Michelle Aguilar weighed 242 pounds when she first tipped the scales on NBC’s The Biggest Loser: Families in 2008. Aguilar—who eventually won the reality show after she lost 110 pounds—had spent years using food to ease her pain.
And it showed.
The weight gain began after her mother called her to say she’d be leaving Aguilar’s father. “I was devastated to hear the family structure I had always known was going to be gone,” Aguilar says.
Hurt and angry, Aguilar had no contact with her mother for six years until shortly before Aguilar’s father suggested the two women enter the weight-loss competition together.
It was on the reality show that Aguilar, now 30, finally reached her breaking point.
As natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and droughts increase, so does talk of the world coming to an end. What do these events really mean? Here’s a snapshot of what three respected prophetic leaders have to say.
Cindy DeVille “We must understand that the problems we are seeing in America—such as wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods—are actually the fruit of a root problem. Changing a law or political party is like putting a Band-Aid on a deep-rooted cancer. God is calling Christians across our nation to their knees, to humbly unite and lead the church in massive repentance.”
James Goll “Will we be prepared? Whether it is adverse, strange weather patterns, global economic recession or America’s materialistic Titanic going under, these times of hardship can become great days of hope. Because the Bible says: ‘For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you’” (Is. 60: 2).
Cindy Jacobs “Because of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan many are asking, ‘What is taking place?’ What do we know? God had warned us that shaking is coming. This doesn’t mean it was His desire for it to happen but that it was more of the biblical fulfillment that He doesn’t do anything without first warning through His servants the prophets (see Amos 3:7). Others are asking, ‘Was this a judgment from God?’ I tend to think God is grieved that so many have died. However, if we all pray and act in this crisis, I believe the Holy Spirit wants to breathe a wind of revival in Japan.”
Yannik McKie says he and his sister are one of the first double AIDS orphans in the United States. When McKie was 10 he found out his parents were both HIV-positive and that his well-educated, affluent father had infected his mother after living a secret homosexual lifestyle. Both of his parents died by the time he was 15.
“When I lost my parents I did not understand how God’s love could be reconciled with my situation,” he says. It wasn’t until he was 22 years old in a jail cell on federal gun charges that he began to realize how much God really loved him and that He had a plan for his childhood pain.
“We learn God’s love for us through our pain because we actually realize that it was Him helping us through it,” he now says.
Shannon Meador wanted more in her life. A passionate follower of Christ and lover of adventure, working a desk job in central Illinois just wasn’t cutting it, so she went in search of an exciting opportunity that would allow her to serve God.
“I wanted something more, something bigger, something crazier,” Meador says. “As soon as I viewed the World Race website, my search was over. I was called.” She applied on that same visit.
“My life isn’t mapped out by any means, but my life is always facing God and that’s all I need. When you make a plan you limit yourself to what God could be asking you.”
Great fiction writers can catapult readers into fantastical stories of the imagination and guide booklovers into an escape from reality. But a trend is emerging among Christian novelists determined to face life’s harshest realities head-on. Writers are starting humanitarian organizations and some are giving a portion of their book sales to help the needy.
Randy Singer, known for his legal thrillers and Christian suspense novels, announced earlier this year that 100 percent of the proceeds from his book False Witness would go to the Dalit Freedom Network, which helps some of the 168 million Dalits in India experiencing discrimination, dehumanization, violence and enslavement on a daily basis. As members of India’s lowest social caste, few have access to educational opportunities.
“I’m supporting the Dalit Freedom Network because they are on the ground in India,” explains Singer. “They’ve been effective advocates for the Dalits around the world, but they’re also bringing educational solutions that make a difference right now in real time in this world.”
Ten years after being the last person pulled from the rubble of the Sept. 11 attacks, Genelle Guzman-McMillian says God has given her a miraculous second chance, which she’s used to remind others that life is not promised.
Guzman-McMillian was trapped under the rubble of the first tower for nearly 27 hours with her leg crushed under debris. She remembers being able to only lift her fingers to the surface of the rubble to signal for help. A man named Paul grabbed her hand, called her name and told her he was there for her.
But after rescue workers unearthed her, she noticed that there was no way a person could’ve gotten in or out of the area where she was trapped. She believes she had an angelic encounter, and to this day no one has been able to locate the man named Paul.
This summer as some NFL players were engrossed in tedious billion-dollar negotiations during the league’s lockout, Pro Bowler Aaron Kampman and his wife, Linde, focused their attention on poverty-stricken children in El Salvador.
Kampman, a defensive tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars, says he was humbled to find that the children weren’t excited to see him because of his celebrity status, but rather because he was a Compassion International child sponsor.
“A lot of times here in the States I’m recognized as an NFL player, and many think that gives me great value,” Kampman says. “While I love the game, it’s through the eyes of these Compassion children that I can see a greater value and importance for my life beyond the football field and the potential we each have to help a child.”
Last month eight college students took to their bikes in the hot summer sun to ride 2,500 miles up the East Coast of the United States. Determined to do more than pedal for pleasure, these young adults set out to raise awareness about women suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—dubbed the rape capital of the world.
The cyclists, who came from universities across the nation, stopped in 13 states and spoke to churches about the atrocities. They were inspired by the She’s My Sister campaign that, along with the American Bible Society, is providing practical help, healing and hope to Congolese women.
Jeffrey Steinberg stands at 4 feet 6 inches tall (“Eat your heart out, Michael Jordan,” he jokes). He has no arms, his legs are malformed and he says he is not handicapped; rather he is a masterpiece in progress.
“I’m not handicapped because I don’t have any arms,” Steinberg says. “A handicap has nothing to do with that. A handicap is everything and anything that keeps me from being all that God’s designed for me to be. And He designed for me to be a masterpiece.”
For almost 40 years, the founder of Tiny Giant ministries has crisscrossed the earth sharing this message and the gospel to audiences in prisons, churches, schools, hospitals and on television. During his presentations he uses humor and songs to encourage people not to let their negative situations stop them from being extraordinary.
Professional soccer player Wells Thompson has tasted glory with the New England Revolution, reaching the 2007 Major League Soccer (MLS) championship game as a rookie before his team bowed to Houston.
However, after that season Thompson resumed a practice started in childhood, taking a mission trip to Kenya and Zimbabwe. The following year he returned to Kenya, and he visited the Dominican Republic last year.
Today, Thompson is contemplating a long-term career in missions, although he says he won’t wait on the opportunities until he retires from his favorite sport.
“A couple years ago I would have been happy to play my career out [first],” says Thompson, now a midfielder for Denver’s Colorado Rapids. “The way I think about it now is, why does it have to be after I’m done playing soccer?”
He witnesses at home, too, through locker room discussions with his nonbelieving teammates and wearing post-game T-shirts emblazoned with John 3:16 and Romans 6:23.
After his upcoming wedding on Dec. 3, Thompson could easily travel to places such as Cancun, Bermuda or St. Thomas, but he hopes to include missions in the itinerary. “We just don’t feel comfortable going on a honeymoon and being selfish,” says Thompson, who proposed to his fiancee last December during a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
Turning their backs on American suburbia in 2008, Jay and Beth Loecken picked up their family and sold their home just north of Atlanta to fulfill their goal of traveling across the nation with their family.
However, their mission isn’t to relax and enjoy the good life; it’s to help the needy and encourage others to live out God’s destiny. Jay is encouraged by what he’s seen.
“God is calling out a remnant of people who are serious about their faith and are no longer OK with just going to church, hearing a message and going home,” says the former mortgage broker. “I see pockets of people everywhere we go who are saying, ‘We want more.’”
The Loeckens’ life-changing decision followed a missions trip to Kenya, where they helped build a commercial-size chicken coop and enjoyed forming close relationships.
Afterward, they sensed God calling them to take similar action in America. The Loeckens and their four children have done everything from feeding the homeless in Atlanta to working with the Orange County Rescue Mission in Irvine, Calif.
“I always had a dream to own my own business,” Jay says of their ministry, Passion to Action (also the title of their new book). “It’s the culmination of a dream for me to see this turn into that.”
How to Vacation Like the Loeckens
Hand out homeless care packages
Read a story at a local children’s shelter
Volunteer at a tutoring center
Distribute food at a homeless shelter
Volunteer to help at a battered women’s home
Feed residents in motels during the holidays
Do a service project at a distressed apartment complex
Despite morethan 200 congregants murdered this year, weekly kidnappings and frequent church bombings, Iraqi Anglican Canon Andrew White says his Baghdad church of 4,000 people is among the happiest he’s ever seen.
“So many Christians have been killed,” White said in an exclusive interview with Charisma. “Yet the church in Iraq is so happy—miraculously happy. The fact that the church is like this is incredible. And they’ve got a huge amount to teach us.”
St. George’s Church, located in Baghdad’s Red Zone, is one of the only Anglican churches in Iraq. Though an estimated 800,000 Christians have fled the area in recent years, the church has grown to become the country’s largest.
White says more than 550 Muslim individualsattend St. George’s, though there may be more, given that most Muslims in Iraq face the threat of death upon publicly confessing Jesus as Lord. Last year White baptized 13 Muslims; within a week, 11 of them were murdered.
“We say to them, ‘You realize this is dangerous,’ and they always say, ‘We just love and want to follow Jesus,’” White says.
Hollywood, Calif., isn’t exactly known as the hub for upholding traditional family values. So when Philip and Holly Wagner planted Oasis Church in the middle of Beverly Hills 27 years ago, the couple probably didn’t imagine their church would be the springboard to a national ministry whose forte is teaching about God-centered relationships, particularly marriage.
“I think most people aren’t equipped to weather the hard times,” says Holly, whose name is synonymous with the popular God Chicks book series. “In any relationship, that euphoric, cloudy and glow feeling disappears. Are you going to work on building a love that lasts or look for that cloudy, ‘in love’ feeling again?”
In addition to pastoring the non-denominational charismatic church, the couple leads webinars and speaks at half a dozen conferences annually, with Holly appearing at additional meetings targeting women.
As South Sudan secedes from the Muslim-dominated north and officially becomes a nation on July 9, Aid Sudan says there is no better time than now to minister the gospel and meet the physical needs of those living in this poverty-stricken area.
The nonprofit organization hopes to help build a strong spiritual foundation in South Sudan as the infant country builds its identity after years of civil war.
“We just see it as such a crucial time for the body of Christ to invest, to help spread God’s word to help this new nation as it gets on its feet,” says Sarah Thompson, Aid Sudan’s director of administration.
Through the ministry’s Village-to-Village project, Aid Sudan has gone into communities and built schools where children were using dirt and sticks as chalkboards and chalk. The ministry also built water wells where kids used their sleeves as filtration devices to clean the polluted water.
Aid Sudan also operates a radio station that broadcasts to South Sudan in tribal languages. The station and its affiliates deliver the Word of God in story form in addition to news, community training and lessons on health and hygiene.
“It’s unbelievable how we see God moving,” Thompson says of the nation’s transition. “Our main desire is to be faithful. We see this as a crucial time for the body of Christ to help spread God’s Word and to help invest, and we’re blown away by what’s He’s already done.
“It’s just kind of ripe for the spread of the gospel,” Thompson says.
Tommy Green wears many hats: father, associate pastor, band member and author. But his driving passion is to share the gospel with punkers and assorted non-conformists.
Formerly employed by a banking company, Green left in June 2009 for full-time ministry as a college pastor at Salt Lake City Foursquare Church. But his leading entrée into the straight-edge subculture is as lead vocalist for Sleeping Giant, a heavy metal-style band that released its third album in late June.
“Sleeping Giant has been a total gift from the Lord,” says Green, whose group will tour this summer to spotlight the album Kingdom Days in an Evil Age. “God caused it to be more influential than we ever thought it would be.”
Sometimes drawing tens of thousands of fans to its concerts over the past five years, the band has seen people healed of deafness, broken bones and other ailments.
It’s also seen a flock of young adults accept Christ, since Green mixes evangelistic messages into each set. Afterward, some non-believers tell him they never appreciated the reality of God.
Originally involved in Salt Lake City’s straightedge scene while in high school, Green moved back from California after a divorce. His wife, Krissi, plays an integral role in his ministry, helping teach young adults at church and joining him for speaking engagements.
“It’s all to testify to who Jesus is,” says Green, who recently self-published his first book. “I think we’re supposed to create space for people to worship God in a different way.”
For some Christians Facebook may seem like a mindless waste of time that only distracts one from living a Christ-centered life. But the social networking site has also helped millions grow closer to Christ through daily interaction with God’s Word—and now there’s proof.
According to the Unofficial Resource for Facebook website, the Facebook pages Jesus Daily and The Bible have more interactions among their fans than any other Facebook page, including the NBA page and MTV Roadies combined.
Jesus Daily helps Facebook users find ways throughout the day to respond just as Jesus did, and The Bible fan page posts Scriptures for people to meditate on.
The Bible’s Facebook page founder says the social media tool should be exploited for the benefit of seeing lives transformed.
“I wanted to encourage people into a deeper relationship with God—to go deeper into God’s presence—and I know one clear way to do that is by immersing yourself in the Word of God,” Mark Brown says in a video explaining why he started the Bible’s Facebook page. “In those pages you don’t encounter just ink and words. You encounter the Holy Spirit as God works through those words with the power of the Holy Spirit transforming us.
“The Bible isn’t about information, it’s about transformation—us becoming what God wants us to be.”
When disaster strikes, David Canther, founder of Active Christians That Serve World Relief, is usually one of the first to respond.
The interdenominational faith-based disaster relief group, affiliated with Northland Church Distributed in Longwood, Fla., was on the ground assisting victims just days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the southern coast in 2005 and an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010.
The team of volunteers, made up of high school- and college-aged young adults, along with adult members of First Response Teams, were eager to respond after destructive tornados struck communities near Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., in April.
The ministry trains young adults to clear debris, serve hot meals from their mobile kitchens and give emotional and spiritual care to victims of the disaster. In Alabama, ACTS fed 19,400 hot meals and trained numerous youth response teams that were deployed from area high schools and colleges.
“We try to follow the Christ model of service. Jesus’ first response was always to meet the needs of those who were hurting around Him,” Canther says.
After winning five Emmys, writing, producing and directing numerous big-budget films (including the blockbuster hit Gridiron Gang), LEE STANLEY has found that ministering in Hollywood is less about preaching the gospel and more about living a life modeled after Christ. He recently sat down with Charisma’s Associate Editor Felicia Mann to share his thoughts on silently witnessing in Tinseltown.
CHARISMA: You’re a Christian and a filmmaker. Many would say the two can’t coexist. How would you categorize yourself?
Stanley: I’m a filmmaker who is a Christian. When I found Christ, my big thing was that I was going to change the world with my Christian films, and the Lord made it very clear: You are a Christian who is a filmmaker and you are to make films for all of those that I died for.
CHARISMA:Do you inject your faith and beliefs in to your films?
Stanley: In films that I do, I will not violate the principles and love of Jesus Christ if I have financial and total creative control. I don’t want the principles that I have surrendered to be violated because somebody thinks it’s going to be better at the box office.
CHARISMA: From your unique perspective, what’s the state of Christianity in Hollywood right now?
Stanley: When Christians make Christian films, they’re blatantly Christian. Before I knew Christ I was invited to a premiere of a new movie. This was 34 years ago; I knew nothing about Christ. I was excited to go to the premiere because it was the first one I was ever invited to.
It was an OK movie until about the last half of the last act, and then it became what I would call a blatant “come to Jesus” movie. Not only did I feel embarrassed, I felt every eye in the theater was staring at you-know-who because somebody tipped people off that you-know-who wasn’t a believer. I felt betrayed, and frankly trapped. When I came to Christ, I remembered those things.
CHARISMA: What would you tell those who are working in Hollywood who may feel alone in their faith and as if they have to fight by themselves?
Stanley: Stop fighting. Care more about your fellow man than trying to show them what a wonderful Christian you are by your testimony. That repels people that don’t know Jesus Christ. Conduct yourself in a proper manner. Stop telling your own story. Sooner or later, if you stay strong in your principles, presentation, character, morals and ethics, the opportunity [to witness] will suddenly rise to the surface.
CHARISMA: Do you have an example of this in your life?
Stanley: This happened to me with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who starred in Gridiron Gang. One late evening—about 2 o’clock in the morning—we were filming. My assistant came up to me and she said, “Lee, The Rock ... has got a tremendous pain in his stomach.” So I went to Dwayne’s trailer. I said, “I’ve got one thing to offer you, Dwayne. I believe in prayer. I’m a born-again Christian.” Dwayne jumped out of his chair, grabbed my hand, and we prayed together in the name of Jesus.
A few minutes later, he felt well enough to come out and be on set and do his stuff. I couldn’t have done that if I had conducted myself in any way that violated the principles that Christians talk about.
CHARISMA: You’ve won numerous awards in Hollywood and attribute them to God’s grace. How else have you seen God move in your career?
Stanley: The first project that God ever put on my heart was Desperate Passage. The Lord impressed upon me years ago that I was going to make a film where I took violent juvenile offenders out of a maximum-security prison and that I’d take them seaboard on my sailboat and make a film that would impact the nation. Of course, what He didn’t tell me was that everything He put on my heart was against the law!
It took us four years to get that court order [so I could film the young men]. It happened, and that’s the miracle. The court order said I had no restrictions. We went to sea for 10 days to make the film.
Emmy Awards time, we were nominated for four Emmys and we won two. God kept His promise. It’s by God’s grace, by God’s favor and by God’s anointing that we pulled that off.
Male street prostitutes are some of the most overlooked and ignored people. It’s hard to find statistics and research on them, let alone ministries that target them. But John Green says that’s exactly why he has dedicated the last 20 years to these sexually broken men.
Emmaus Ministries, which Green founded, sends workers to the slums and back alleys in urban areas in search of men who are trapped in lives of prostitution, drugs, and sometimes mental and physical sickness. Green says the ministry workers aren’t pushy, but instead allow the men to come to them.
“We try to have a pastoral presence, prayerful presence,” Green says. “We’re definitely open to talking and engaging with guys but we really let guys come to us.”
About 75 percent of the male prostitutes that Green knows identify themselves as heterosexual, yet the majority of their clients are males. Male prostitutes often turn to drugs to numb the experience. This usually creates a deadly cycle as they continue to prostitute themselves to pay for their eventual drug addiction.
The Chicago-based Emmaus Ministries reaches out to men with both physical and spiritual solutions. Ministry workers intentionally build relationships with these men on the streets. During the day the men can come to their ministry center and receive a meal, shower, clothing and laundry services.
The center also provides prayer, discipleship and it helps men transition off the streets. Green says Emmaus is clear to the men about its biblically based position against homosexuality.
“We state very clearly to guys what we believe,” Green says. “It’s a very welcoming spirit and very welcoming one of compassion and love.”
He warns the men who want help but don’t want Christ that they are risking their lives.
“We’ll do our best to help you out of prostitution,” he says to them. “But you need to know that if you’re not going to base your recovery on Jesus Christ, you’re really at risk.”
Many of the men were sexually abused as children, and Green says he’s worked with men dying of AIDS and in and out of jail. But he has also seen God completely transform lives and has watched as some of these men recover, accept Christ, become leaders in their church and even get married.
“That’s what Emmaus is,” Green says. “This is sometimes the Lord’s last chance in reaching one of these guys.
“It’s been a joy to watch how the Lord has carved out lives coming out of such chaos.”