Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Queen of Katwe looking good. Opening in only 52 theaters, Disney’s inspirational chess drama scored an $305,000 for a per-screen average of $5,865.  The film opens wide next Friday (9/30).

Synopsis: Queen of Katwe is based on the vibrant true story of a young girl from the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet is fiercely determined to take care of her family and works tirelessly selling vegetables in the market to make sure her children are fed and have a roof over their heads. When Phiona meets Robert Katende, a soccer player turned missionary who teaches local children chess, she is captivated. Chess requires a good deal of concentration, strategic thinking and risk taking, all skills which are applicable in everyday life, and Katende hopes to empower youth with the game. Recognizing Phiona s natural aptitude for chess and the fighting spirit she s inherited from her mother, Katende begins to mentor her. As Phiona begins to succeed in local chess competitions, Katende teaches her to read and write in order to pursue schooling. Her mother, Harriet eventually realizes that Phiona has a chance to excel and teams up with Katende to help her fulfill her extraordinary potential, escape a life of poverty and save her family. Cast Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Madina Nalwanga Rating: PG

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8 Questions for Actress/Author Pamela Capone (author of I Punched Myself in the Eye: Stories of Self-Sabotage, Imperfection and Perfect, Amazing Grace)

I can relate to Pamela Capone. The Los Angeles-based actress is author of  I Punched Myself in the Eye (her second book) which uses humor to chronicle the small,  true and sometimes self-sabotaging moments of her life that have made her who she is. An orphan who was taken in by foster parents when she was only 18-months old, she grew up to work with impoverished girls in Guatemala, launch an acting career and raise a family of her own (which itself could be the basis of a sitcom).
1. Your book encompasses both joyful and heartbreaking instances of what you call “messays” — everything from details of your rich Italian heritage and of your friend battling brain cancer). How do you see God’s hand in both cases?
I see His graceful hand in both of those situations. In terms of my heritage, grace has been all over that from the start. I was the youngest of nine children orphaned by our biological parents. I was rescued by my foster parents (even though I don’t refer to them as foster—just my parents) at 18 months old, to this day, I consider myself a rescue, and they, heroes. My life has been bombarded by sheer grace. I live my life attempting to return the favor. I’ve got a long way to go. My humble beginnings and the ensuing act of grace by my foster parents inspires me in many ways, one of which is my work with IMA, a girls’ school in Guatemala City, Guatemala. As far as the example of my friend who battled brain cancer, Stacie epitomized grace. She loved and worshipped Jesus through it all. I saw the grace she demonstrated as she suffered, the grace of her husband as he heroically cared for her, the grace of her family and friends who surrounded and supported her, who gracefully loved her in practical ways.
2.  You’re a Christian but would you say your book is for non-Christians as well as Christians?
Absolutely. That was my whole point. I wanted to speak in a language that would reach non-Christians, and point them to the reasons for my faith.
3.  You seem to find yourself in a lot of comical situations. How do you think God uses humor in our lives?
I think God uses humor to help us relate to him, or maybe show us how relatable He is, and one of the ways we are made in His image. I think he must have a huge sense of humor. Think about a comic on stage. To me, a comic is funniest when he or she shares a truth we can all relate to. Externally we laugh, but internally, we’re sort of nodding, like oh yeah, me too. I get it.

4.  Explain to us your journey from an orphaned 18-month old to how God has healed your heart today.

Even though I was incredibly blessed by being raised and loved by my foster family, I really struggled with insecurity as a child and into early adulthood. I was surrounded by love, but I carried a heavy weight. Up until that time I really struggled with shame I felt connected to my biological parents. 28 was a major turning point for me. I was exhausted by the effort of to trying to make myself lovable, acceptable. After a series of miracles (not that dissimilar from the types of epiphanies in unexpected places I describe in my current book), God gave me a healing of my heart. Basically, he just kept saying I love you over and over and over. After that point, I lived differently. Stopped trying to work a much for approval, and was for the first time, able to accept that I was loved regardless of my biological heritage. That was a life-changing time for sure.

I had finally accepted that I was loved simply because I was created by God, but I still had another big spiritual transition a few years after that when I finally understood that it wasn’t what I did to get a ticket to heaven, but what Christ did. That’s when I was able to let go of trying to work to get into heaven.  It was a one-two punch of getting that I was loved, and then getting how salvation works.

5.  In the book you mention being placed in the foster care system at 18-months old. What was that experience like, how did that shape the woman you are today?

I think that I am by nature an empath. So I think even if I hadn’t had that experience, my guess is that I would have still been a pretty sensitive person—But because of that experience of being the recipient of such grace—the demonstration of compassion by my foster parents who took me in on the spur of the moment when they found I needed a home—that inspires me to help others. Because of what happened to me—the gift of a home and a family—being shown such love, I feel the burden and blessing of wanting to help where I can. I consider my parents “swoopers.” They swooped in to save me, and I try and be a swooper. Their spontaneous decision to take me in as their own still boggles my mind and makes my heart burst.    

6. It’s clear from your active involvement with the IMA in Guatemala that you have a heart for the poor. Tell us more about this organization and your advice for readers who desire to support impoverished communities?
IMA takes up a big chunk of my heart. IMA operates a girls’ school in Guatemala City and I’m lucky enough to travel there and get to know the girls. As the sponsor coordinator here in the states, I get to keep the students and their private, individual sponsors here connected. Even though I don’t feel like I’m doing that much, when I’m there on the campus, I feel like I’m doing some of my most important work in my life. As far as advice for how to get involved, I’d love it if more people would become involved with IMA so that we can get our high school grades back. A few years ago with the recession, donors had to cut back and so we had to make cuts. That broke my heart. Currently we’re preK-6th grade, with a handful of special cases we support through high school. My dream is to get the full high school grades back because those teen years are critical.
For more information, log on to imausa.org or check out my site pamelacapone.com. I’ve got information on there about IMA. But if not IMA, I’d say find a place that touches your heart, and pour into it. The world needs more swoopers.
(Little history: The IMA founder was just an “ordinary” homemaker who, in 1983, met a Nigerian woman who told her that mothers in her village were routinely dying while giving birth.  The founder, Tina, subsequently helped establish IMA, a non-profit organization, which means “Love” in the Efik (African) language and is an acronym for International Medical Assistance.  Tina, along with co-founders Shari and MarayAnn, built a birthing clinic, then later a full service hospital, medical school and farm to feed orphans.  Three years later, IMA operated a medical mobile relief unit in India until finally moving to Guatemala and switching to education.  IMA has been in Guatemala City for the past 23 years operating a girl’s Christian school.)
7.  Is there a Bible verse that you live your life by?
Well, there are a few. I love Psalm 27:10 for obvious reasons: Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close. And another bible story I really identify with is John chapter 9, and the story of the blind man. Especially his words in 9:25 when he is questioned by the Pharisees if he knows who Jesus is—was he a sinner, was he a prophet… He says he’s not really sure who he is, but one thing he does know, once he was blind and now he sees. There is so much I don’t know—but like him, I once was blind and now I see. When I think of how I lived my life throughout my childhood and up until 28 years old, I was blind to the truth of who I was and how beloved I was by God. It was nothing short of a miracle. I was a slave to my insecurity. So like him, I was once blind and now I see.
I once was a slave and now I’m free.
I have so much to learn. There is so much more that I don’t understand than I do. I grapple with hard questions all the time.
I have a lot of unanswered questions, things I just don’t get. I’m not a theologian or an apologist, I don’t have a hundred scriptures memorized. Because of what I’ve seen in my life, I have enough proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Some of these reasons are spelled out in short stories in my book.  I have enough evidence in a loving God to believe, and enough smarts to accept the gift of grace and salvation.
8.  What do you hope to accomplish with your book? For the believer and the non-believer?
I hope to show people, by my simple examples in my book, that powerful things—epiphanies, understanding, clarity, direction can come in the most unexpected and tiniest ways. We all remember the sitcom Seinfeld, right? It was said that Seinfeld was a show about nothing, well, I think my book can be seen as a collection of tiny “nothings” that end up pointing to big “somethings.”  That revelation from above can come many ways, a gardener’s humble truck, a subway musician, a little boy who needs a button buttoned, a self inflicted black eye. And ultimately, I think, the more you believe it’s possible, the more it is.

John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at john@jwkmedia.com.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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