It was the day after Christmas, 1983, and I had every reason to be happy. I had been a Christ follower for two years and had realized my dream of becoming a missionary. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something important – something vital – was still missing in my life. All of which led me to pray, and that meant taking a walk – preferably in the woods or some other natural setting.
It was late afternoon when I set out behind my mother-in-law’s house in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The temperature was below freezing and the sun low on the horizon. I thrust my hands deep into my pockets and merged with the woods. Before long, I found myself reaching the crux of the matter. Behind my restlessness, my unease, was the question of what God wanted me to do with my life. What did he really want me to do? I felt as if I was somehow off the mark – not completely out of his will, but off the mark. As I stood watching the sky turn deep blue in the twilight, it seemed as if I could discern God answering my question with a question of his own: “Well, Cris, what do you want to do with your life?”
Therein ensued a “conversation” which I might roughly transcribe as follows:
- Well, Lord, I would like to make feature films for your honor and glory.
- Then go ahead and do it.
- Uh, excuse me, Lord, but that’s a very expensive proposition. Making a feature-length film costs millions of dollars.
- Well, Lord, I really can’t do that. I mean, how can I do that? I don’t have the money. The only way I could do that would be if you were to become my executive producer.
- As I was the friend of Abraham, so will I be your friend. Go and do it.
I stood awhile and continued to look at the dark blue sky. A peace had come over me. I still feel that peace today when I think of my calling to make films for the honor and glory of God.
Not many months after, I was praying one night in my infant son’s bedroom at our home in Miami when I saw two words in front of me. It’s hard to explain, but it’s as if the words were suspended in air, floating before my eyes. Those two words were “Messenger Films”. Again, several months passed. Convinced I should take Luke 12:33 literally, I sold our worldly possessions and gave the money to the poor and to Christian ministries. I only kept enough to buy a used motor home. I took my young family back to New York (where we had lived previously) and told our former pastor that I had returned to launch Messenger Films, a ministry dedicated to the spreading of the gospel through films.
Right away, I began research on a film based on the life of Charles Finney and the great revivals in upstate New York during the early 1800s. Within three months, however, with no income from my “filmmaking” and a family to feed, I began to work as an electrician’s helper for a deacon in the church. During the six months I held this job, I nearly killed myself on two occasions and nearly killed my boss once. It was time to look for other employment.
I resisted the idea of taking a job better-suited to my college education because I was afraid it would distract me from my mission of Christian filmmaking. Instead, I became a deliveryman for several of the finer pizzerias on Staten Island. My tenure lasted almost three years, during which time I produced no films. I was on the verge of throwing in the towel. While I had often declared that, like Paul, I must be obedient to the heavenly vision, I had begun to question whether or not I had interpreted the vision correctly, or had even heard from God in the first place. In addition to a son, I now had a daughter, and a third child was on the way. My family and I were living in poverty. As a “breadwinner”, the food I usually brought home was leftover pizza.
At night, after work at the pizzeria and before going home, I sometimes took to the dark solace of Clove Lake Park on Staten Island. It would usually be close to midnight when I got there, and all would be quiet and still. I would walk into the woods, find a clearing among the trees, and pray. I told God that Messenger Films would be like Samson – no razor would touch its head. I often brought to mind Isaiah 50:7: The LORD God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
I don’t know how I held on, really. God’s grace was sufficient. One day, I heard Derek Prince speaking on Christian radio. I can’t remember the details of his message now, but the “moral of the story” was to not give up on your calling. Through that radio message, and other gentle reminders of God’s presence, I found the strength to set my face as flint again. Several months later, friends at church gave me sufficient money to make a trip to California, where I landed a job with a Christian film company, my first job in Christian filmmaking. A year later, I went to Mexico with my family to make my first film, Ropa Nueva para Felipe (New Clothes for Felipe) which is still being distributed around the world today. Making this film also led to the incorporation of Messenger Films as a 501(c)3 corporation in 1988.
CBN (The Christian Broadcasting Network) learned of the film and decided to order prints for their evangelistic work in Latin America. This, in turn, led to a job offer by CBN International, and my family and I moved to Virginia Beach in 1991. In 1996, as a co-production with CBN International, we released our second film, also in Spanish, ¿Con Quién Te Vas? (With Whom Will You Go?).
Final Solution, a feature film shot in South Africa, was finished in 2002 and released in 2003. It is also still being seen throughout the world. The Lord has since allowed me to write and direct More Than Dreams, First Landing, The Bill Collector, Undaunted and Sabina K.
Through the ups and downs of these past thirty years, I can testify to this: "Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4) A related verse is: "I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:8) My prayer is that God will continue opening doors allowing us to make films speaking to the deepest needs of the human heart.