Amena Brown doesn’t always close her eyes and sway to music while in praise and worship at church. Sometimes she stands in front of the congregation and performs worshipful, hard-hitting “spoken-word poetry” to music. Brown, who also ministers her thought-provoking poetry to young adults at Fusion and Passion conferences across the country, says that everyone should let God use whatever gifts they have—not just the “popular” gifts usually used in church. “I’m always really big on encouraging young people to do what’s in your heart,” Brown told Charisma. “Do what you’re passionate about. You’re never too young or too old to start doing the passion that God put in your heart.”
Christian funnymanMichael Jr. has performed on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and the Comedy Central network. But instead of settling for smiles from TV audiences, he took his jokes to unlikely venues—prisons, homeless shelters and safehouses for the abused and HIV patients. Charisma spoke with him about his comedy tour to these depressing places that’s chronicled in his upcoming film, Comedy: The Road Less Traveled, set to release in September.
Charisma:Why did you decide to leave the normal setting for a comedy show and take your routine to people in desperate situations?
Michael Jr.: About a year and a half ago I was headlining in a club in Los Angeles in a well-to-do area. Most of the time when a comedian gets on stage he wants to get laughter. That night God said, “Don’t go out there to get laughter from people, go out there and give them an opportunity to laugh.” [That statement] changed everything I did. After the show I walked outside and there were a lot of people around me wanting my autograph and smiling. I looked across the street and saw a homeless guy with the exact opposite look on his face than those around me. After I saw this guy, I asked myself, How can I take comedy to him? What would that look like? Then we decided do this film called Comedy: The Road Less Traveled, and we went on a tour.
Charisma:You visited the Samaritan House in Fort Worth, Texas, which houses homeless people with HIV; The Dolphin House in Montrose, Colo., which cares for children abused by their drug-addicted parents; and youth and adult prisons. How did you incorporate their very serious, sad circumstances into your comedy shows?
Michael Jr.: I have no idea how it happened. In every location I went to, it was pretty phenomenal ... but to be real with you, I was a little afraid. I would think: Everyone in this room has HIV, they’re homeless or they have some sort of other issue. And now I’m going to tell jokes. How will I be received?
In an adult prison, I’m sitting there praying: “[God], I need a joke right up front, so I can be funny—immediately.”I was going to say, “You guys are a captive audience!” But because I was afraid, I didn’t do that one. But there was an old white guy right up front [in the audience] named Moses. He had a white beard, so I looked at him and said, “Moses, when I read about you in the Bible you were doing better than this. What happened?”
I said, “Moses, this is what I want you to do: I want you to look the prison guard directly in his eyes. I want you to say, ‘Let my people go.’” The whole room burst out laughing, and we had a fabulous time from that point on. In most locations there was something there that really allowed me to connect [with my audience].
In this film you actually get to see these transformations. In the Samaritan House a guy approached me and said, “I want you to know I haven’t laughed like this in over 20 years, since I was diagnosed with AIDS.” It was at that moment that I knew this thing was bigger than just going and telling jokes to people.
Charisma:That’s exciting. What kind of reaction have you seen so far from people watching the film?
Michael Jr.: We’ve done a few small screenings. After people see this film they want to do something. A lady in Orlando saw the film and [told me], “On Wednesdays, I’m opening up my [dance] studio to teach homeless kids how to dance ballet.” It just blew me away. She comes up with this because of seeing this film. There are other people doing the same kind of stuff.
Charisma:Though you’re a Christian comedian, you’ve performed in both religious and secular venues. How has your faith affected your craft?
Michael Jr.:I have an understanding that my comedy and the things that I do are way bigger than me. It’s just a gift that I have, and it’s only really a gift if I am willing to give it away—not just to those who can afford it, but more importantly to those who really need it.
The Bible says in Proverbs 17:22: “A merry heart does good like medicine” If it’s a medicine and it does good for you, shouldn’t we give medicine to those who really need it—to those who are sick? It just makes sense to me.
How can you use your gifts for good? It’s not as hard as you may think. Here are a few easy ideas. 1. If you are a seamstress, why not use your abilities to provide clothes for the less fortunate? You could even offer to teach classes at women’s shelters in your area.
2. Can you read? Why not volunteer at an orphanage or nursing home. Taking time to read to someone could mean the world to a person who feels abandoned.
3. If you’re a great business person, look into teaching interview skills at a homeless shelter. Some people just need a little direction to get back on their feet. read more
While businesses across the nation are struggling to survive the economic nose dive, charismatic entrepreneur Mark Sterns says his successful aviation business, Higher Power Aviation, is soaring because of Christ.
“The first thing we did as a company was to dedicate it to the Lord,” says Sterns, an Oral Roberts University graduate who co-founded his company with a partner 15 years ago. “Not only did we want it to be a business, but also for it to be a ministry.”
Sterns is president of the Fort Worth, Texas, training school, which has funneled more than 2,000 pilots to Southwest Airlines and trained astronauts and actors to take flight. He says that his Christian values have helped his school gain the reputation within the aviation industry as the premier flight school.
“For many of those pilots who want to go to Southwest Airlines, they’ll talk amongst themselves and say: ‘Oh, you want to go to Southwest? Call on Higher Power. ‘ And they don’t realize what they just said.”
Sterns says that although his business operates in the private sector, demonstrating Christ has still been possible.
“What we have been able to do by just living and ministering through our business … [is give others] permission to live lives of faith in their professions,” Sterns says. read more
Armed with a video camera, an iPhone and a bag of socks, Mark Horvath travels the country capturing compelling stories of America’s homeless. He uses the footage as well as social media to share and supply needs for some of these poverty-stricken individuals and families.
In 2009 Horvath drove a car packed with Hanes socks across the country to raise awareness for the homeless and posted his candid videos on InvisiblePeople.tv. At times, some of his 6,000-plus Twitter followers have met him at grocery stores around the country to buy food, clothes and other supplies for the families he encounters.
Horvath feels drawn to minister to homeless people because he’s lived on the streets himself. He insists that he’s not “called” to this work—he’s forced. “If you’re called, you can hang up the phone,” Horvath says. “I don’t have any choice.”
Horvath’s life story has the ups and downs of a roller-coaster ride. After a career in the TV industry, Horvath ended up on the streets. He got back on his feet thanks to the commitment of the Dream Center, a Los Angeles church.
But in 2005 his six-figure income instantly disappeared after losing his job. Only weeks away from homelessness—again—Horvath used the opportunity to launch InvisiblePeople.tv.
“Don’t waste a good crisis,” Horvath advises. “Tonight there are people who were homeless that are sleeping inside because I had the courage—or I was dumb enough—to drive around the country.”
I was the instigator of all the trouble among my tribe. If there was mischief to be done, I was leading it. I was vicious.
People were leaving our traditional Maasai ways. Some of the older people lost faith in our witchdoctors and started worshipping a God I didn’t know. Even a few warriors left our traditions and started following this God whom they were calling “Jesus.” It really made me angry, and for nine years I persecuted the people in the church.
Determined to stop this chaos, I confronted the woman who started the church. I went to Sabina and jabbed my stick into her throat. “Why are you stealing my girls from me?” I shouted at her. She just stood there and calmly said, “I will teach anyone who wants to learn about my God!” Then, she cursed me saying, “You are a snake, and in the name of Jesus you will slither in the dirt !”
That night they began to sing songs about Jesus. I flew into a rage. I picked up a stick from the fire to beat them, but as soon as my hand touched that stick my mind completely left me. I couldn’t think clearly. I fell to the ground, and I began to eat dirt for weeks.
I don’t remember that time at all. All I remember is that when I woke up, I wanted to worship Jesus. Sabina told me that I lay like a snake on the ground for months ... and I begged her to pray for me.
I must have tired of lying on the ground because I finally agreed to serve her God. She prayed for me, and I immediately got my mind back. She told me, “Now your name will be Yona (Jonah), because you ran away from God just like Yona in the Bible.”
Most of Yona’s village now serve Jesus. This testimony was excerpted from the photobook En Kátá. It can be purchased at en-kata.com. read more
By the time most moms get their
children ready for school, go to work, then come home and cook and
clean, they’re too drained to pay attention to their own needs. But
single mom Danette Crawford wants to help mothers feel appreciated—and
During her annual Mother’s Day
Celebration, Crawford and her team bus in some 2,000 women from
Hampton, Va., and surrounding cities, and shower them with love.
Military wives whose husbands are deployed, widows, single moms, women
from homeless shelters and assisted-living facilities all attend the
“When they first arrive, we give them
the red carpet treatment,” says Crawford, who will sponsor her 10th
celebration on May 9. “We give them a red rose or carnation, and a
five-star meal. They have dinner with their children, and we just
The author of Don’t Quit in the Pit:Power to Turn Any Situation Around, Crawford provides activities for the children and shares the message of Jesus and teachings from her book with the women.
“When there’s no dad in the picture,
these women go without honoring,” she says. “Our message is, ‘Don’t
give up. You are loved.’” read more
Students in the United States and
abroad not only turned down their plates to fast during World Vision’s
latest 30 Hour Famine, they also helped raise money for starving
children in other countries.
In late April, participants fasted for
30 hours, performed community service projects such as feeding the
homeless, cleaning up shelters and giving care packages to hospital
patients. Some students even slept outside to try and duplicate the
experience of young people in impoverished nations. Partakers also
raised money to donate to World Vision’s efforts to end child hunger
and build wells in nations around the world.
At press time, the total amount of
money raised was unknown, but organizers were hoping to collect $12
million as a result of the famine. Since 1992, students worldwide have
raised more than $130 million for the project.
But for some kids, saying no to food
was a challenge. “I wanted to open their eyes so their compassion for
the hungry would increase,” said youth minister Ross Runnels, of Canoe
Creek Christian Church in St. Cloud, Fla. He said it was important for
students “dragging their heels” to get involved with the famine.
Students are sacrificing by:
»Fasting for 30 hours»Sleeping on sidewalks
»Feeding the homeless»Making care packages read more
Some people dread airport layovers that last longer than an hour. Imagine a layover for more than one year.
Nigeria-born Elizabeth Woleta was left
stranded for more than a year in a terminal in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo
International Airport after her passport was stolen in March 2007 in a
15-foot section considered a “legal no man’s land” that’s couched
between Russian and international territories yet governed by neither.
Despite her predicament, Woleta, now 31, found Christ when American
traveler Brian Dodd told her God loved her. She later used her
desperate situation to minister the gospel to people from more than 17
“It’s just the grace of God, “ she told Charisma. “I was saved by that grace and that same grace had to continue and moved me to preach the Word of God to as many as I could.”
Woleta said before praying with Dodd
she was a “tortured” soul who’d never experienced love. “Brian … showed
me an example that Christ really cares for us,” she said.
Despite her numerous attempts to get
help from governmental authorities, airport officials and other
travelers, Woleta was unable to depart the terminal.
After Dodd returned to the U.S. he
immediately began working to find a way to help Woleta leave the
airport. He and some of his companions smuggled food and a cell phone
in for her. Despite their efforts, Woleta would go days without eating
and sometimes resorted to drinking water from the toilet. Seeking some
form of sustenance Woleta turned to the Word of God.
“[People would] see me reading a
particular book for quite a long time,” she said. “In fact, I’d sit in
one position for more than six hours just reading the Bible. Others
would come to find out what’s making me read that Bible. I actually
preached the Word of God to them.”
She’d even use her cell phone, which
could only receive calls and send text messages, to ask others to
translate Bible verses so she could minister to people speaking other
languages. Though Woleta said she didn’t keep count, she estimates that
at least 50 people accepted Christ after she witnessed to them in the
After one year, Woleta was finally able
to leave the airport when Dodd contacted the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees to have her returned to Nigeria, where she
continues to host Bible studies.
“The Holy Spirit of God actually helped
me. ... [He] has been my food all along,” she said. “I continue to
thank God for what He has done in my life.”read more
You’d think walking
3,400 miles across 170 North American cities in only 374 days would be
a pinnacle lifelong achievement for one person, but not for Daren Wendell. This was just the beginning of his global trek known as The Earth Expedition (theearthexpedition.com), which he founded in 2006 to raise awareness for the lack of clean water and AIDS pandemic in Africa.
had to sell everything I own to do this—literally. All the walkers [who
commit to walking a leg of the expedition in various countries] do so
by raising their own support,” Wendell explains.
often sacrifice everything to hike thousands of miles for each leg,
most often alone. Along the way, they visit various coffee shops,
conferences, churches and schools to raise awareness and funds for the
Wendell and the group plan to traverse three continents, 14 countries
and 18,000 miles—taking 36 million steps in all to provide clean water
to Africa. read more
For years statistics have shown that
Christian marriages are just as likely to end in divorce as
non-Christian ones. Adding to the bleak snapshot of the American church
is the fact that clergy divorce rates are lock step with their
congregations. But pastor Isaac Pitre and his wife, Denisha, (pictured
above) who helm Christ Nations Church in Texarkana, Texas, say God
wants to restore all marriages—even if couples have already divorced. Charisma
recently spoke with the pair, who remarried each other six years after
their 2003 divorce. You can hear the entire interview at pitre.charismamag.com.
Charisma:After 10 years of being married, what led to your divorce?
Isaac Pitre: It was basically just not
understanding that my ministry was really to be at home and to
[Denisha] as much as it was to the church and the world.
Charisma:What caused the two of you to reconcile your relationship?
Isaac: I had to accept personal
responsibility for what I did and what I caused, and that it wasn’t the
devil. It was my own pride and selfishness and neglect of really
honoring and loving her. It took me awhile to come to that conclusion,
but when I did, I immediately knew that our relationship could come
back together. If I helped tear it up, then I could help fix it.
during the separation I realized that this was not the will of God, so
I ... tried to reconcile with Isaac. After a few years of realizing
that the relationship was not going to be reconciled, I just started to
pray ... for soberness of mind. I continued to pray for myself and that
God would just cleanse me and make me whole.
Charisma:What happened next?
Isaac: The night God broke through to
me was the same night I picked up the phone. I went after Denisha and
told her what the Lord had showed me—that I was wrong and it wasn’t
her. It wasn’t about the ministry. It was my arrogance and my pride,
and I wanted her back.
Charisma:Denisha, what were you thinking at that point?
he called, I just didn’t trust it because I thought there was a hidden
agenda. But the faith that was built through [the previous year’s
trials] helped me to accept him calling and accept that what he said
Charisma:What happened after you decided that you were going to reconcile?
Isaac: We dated for six months, just to
make sure we were really transformed. God had really started working on
us, and Denisha wanted to make sure I was this new and improved Isaac,
and I wanted to make sure she was the new and improved Denisha. After
the end of that, I think another month and a half we were married.
Charisma:What would you tell someone who is currently going through a divorce or is contemplating getting one?
Isaac: First of all, everyone should
understand that God hates divorce. Even though God forgives, divorce
outside the groundworks of the Bible is wrong. The next thing is to
understand that if there is a possibility for reconciliation, meaning
the other person is not remarried, instead of asking God for someone
else, ask God to fix the marriage you had. If the man is not fixed and
the woman is not fixed, no matter who you remarry, you’re going to have
the same issues.
Charisma:Pastor, do you have any specific advice for husbands? Isaac:
Yes I do, and it is simply Ephesians chapter 5, that we are to love our
wives as Christ loves the church. First Corinthians 13 says that we can
have power to understand mysteries; we can preach with deep revelation,
and we can have faith to move mountains, but the Bible says that if we
have not love then we are nothing. That became very real to me.
Charisma:And how about you, Denisha—any advice for wives?
all wives, but especially for pastors’ wives, you should learn not to
be a clone of what you think a pastor’s wife should be. I urge women to
look inward and discover who they are. Focus on developing that.
Everything you need for your spouse is wrapped up in who you really are.
Charisma: How do you now view your experiences?
of the greatest things I see in retrospect is that staying together is
really one of the easiest things to do. You simply love each other, be
humble and put God first. If you’re sincere with who you are in Christ,
then you don’t have all those flaws and pride that cause separation. To
actually stay in the relationship ... is one of the easiest things to
Isaac: We give glory to God for our
reconciliation ... but instead of saying that God put us back together,
we like to say that we allowed God to put us back together. God is
trying to fix every marriage in every home, but He’s often not allowed
to [mend relationships] because people don’t yield to Him. He is either
trying to put every home back together or He is trying to keep every
home from falling apart. It’s not a question of what God can and cannot
do; it’s a question of what God is allowed to do. read more