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A 'Strange and Wonderful' Miracle: How Burmese Refugees Helped Save a Struggling Church

All Saints Movie
All Saints Movie

Smyrna, TN – The surprising story of how Burmese refugees brought new life to an American church is now a major motion picture.

The "All Saints" cast includes big names, like actor John Corbett and Christian comedienne Chonda Pierce.

Corbett plays the role of Michael Spurlock. He walked away from a business career to become an Episcopal priest more than ten years ago. And the was just the beginning of what Spurlock calls "a miraculous journey."

The paper salesman became a preacher and his first job as a pastor was to shut down the financially struggling All Saints Church in Smyrna, Tennessee.

Looking back at that time, Spurlock told CBN News, "That is where God intended for me to be."

As Father Michael prepares to shut down the church in 2008, a group of persecuted Christians from Burma shows up. They are looking for help, and he could not turn them away.

Spurlock said, "I don't see how we could honestly claim the title of Christian, and done anything differently."  

"My faith in Jesus, my love of Jesus tells me that there is only one answer."

A Word from God: 'Start a Farm'

Not long after opening the church doors to the refugees, Spurlock said he clearly heard the voice of God.

He recalled, "It was really the eleventh hour when we thought we had an offer on the church and we were going to have to accept it that I took a walk out on the fields behind the church and God said, 'Michael, I have given you farm land and I have sent 65 expert farmers from the other side of the world. You are supposed to start a farm here. That's your future'." 

All Saints Church sits on 22 acres of land. 17 of those acres are farm-rich and perfectly flat. And in many ways, the land not only produced food, it also gave the church new life.

A 'Strange and Wonderful' Miracle

As that miracle story gets shared with the rest of the world, CBN News traveled to Smyrna for the red carpet screening, where the film's stars joined the real life heroes.

Seeing their story on the big screen, Spurlock said, "It's strange and it's wonderful. And because it's strange and wonderful, it seems to fit perfectly with this place because this is a strange and wonderful place."

John Corbett, who plays Father Spurlock in the film, was at the red carpet event. 

Corbett shared, "We have a kind of similar outlook on life, which is I am now at this stage where I am kind of bored with I have been doing for 30 years, and I realize, how many summers do I have left? I'm 56. Do I have 20 summers left? Good summers? And a lot of my time is spent thinking, what do I really want to do with those summers? Is it go to another movie set? Say someone else's lines and wear some else's clothes for six weeks, get the paycheck and go home, and wait for the phone to ring to do it again. Or do I want to really shake things up and sell the house and move somewhere and kind of start over." 

"That's what he did. He midstream, just jumped out of the boat and said, I am done with this life. Now I want to have a life of service in the church. And I just really admire that he did that."  

Comedienne Chonda Pierce once lived near the church and happily returned to Smyrna to play a fiesty church member in the film.   

Describing her character, Pierce said, "She is mean as all heck. And I can tell you exactly the women I was thinking of."

"I knew these women. I grew up in the church. And I tell people all the time I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly and my part in this movie is one of the uglies."

"Ruth was not a horrible person. But she really represents a majority of folks out there who have a struggle with change. And that is something that rings true in the church world in a lot of areas."

"And yet at the same time she reminds me of a lot of church folks that get completely off focus of what the church is all about. And that is why I love the story."

A Story Only God Could Have Written

Father Spurlock sees this as a story only God could have written. 

Spurlock said, "God got Noah to build a boat. Can you imagine the patience that must require to watch a farmer become a ship builder. So, God called a priest to be a farmer. He had to have known, this was not going to go smoothly."

Even with a few bumps on the road, the harvest is getting richer at All Saints. The church's $850,000 mortgage is  paid in full, and the church doors are still open for business.



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