Pastor Michael Spurlock has a simple job: Clean out the church he’s been assigned to and sell it.
All Saints Episcopal Church is nearly empty on Sunday mornings anyway. You could fit the entire congregation into a selfie. Without much squeezing. So it was really no big deal. Just deliver a few transitional sermons, gently nudge the members into another congregation and … sell the whole kit and caboodle.
There is, however, one teeny, tiny problem: God keeps tapping Michael on the shoulder.
The week after Michael and his family show up, several refugees come to church. They’re members of the Karen people group, farmers from Burma who’ve been transplanted to the little town of Smyrna, Tenn., of all places. They don’t speak much English. They’re believers. They’re in obvious need. And every time Michael sees their humble, smiling faces and shakes their roughly calloused hands, his heart goes out to them.
One cool evening while praying about these people, Michael has an epiphany. And a plan seamlessly comes together in his mind.
Instead of selling the church building and its land to make way for some warehouse or car lot, what if he could convince the diocese to let these farmers simply till the land. Why, with this fertile soil they could likely grow a crop that would not only feed their families, but also bring in enough money to pay the church’s mortgage. They could “grow” the church—literally.
The plan is simple. It’s elegant. It’s doable, with determination and hard work, of course. It uses the very group that God has led to Michael’s doorstep. And it helps people. Why, it simply has to be God’s will.
But what if … it’s not quite that simple?
It’s evident that, in spite of his sometimes impulsive ways, Michael is a dedicated pastor who comes to care deeply for the congregation at All Saints—both the older members and the new ones. He works hard to help others and to make his church-leading and farming endeavors a success. In fact, the whole congregation and surrounding community pitch in to make Michael’s vision a reality, devoting long hours of labor along the way.
A man named Ye Win, one of the few Karen people who can speak halting English, steps forward to represent his people and to create a community-based account to take care of their financial and physical needs in this strange new home.
Michael’s wife, Aimee, pushes aside initial doubts to fully support her husband. She and Michael stand together as a couple through thick and thin, despite conflicts that arise at times. A few business leaders in Smyrna chip in with jobs, materials and even sweat to help Michael and the church.
When it comes to his farm proposal for the church’s property, Michael believes God has said to him, “I’ve given you land. I’ve given you farmers. Now do the math.” In spite of ongoing conflict, Aimee eventually tells her husband, “I have come to believe that God led us here!” At one point, Michael tells his young son, “We’ll ask for God’s help.” And the boy replies to his pastor dad, “Aren’t you God’s help?”
At times, Michael and others question why God would seemingly not be there to aid them in moments of need. But the film makes it clear that God was using their situation and struggling efforts in other ways and for other purposes. A church bishop voices the film’s key message when he says, “God’s wisdom is vast, Michael. We don’t always know what He’s asking.”
Someone says jokingly, “I’m sure you’d go straight to hell for that.”
A man and woman kiss.
Part of what draws Michael to Ye Win and his people is the horrific genocidal tragedy that they survived before making it to America. Ye Win talks of losing his son in Burma. We also hear a brief verbal allusion to rape.
Amid a tense misunderstanding with the Karen people, a police officer accidentally strikes Michael in the face, leaving behind a bloody scrape.
A boy gets into a fight and receives a bloody lip. After weeks of pushing himself, laboring in the fields, Michael’s hands are raw.
One use each of “dadgum” and “sucks” are as close as this film ever gets to any profanity.
We see some cigarettes, but no actual smoking.
In a wooden, letter-of-the-law sense, some of Michael’s impassioned actions could be interpreted as being in violation of a vow that he took when first being placed as the pastor of All Saints church. On that day, the bishop asked him to vow that he would “obey your leaders, even when you disagree.” (The film, of course, also depicts Michael as courageously following his conscience.)
When things get difficult, Ye Win’s wife leaves him.
How does God move us to embrace His purpose for our lives?
That’s a common question for people of faith. And when it comes to addressing that question in movies of faith, Christian filmmakers sometimes take a pretty common approach: If it feels like the choices being made cover all the good and compassionate “godly” bases then, bingo, the characters must have found God’s will.
Cue the angelic choir.
Unfortunately, reality is rarely that cut and dried. Sometimes, God doesn’t easily fit into that cinematic, happily-ever-after box. He sees the world through a much wider scope. Which means that sometimes the outcome of our real-world efforts can feel pretty disappointing in moments where God’s will just doesn’t make sense.
Until it does.
That’s where this intimate and well-acted pic works. It’s based on actual events, so there’s no Hollywood spectacle here. No light breaking through the clouds. The things happening on screen won’t make you gasp or cheer. But they might well leave you thinking … about your purpose.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.