—James 4:6 NIV
My great-grandfather emigrated from Jamaica to the San Francisco Bay area before the turn of the twentieth century. Upon arriving, he became a Seventh-day Adventist. When he married my great-grandmother and had a family, he raised all his children in the faith, including my grandmother. Well, as you might expect, she raised her kids, including my mom, the same way. I spent most of my early years under the tutelage of my uncle Dr. D. J. Williams, a legend in the Seventh-day Adventist church who started his own ministry in East Oakland called Wings of Love Maranatha Ministries. That church was where I grew up and into my Christian faith and my life in the service of Jesus’ Word. I gave my first sermon there on Youth Day when I was sixteen. I was always active at school (I was the student body president of my high school), but I was always most active in the church.
But I didn’t want to make the church my life the way my uncle had done; being in the ministry was not in my heart. I wanted to make movies. People said, “DeVon, you should preach,” and I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I didn’t understand at the time how ministry could coincide with my film aspirations. I thought it was an “either-or” kind of decision. My perspective was either I was pursuing film or I was going into the ministry, but I didn’t have any idea how I could do both.
It didn’t occur to me that my desired career in Hollywood could dovetail with my service to God, or that my career could become a ministry in itself. The difference maker for me and my perspective on ministry—the thing that helped me get to the point where I am pursuing what God has given to me—actually came from my younger brother. He attended Oakwood University, and while he was an undergraduate, he and his friends decided they wanted to stage a revival at Wings of Love (this is what passes for college- age rebellion in the Christian community!). My younger brother and I always fought growing up because we’re so much alike, but he ultimately prevailed upon me to take a short break from my work and fly up to Oakland for several days to attend the revival. What I saw absolutely blew me away: four young men no older than nineteen, taking turns preaching to big, enthusiastic crowds, all of them on fire for the Lord.
While the other people were standing and swaying and singing and praising Jesus, I was pondering. I felt God saying, “DeVon, I gave you the gift of preaching. Why aren’t you using it?” I replied, “But I want to be in entertainment,” and God shot back, “Don’t worry about that. I have given you a gift. You should use it.”
As I pondered God’s words, it became clear to me that while I had grown up steeped in the faith, I had left for a career in a world that was—outwardly, at least—extremely secular. Professions of faith may be common in the sports world, but they are not as common in Hollywood. The crowd with which you choose to associate—the world in which you immerse yourself—influences the path you choose to walk. Clearly, it had shaped mine.
Had I been distancing myself from my faith because deep down I had thought it would be unacceptable to be a Bible-quoting Christian in the movie business? Had I been assuming that if I “went public” with my beliefs it would hurt my chances to become successful? Perhaps I had. I wasn’t even sure why. I was proud of my faith, my ministry, and my heritage. One thing became clear: I had to make a change.
I began to pray, asking God, “How do you want me to be involved in ministry?” I kept on praying after I went back down to Los Angeles and back to school. Then, about the time I was graduating from USC, I got a call from my uncle. In speaking about the ministry, he would always joke and tell me, “DeVon, you can run but you can’t hide.” But on this occasion he wasn’t joking at all. “DeVon,” he said, “I’m getting older. Can you come up and help me preach?” Okay, God, I said, that was pretty obvious.
I was involved with a church in L.A. at the time, but of course I flew up to Oakland and preached at Wings of Love. It was like coming home. I knew that God wanted me at least to be partially in the world of the church as a minister.
This story is a perfect illustration of how God reaches into our lives to subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) guide our choices in the direction that will help us become the finest people we can be. I was bound and determined to go to Hollywood; pursuing ministry as any sort of vocation was of no interest to me. But God had other plans. I think he wanted me to have an anchor to my faith and the commitments that it represents, even as I went to seek success in the movie business. That’s why he put obvious signs in my path.