|By: Stephen Wistar; ©2000|
|Stephen Wistar describes a real life woman, whose keen insight into the needs of her neighbors helped create a character in a movie—not to mention revising Bible Study methods used by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Who says the “little people” can’t influence their world!|
John Corts, president and chief operating officer of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, makes no bones about his preferences in movies.
“I like to see strong characters,” he says, “with a clear cut story that has the Gospel in it.”
Corts, who has been affiliated with Dr. Graham’s ministry as a field and crusade director since 1964, says that he thought up the story for Something to Sing About as a composite of his experiences training evangelistic Bible study leaders in New York City.
His inspiration for the godly, endearing African American mother character, Memaw, comes from his own experience as a Billy Graham field manager in New York.
“We wanted a film where the main character would come to Christ early,” says Corts, “so that you could see him through struggles after he came to Christ. We haven’t done that in quite a while.”
Corts says that the inspiration for Memaw came from his meeting discussion group leader-trainee, Sally James, in 1969 in the Bronx.
“I was doing follow-up for the 1969-1970 crusade, in New York City. I was training discussion group leaders in the Bronx. Sally came at the request of her pastor.
“The Bronx was the first place where the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was doing training in earnest. I was doing twenty-five Bible study trainings every week. I’d do one for breakfast, one for lunch, two in the afternoon, and one at night. Then, I’d turn around the next day, and do five more. Five days per week. I was learning as I went. We were teaching them to train others by example. We’d give launch questions and then definitive questions.
“But, Sally stopped me. ‘Hey, I can’t do this,’ she told me, ‘because this is based on your doing the Bible study ahead of time.’ She said that these kids don’t write and don’t read. So let’s think about that.” Corts had to go back to the drawing board.
Corts says that he wrote a treatment for the recent Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s film Something to Sing About in 78 scenes, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. He says he wished the Association could have made a musical out of the story, with a marquis name, like Kirk Franklin.
“That would have made a stronger commercial product for the Christian world, especially for selling the CDs.”
In the end, Sally James came to the rescue and showed the traveling evangelists how to reach the children in midtown New York City with the Gospel. Something to Sing About is also based on Cort’s own experiences with inner city youth, who might have had to face up to exactly the kinds of life challenges which the main characters encounter in the movie.
Something to Sing About can serve as an example to Christian filmmakers and missionaries. The mission fields are ripe with many stories waiting to be told. Look to the unsung people toiling in those mission fields; you never know who you’re gonna meet.