I’ve been toying around with writing about when I went to Hollywood with a mission team from my church.
Since I’ve been on the couch most of the weekend recovering from the flu, it seemed like a good time to pull out the writing assignment I did about the trip, which also happens is one of my favorite memories.
So without further ado…
On an unusually warm Friday morning, I find myself sitting in the Moline Airport with six men waiting to board the plane for our mission trip. Three members of our group are fast asleep and I’m amazed that they’re still holding on to their hot coffee cups as they snooze. My husband, Rick, is sitting next to me, sipping his coffee and nervously checking his watch and CNN on the large televisions. On occasion, he and I catch each other’s glances and grin. Our team leader, Paul, is pacing. It’s 4:30 a.m. and with any luck, we’ll touch down at our destination at 5:00 p.m.
After we board the plane for the first leg of our journey, I settle into my seat and marvel that I’m on this trip at all. It makes sense for everyone else to be here, but I don’t have the technical knowledge or gifts that they all possess. I keep waiting for someone to tell me that this has all been a mistake. But here I am, bound for a place I’ve only seen on television and in magazines.
This was not an easy trip to raise funds for. Most people we talked to within our congregation dismiss our mission field as Sodom and Gomorrah. We’re going because to us, and a growing number of others, it’s Nineveh. I used to take the former view myself. I’d sign petitions, agree to online boycotts, and bang the gong loud for anyone who’d listen that Hollywood was evil and trying to destroy family values…until two church staff members made the move to “La-La Land” two years ago.
Lonnie, our Media Director, and his wife, Jessica, had responded to the call that God has placed on their lives, sold their possessions, and moved to Los Angeles. But in the weeks before they left, they hosted a viewing of “Beyond the Gates of Splendor”, a documentary telling the story of Nate Saint and his team of missionaries that were killed by the Waodoni tribe they were trying to befriend. After the viewing, Lonnie and Jess announced their intentions to the congregation and challenged us to consider Hollywood a mission field. I remember very little of their talk. I was blown away that someone would willingly move to a very uncertain future. I was mortified and ashamed at my hate towards the people in the entertainment industry. I also remember feeling a wee bit jealous that Lonnie and Jess were seeking a career in an industry that I could never consider in my wildest dreams. Even though I willingly voiced my opinion at the negative products Hollywood produced, I still loved movies with a good story. I longed to write something more than the occasional church drama.
As the months past, Jessica would email us and let us know about organizations like Hollywood Connect and the Hollywood Prayer Network, whose purpose was to help Christians get connected into a faith-based community. Lonnie enrolled in Act One, a writing and producing program that helps artists hone their skills and find careers in Los Angeles.
I found all of this just absolutely fascinating and when Lonnie and Jess brought their friends, Thom and Lauri, back home to teach the church volunteers the ins and outs of writing dialogue, I was in heaven. Free lessons from a real writer!
Throughout the beginning stages of their journey, unbeknownst to me, Lonnie and Jess were planting the seeds within our church leadership team to start thinking of Hollywood as a mission field and challenged our Missions Pastor to bring a team to L.A. and see for ourselves how God was moving in Hollywood.
Two years later, I’m on a plane with my boss, Paul, my husband, and four tech volunteers from our church. Paul, Rick and the “minions” as they are affectionately called will be installing a projector and screen at a Los Angeles Catholic elementary school. I’m still not sure why I’m on this trip. I have no technical experience, nor a desire for any. I love movies, writers, the creative process, and the people I’ve met prior to setting foot on a plane but that is no use to anyone, is it?
Throughout the week, I met people from the Hollywood Prayer Network, Hollywood Connect, Act One and the author of The Hollywood Standard. I’m humbled and awed by all of these people. Every one of them has a deep and abiding faith in God and a deep conviction to help Christians, find faith-based community and develop their professional skills.
I finally had my moment to serve on this trip. On our last evening, Act One hosted a reunion for the graduates of their program. Our team provided the pizza, cupcakes and “swag” for all the writers. The “swag” bags contained a ream of paper, brads, granola bars, tea, instant coffee, highlighters, and note cards. Necessary tools that a writer needs but can’t always afford.
As I put together the bags while the rest of my team took a well-deserved rest, I took a moment to look around the Act One offices. Every time an Act One graduate was part of a major released film or television series, the poster was displayed on the walls. X-Men, 24, L O S T, Passion of the Christ. I silently reviewed the art work on the walls and didn’t notice when Lonnie came in and sat down next to me.
Every day, Lonnie made an effort to meet with our team, encourage them, answer questions, and give me a writing lesson. Every day, Lonnie would ask me what I’d like to write, what my dreams were, why wasn’t I writing and I deflected at every turn. Every day Lonnie would introduce me to everyone we met and tell them I was a writer. I would correct him every time. This dream was just simply too big for me to ever seriously consider. On our last night in town, I was going to be given one more, important, lesson.
“Come on,” he said. “There are a few friends I want you to meet.”
As we walked to the kitchenette area, there stood Lauri, Jessica, and two other women. I would later learn their names were Vicki and Amy. Lauri looked at Lonnie and winked. I turned to Lonnie just as he sprinted to the other end of the room. This wasn’t a social gathering. This was a writer’s intervention.
“So…what’s the deal? Lauri asked.
I was in a panic and searched the room for my husband. There he was, at the other end of the room with Paul, Lonnie and the rest of the team. All were looking straight at me and grinning from ear to ear. They were in on it.
“Well?” Lauri asked.
“What do you mean?” I lied. Shameful, but it’s what happened. I’m not proud of it.
“Cut the crap. Why aren’t you writing?” she pressed.
“Can you excuse me for a minute?” I turned my head and banged my head repeatedly on the wall. This was just too much for me to handle. This was my “put up or shut up” moment and I wasn’t ready for it.
As I turned back to the group, Lauri asked, “Are you finished?”
“Why aren’t you writing?” they all asked.
Who are these people? They don’t know me! Why do they care? I offered all my excuses one by one and these ladies shot them all down one by one. No education, three kids at home, too old and finally, not knowing if I had any talent or not. My ability for recall after an event is shoddy at best. I regret not remembering all the advice these wonderful women gave me that Thursday night, but I do remember the big take away: “The first thing you write will be shit, everybody’s is. It’s okay. Write it anyway.”
That was it. I needed someone to give me permission to fail. I didn’t realize it before, but I operated under the mentality that if I couldn’t do something perfectly, I wasn’t going to do it at all. Lauri, Amy and the gang reminded me that nothing ventured, is nothing gained.
I flew back home a changed woman, pouring over the reading material Lauri gave me right from the Act One resource library. I’m forever indebted to this wonderful group of people I met two years ago. They poured into my life and I’m grateful.