someone isn’t enough.

If someone is hurting you, emotionally, physically, or psychologically, you have one option: leave! If you don’t, you are disrespecting yourself and God. “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Care for yourself as though you are sacred inside, because you are!

I’ve seen God in all His glory manifested in people I have met. Near the point of my “prison escape” from my boyfriend, the non-judgmental, encouraging counselors at Safe Net, a domestic violence outreach center, gave me the courage to shake off the handcuffs of my stronghold and put on my new clothes in Christ! They encouraged me to get a Protection from Abuse order (PFA) and they went to court with me.

I spent a lot of time alone with God. When I learned what real love is through searching the scriptures, I no longer needed anyone else. Praise God,who has promised, “I will not fail you nor abandon you” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 1:5). In addition to giving me eternal life, He saved me from myself and gave me my freedom back. I’d give up everything all over again just to have the peace that Christ gives me. “His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

My prayer for all readers who are feeling imprisoned is that you will prayerfully reflect on the unconditional love of God! I pray you will love yourself, that you will boldly walk away, and then spend time with God to see things clearly before you begin a new relationship. Pray expectantly that God will send the right people into your life. Don’t forget: “He’s able to accomplish infinitely more than we would dare ask or hope!”(Ephesians 3:20)

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By Heather Dalrymple