You've said you had to repent when you got to Africa, when you realized you had been disobedient to God by not taking care of people in need. Tell me about your process of repentance.
Repentance means you change your mind so deeply that it changes you. It's not just that I changed how I thought-I am now changed. I went to Africa without the perspective of a balance between teaching people the truth, which has been my calling, and helping people who have physical problems, like AIDS and orphans and hunger.
I started looking at the passages of the Bible that would help me as I live in Africa. And I centered on Isaiah 58, and I read it over and over and began to change my mind about what I should be doing, what I should have been doing all this time. If you really don't run away from it and don't let it be intellectual and you process it in your heart and you think about the implications of-if I'd been doing this what could it have meant to people?-you feel sorrow, genuine grief. To truly repent of a big thing, you have to go into it with your heart open and force yourself to deal with it at that level and to apologize to God. I'm almost through that.
When you decided to go to Africa last spring, you were in the process of moving to California, but you couldn't find a house. What had you planned to do in Los Angeles?
I'd been with the organization I'd founded, Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, for 25 years. In 1998 I launched an organization with a 15-year goal: get a [Bible] teacher for every 50,000 people, in every country of the world, in 15 years' time. And after five years we were in 82 countries. That's a new country every 3 weeks. We had 33,000 trained Bible teachers.
We also had a top-down strategy--to mobilize a general interest in biblical topics by having a motion picture made in Hollywood on that topic and a popular TV series on [the same] topic. An example would be "marriage."
I told the board that's what I wanted. But the board didn't want me to go there. They felt I was being pulled off. I had to make up my mind to stay in the organization or resign, and I resigned. And I announced I was moving to California to make movies. I spoke to producers who wanted to know about Jabez, and then I went out in April to find a house and couldn't find one. It didn't make sense. I'm not really that fussy, and I was a little bit frustrated.
So in May I went to Africa. I was already working in Hollywood on a number of films by that time. One of them was about The Prayer of Jabez, and there were others as well.
When I was in Kenya I spoke to 1000 religious leaders, and I asked how many people had someone in their immediate family die of AIDS. I asked them to stand. A thousand people stood. I stepped back from that, stunned. I asked the question again, thinking maybe they didn't understand. The same number of people stood. So I asked how many of you have preached at least one sermon on AIDS? And three people stood. I said, "How can you not be speaking about this?" One man stood and said, "Because we don't know what to say."
So I trained them that week about what to say, and in that week I went to see the president of Kenya. I said, "Is there something that keeps you awake at night that perhaps I can help you with?" He said, "AIDS is killing my country. I wish I had a Hollywood movie on AIDS that would take the misconceptions away." So I said, "OK sir, I'll make you a movie."
So we made a movie in South Africa about a Zulu boy whose parents die of AIDS, his pilgrimage to Johannesburg, and what he learns. And it's a compelling two-hour movie. Right now it's in a festival in California and was the number one hit at this festival. It's called Beat the Drum, and it comes out next year.
Tell us about your current ministry, in South Africa.