Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media.
Fresh off of having won a Christopher Award for excellence in books aimed at adults for Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores (Hendrickson Publishers), author Meadow Rue Merrill answered 13 questions for me about the heart-wrenching yet inspirational story of her family’s adoption of a Ugandan child living with cerebral palsy as well as a hearing disability.
1.       HOW DID YOU COME TO ADOPT RUTH?
My husband, Dana, and I met Ruth, when she was 18 months old. A grassroots medical organization had brought her to Maine from her orphanage in Uganda for medical treatment for severe cerebral palsy. Ruth was staying with friends, who had signed up as her host family.
2.       HOW MANY CHILDREN DID YOU HAVE PRIOR TO ADOPTING RUTH?
When we met Ruth, we had three children—two boys, ages 7 and 4, and a daughter who was a few weeks older than Ruth.
3.       WHAT DREW YOU TO ADOPT A CHILD WITH SUCH SEVERE DISABILITIES?
For all the times Dana and I had talked about adopting, we had never discussed adopting a child with special needs. Yet, we had prayed asking that if God had a child for us to adopt, he would bring us that child. Then we met Ruth. At 18 months, she had the physical abilities of a two month old, but she had an amazing smile that drew us in.
4.       DID YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS?
Absolutely. I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up my freedom to care for a child who might never care for herself. Dana, however, had a firm belief that whatever we faced, God would provide for us and for Ruth.
5.       HOW DID YOUR OWN CHILDREN RESPOND TO RUTH?
They adored her. When we told our boys that we were considering adopting Ruth, they wanted to know when she would be their sister. They loved making her laugh, competing to see who could make her laugh the loudest. Our daughter, Lydia, brought Ruth toys and tried to help her hold them.
6.       HOW LONG AND EXPENSIVE WAS THE ADOPTION PROCESS?
Soon after meeting Ruth, we became her new host family. But to complete her adoption, we hired two lawyers—one in Maine, one in Uganda—and consulted immigration attorneys. The cost, including taking Ruth back to Uganda to go to court, was about $15,000. The adoption itself took about 18 months.
7.       BESIDES THE EXPENSE, WHAT OTHER OBSTACLES DID YOU ENCOUNTER WHILE ADOPTING RUTH?
While she was first staying with us, we discovered that Ruth was also deaf. So we began learning sign language. We also discovered that the only way to complete Ruth’s adoption was for me to take her back to Uganda on my own. At the airport in Boston, Ruth wasn’t allowed on the plane. She needed a special transit visa to fly through England. To get the visa, we ended up stuck in New York City and nearly missed our court date in Kampala.
8.       HOW DID YOU COMMUNICATE WITH RUTH?
Ruth was very alert, following everything we did with her eyes. But she couldn’t talk. We signed to her, and asked questions, that she would answer by looking at what she wanted. Later, she received a cochlear implant, which allowed her to hear. We also used a letter board, printed with the alphabet, and Ruth learned to spell, picking out letters one at a time by poking out her tongue when we pointed to the right letter.
9.       HOW LONG WAS RUTH WITH YOU?
A little more than six years. We were thrilled with Ruth’s progress. She had far surpassed the expectations of a neurologist, who believed that she was severely cognitively impaired. After her implant, Ruth was hearing and learning so well that she transferred from a school for the deaf to our local public school for first grade. But that winter, she came down with a mild cold. She seemed to recover. Then, without warning, she died in her sleep.
10.   YOU ACTUALLY HAD A BABY BOY AFTER ADOPTING RUTH. HOW DID RUTH INTERACT WITH HIM?
Ruth loved being a big sister! She thought our baby, Asher, was so funny—especially when he crawled away from us or tried to eat his socks. And she loved to hold him on the tray of her wheelchair. Since she couldn’t open her hands to touch him, Ruth would lick his fuzzy blond head.
11.   HOW WAS YOUR FAITH AFFECTED WHEN RUTH DIED?
We were devastated. I didn’t know whether we had failed God or he had failed us. All I knew was that I was Ruth’s mother. It was my job to protect her. And I’d failed. I wasn’t sure I could trust God. I was no longer even sure he existed.
12.   HOW DID YOU GET BEYOND YOUR GRIEF?
Slowly. I spent a lot of time at home, alone with my journal. I also spent a lot of time reading the Bible, searching for some explanation for how God had allowed this to happen. I read the most melancholy books I could find—Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and some of the Psalms. In them I discovered a God who is with us, not just when life is going the way we hope, but in the deepest darkest places of our disappointment and loss.
13.   HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD A STRONG FAITH?
I was blessed to grow up with a mom who believed that God had a purpose for my life, and that if I asked, he would show me what it was. I’ve always wanted to know this purpose. What I didn’t know was that as we open ourselves to God’s purpose, we will also open ourselves to pain. God loves people who are lost, hurting and broken, and he wants to love these people through us. That’s the message of my book. But if we love them, unconditionally, the way that God loves us, then we will also experience their pain. There is no way around it.

Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media.

From the Faith & Media In Box:

Do you know any young filmmakers eager to express their faith through a short film or video? How about someone interested in a $1,000 cash prize for doing what they love?

Goodness Reigns, the faith-based, young filmmakers ministry, has announced its call for entries to the World Youth Day based contest that seeks to encourage young, Christian video artists to create short works that promote the good, the beautiful, and the true. Contest winners will receive cash prizes and recognition during the 2019 World Youth Day (WYD) in Panama City, Panama.  For more info click here.

Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and culture.

The latest from my faith/media industry mail box –

NEW YORK, MAY 14, 2018 Nomi Network, an anti-human trafficking organization, will honor seven outstanding women at its 8th Annual Gala and Awards Ceremony for their efforts to eradicate the vicious cycle of human trafficking. The event will take place on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 in New York City to raise awareness about human trafficking and encourage attendees to take a stand against this global issue.  Award-winning actor Penn Badgley, whose credits include Gossip Girl and The Paper Store, will be presenting the keynote address. Award-winning actor Harry Lennix, whose credits include The Blacklist and Man of Steel, will also be in attendance.

“Human trafficking enslaves approximately 46 million people globally and of this number, 70 percent are women and girls. Nomi Network chooses to puts faces to these numbers and believes that by knowing our women and their stories, we honor their tenacity and the hard work of those that advocate for them. In spite of these daunting numbers, I am confident that the monumental achievements of our gala honorees will see the eradication of modern day slavery in our lifetime,” says Diana Mao, president and co-founder of Nomi Network.

 The Abolitionist Award will be presented to Emily Nielsen Jones and her daughter Lexi Jones of the Imago Dei Fund.  Mrs. Jones, who co-founded Imago Dei in 2009 with her husband, Ross, has been a longtime supporter of Nomi Network after learning how vital economic empowerment is for women when addressing the root causes of human trafficking. Being a mother of a young girl drove Mrs. Jones to adopt a ‘gender-lens’ within the grant making at Imago Dei, choosing to focus on partnerships with female change agents who are building bridges of peace and creating a world where girls and women can thrive.  Following in her mother’s footsteps, Ms. Jones has always been eager to create a world for more human beings to achieve their full potential. She has traveled to Haiti, Tanzania and Rwanda to meet young survivors of trafficking and learn about the community driven-approaches seeking to empower women. Jones was recently chosen to join the leadership program Be the Change, and was selected to participate in the MA State National History Day for a group project on the Civil Rights Movement.

The Global Ambassador Award will be presented to Jeannie Mai of Fox’s Emmy-nominated talk show, The Real. In addition to being a style expert, television personality and executive producer, Mai is also an ambassador for the Pacific Links Foundation, an organization committed to rescuing women and children from sex trafficking in Vietnam by providing employment opportunities. She also proudly supports Nightlight International, Not For Sale, Step Up, and Heartbeat Vietnam. Mai participated in the 2017 film Stopping Traffic, which centered on the relationship between child sexual abuse, child-focused cyber-porn and prostitution. She has also been recognized as one of Ciroc, Variety and Women’s Wear Daily’s 2016 Women of Empowerment.  

The Abolitionist Award also will be presented to Nicola Forrest and her daughter Grace Forrest of the Walk Free Foundation, an international human rights organization that focuses on the eradication of human trafficking. The Forrests will be coming from Perth, Washingotn, to accept their award, where they work with Nicola’s husband, Andrew Forrest, to run the Minderoo Foundation, which oversees Walk Free. Recognized as some of Australia’s most generous philanthropists, the Forrests have given away more than $222 million to over 230 individual organizations and programs. The Forrests Walk Free initiative was inspired by Ms. Forrest’s school trip to Nepal where she visited poverty stricken orphanages. Nicola is now a founding director at the foundation, as well as a communication strategist for the Global Slavery Index and an ambassador for the Humanitarian Group and The Freedom Hub, both of which focus on the empowerment of trafficking survivors in Australia.

The Corporate Social Responsibility Award will be presented to Sarah Middleton of the PIMCO Foundation. At PIMCO, Mrs. Middleton is responsible for global corporate citizenship. To achieve this, she developed PIMCO’s employee volunteer program and implemented key corporate responsibility initiatives. Middleton represents PIMCO by being on the Points of Light Corporate Institute Leadership Faculty, Executive Committee for IMPACT2030, a board member for the Sisters of St. Joseph Healthcare Foundation, and chairing the Orange County Funders Roundtable.  

This year, Nomi Network will also be debuting the new Founder’s Award for Outstanding Service, which will be presented to Board Member Emeritus Susan Lee Cheung.   Lee Cheung has over 15 years of experience in advocacy as a legal assistant at Sullivan and Cromwell LLP, program manager for development at Asian Americans for Equality, and advocacy fellow at Covenant House International, where she focused on the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act. Most notably, Lee Cheung has served on Nomi Network’s advisory board since its inception in 2009, where she leads semi-annual budget meetings to ensure proper use and stewardship of donor funds in addition to developing the methodology for program evaluation in Cambodia and India.  

This is Nomi Network’s 8th gala and serves as an important annual event to raise funds and awareness, to recognize the organization’s critical work and achievements, and to celebrate their key supporters and champions. Honorees from previous years have included actress Mira Sorvino, actress Mamie Gummer, actress and activist Julia Ormond, TOM’s Blake Mykoskie, and Patagonia’s Wendy Savage. Leading companies such as Carlson Hotels, LexisNexis, and Exxon have also been recognized for their continued support and actions.

This year’s reception and ceremony will take place on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, at 6:30 p.m., at Tribeca 360° in New York City. The evening will include a cocktail reception, seated dinner program, dancing, and a silent auction featuring many one-of-a kind items. To purchase tables or individual tickets, please contact Sweena Varghese at sweena@nominetwork.org or purchase directly online at https://www.nominetwork.org/2018gala.                              ABOUT NOMI NETWORK:

Launched in 2009, Nomi Network is a vital non-profit organization that serves as an economic agency for the empowerment of survivors and women at risk of human trafficking. Nomi Network provides direct training, capacity building for organizations and social enterprises that employ survivors, and ethical sourcing options for brands that want to reduce their child and forced labor footprint. Currently, Nomi Network is focused on serving vulnerable women in Cambodia and India. The organization also produces a small collection of bags and accessories, and 100% of the profits from product sales are directly invested back into training and education opportunities.

For more information about Nomi Network, please visit www.nominetwork.org and www.buyherbagnotherbody.com

Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and culture:

My fantasy. Okay, here’s the premise. Beliefnet buys a TV network (in this case NBC which announces its fall schedule on Monday) and puts me in charge. Yes, it’s time to indulge my crazy hobby of assembling prime time schedules once again. I’m going to assume you know that premises of the established shows. New shows, primarily from the Deadline pilot list, are below. In keeping with the spirit of Beliefnet, I believe the program choices  contain both heart and inclusiveness.

New Shows (Comedy):
BRIGHT FUTURES (Single-Camera): Four roommates all stumbling through the transition from the clueless, immature twentysomethings they are now to the successful professionals they’re destined to be.

GUESS WHO DIED (Multi-Camera): A humorous and inspiring look at the shared joys and challenges we all experience at any stage of life. Based on Norman Lear’s personal experiences. With Hector Elizondo, Holland Taylor, Christopher Lloyd, Beth Lacke and Adrian Martinez. (Note: This pilot was shot as a single-camera comedy but I think it would actually work better as a broader multi-camera series.)

ABBY’S (Multi-Camera): Abby’s is an unlicensed bar in San Diego where the regulars enthusiastically enforce a unique set of rules that give them a sense of community and allow them to avoid the frustrating behavior found at other establishments. Natalie Morales stars.

LIKE FAMILY (Multi-Camera): Aubrey and Artie formed the tightest of sibling-like bonds growing up together in foster care but are discovering that such closeness makes adulthood even more complicated.

New Shows (Drama):
SO CLOSE:  At crossroads in their separate lives, hopeless romantics Riley & Kyle are close to settling for the wrong partner, unaware that they live only blocks apart and may be each other’s soul mates. (Note: This pilot was shot as a multi-camere sitcom but my gut tells me the largeness of the concept which involves following two people’s entirely separate lives would work better, in fact great, as an hour-long single-camera drama.)

THE VILLAGE: Despite difference in age, race, culture and lifestyle, the residents of a Manhattan apartment building find that the more their lives intertwine, the more complex and compelling their connections become, thus proving life’s challenges are better faced alongside family, even if it’s the one you make wherever you find it.

NEW AMSTERDAM: The new Bellevue Hospital director’s maverick approach disrupts the status quo while always prioritizing patient care. Located in Manhattan, Bellevue is the only hospital in the world that has the capability to treat ebola patients, prisoners from Rikers Island and the President of the United States all under one roof.

STRANGE CALLS (from 2015 pilot roster): An affable but down-on-his-luck young police officer who is transferred to a rural town where — with the help of a peculiar, elderly night watchman — he starts to realize the town has a bizarre supernatural underbelly. (Note: Originally as a half-hour singlle-cam comedy, I believe the concept best works as an hour-long dramedy.)

OUR HOUSE: A reboot of the almost-forgotten NBC family drama. Here’s the show’s original premise (as described by Wikipedia): After his son John dies, retired widower Gus Witherspoon (played by Wilford Brimley) invites his daughter-in-law Jessica ‘Jessie’ Witherspoon (played by Deidre Hall) and her three children to move to California to live with him until they can get back on their feet financially. Here’s how I’d reboot the show with a more multicultural bent.

MURDER, SHE WROTE TOO: In 2014, NBC was considering a reboot of Murder, She Wrote with Octavia Spencer as a hospital administrator and amateur detective/self-published mystery novelist. I think the concept of a reboot more closely tied to the original series (i.e. say Vanessa Hudgens as the neice of Jessica Fletcher (portrayed in the original series by Angela Lansbury) who, for inspiration as a budding mystery novelist, moves into her aunt’s old home in Cabot Cove, Maine. It would be great to run after the end of Sunday Night Football in the old 8:00 PM original Murder, She Wrote time slot.

THE GILDED AGE: From Julian Fellowed, the creator of Downton Abbey. Marian Brook is the wide-eyed young scion of a conservative family in 1880s New York City. He will embark on infiltrating the wealthy neighboring family dominated by ruthless railroad tycoon George Russell, his rakish and available son Larry and his ambitious wife Bertha, whose “new money” is a barrier to acceptance by the Astor and Vanderbilt set. Marian is about to experience a whole new world springing up right outside her front door.

PARADISE PICTURES (from NBC sister network USA’s 2015 pilot roster: A tweaked version of that pilot about the 1940’s movie businessy would focus on the largely untold stories of the black industry that created films by African-Americans for African-Americans.

PROPOSED NBC SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES ET)

Marketing: Resurrect the old NBC slogan “The Quality Shows on NBC” and actually program quality shows.

Monday
   8:00 – THE VOICE (FALL)/THE GOOD PLACE (8:00/Winter)/GOOD GIRLS (9:00/Winter)/THE VOICE (Spring)
 10:00 – CHICAGO FIRE
Strategy:
Build off the strength of The Voice, using the winter hiatus for limited runs of two well-reviewed “bubble shows” that were on the borderline for renewal. Moving Chicago Fire to 10 PM on Mondays would both hold The Voice lead-in and provide a jumping off point for potential miniseries-like crossovers with NBC’s two other Dick Wolf-produced Chicago-base shows (which would stay in the current Tuesday and Wednesday 10 PM slots.

  8:00 – THE VOICE (Fall)/SO CLOSE (Winter)/THE VOICE (Spring)
  9:00 – SUPERSTORE
  9:30 – BRIGHT FUTURES
10:00 – CHICAGO MED
Strategy:
Again building off The Voice, this time using its winter hiatus to introduce the original romantic dramedy So Close. Both The Voice and So Close would serve as compatible lead-ins for the single-cam comedies Superstore and Bright Futures which, in turn, flow seamlessly into Chicago Med.

Wednesday
  8:00 – THIS IS US
  9:00 – THE VILLAGE
10:00 – CHICAGO P.D.
Strategy:
No longer needing a Voice lead-in, the hit-in-its-own-right This is Us would lead-off Wednesday into the similarly-themed humane drama The Village

Thursday
  8:00 – GUESS WHO DIED
  8:30 – ABBY’S
  9:00 – WILL & GRACE
  9:30 – LIKE FAMILY
10:00 – NEW AMSTERDAM
Strategy: 
Swinging for the fences, Will & Grace would be used as the coat hanger for a night that would harken back to NBC’s glory Must-See-TV days of quality comedies and drama. I believe there’s at least one or two new hits among the four new series being introduced here.  use

Friday
8:00 – THE BLACKLIST (Fall)/TIMELESS (Winter)
9:00 – BLINDFOLD (Fall)/STRANGE CALLS (Winter)
10:00 – Law & Order: SVU
Strategy: It’s time to wrap-up The Blacklist and Blindfold with half-season orders that provide hypeable programming and satisfying conclusions to the two veteran series. I’d bring back Timeless at mid-season in the 8 PM time slot that family-friendly show cries out for while also leading into a compatible companion series. SVU would likely be reasonably solid at 10 PM.
Saturday
8:00 – LITTLE BIG SHOTS (Fall)/ELLEN’S GAME OF GAMES (Winter)
9:00 – BETTER LATE THAN NEVER (Fall)/JAY LENO’S GARAGE (Winter)
10:00 – SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE ENCORE
Strategy:
With delayed viewing now so prevalent, it’s time to start programming Saturday nights again. This collection of NBC reality shows would be a good start. 

Sunday (Fall)
7:00 – FOOTBALL NIGHT IN AMERICA
8:15 – NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Sunday (Winter)
  7:00 – OUR HOUSE
8:00 – MURDER, SHE WROTE TOO
   9:00 – THE GILDED AGE
10:00 – PARADISE PICTURES
Strategy:
Keeping Football in the fall is a no-brainer. Replacing it in the winter is the challenge. I believe the four shows  presented here are unique yet mainstream and capable of changing viewing habits.