'Experiencing God': New film recaps 23 years of discipleship
"Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God" by Henry Blackaby and Claude King has touched and changed millions of lives and thousands of churches worldwide since its release in 1990. The workbook has sold more than 7 million copies, is available in more than 45 languages and has been used in almost every denomination.
Experiencing God has spawned dozens of other books and tools including the newly released "Experiencing God at Home" book and curriculum, "Your Church Experiencing God Together," "The Man God Uses," "Fresh Encounter" and the "Experiencing God Musical."
Now, the documentary focuses on some of the stories reflecting Experiencing God's influence for more than two decades. LifeWay Films is a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"We've heard hundreds of stories about how Experiencing God served as a catalyst for someone to make a dramatic life change," King, LifeWay's discipleship specialist, said. "We pray that these three will represent well the influence Experiencing God has had over these 23 years."
Neil Hoppe, producer and host of the documentary, and director Bill Cox traveled to Lynch, Ky., Angola (La.) state penitentiary, two villages in Honduras and Atlanta to film segments that chronicle the movement of God through the discipleship study. The film is available May 1 at LifeWay stores and LifeWay.com. Messengers to the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention are invited to attend a free screening of the documentary Tuesday, June 11, and Wednesday, June 12, from noon to 1 p.m.
God at work in Miami & Honduras
Anthony Ponceti was living in Texas when he sensed God asking him to move to Miami.
Ponceti was shocked to discover why. Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega had been arrested on drug trafficking charges and sent to prison in Miami. Several months later, Southern Baptist evangelists Clifton Brannon and Rudy Hernandez led the former dictator to Christ. Ponceti was asked to disciple Noriega following his conversion.
"I couldn't do it," Ponceti said. "My brother died because of drugs, and here is one of the biggest drug traffickers in the world.... Disciple him? No. I hated him."
But having been through Experiencing God, Ponceti knew God had invited him to be a part of His work with Noriega. This was Ponceti's crisis of faith. Would he obey?
Ponceti's heart softened and he agreed to disciple Noriega using Experiencing God.
Joining God in Kentucky
Lonnie and Belinda Riley were so convinced of God's plan through Experiencing God that they moved to the small coal-mining hamlet of Lynch, Ky., to begin ministering to the community. They had no plan, no support and no income. What they did have was assurance that God wanted them there and would take care of the details.
The Rileys, now serving in Lynch as North American Mission Board missionaries, have seen the opening of a food pantry and clothes closet and have led in such ministries as home repair and school assistance. They've also seen an influx of mission teams and monetary contributions that have helped revitalize the town.
In all this time, Riley said, he has never asked for anything except for God to show him the need. When he sees the need, he prays and God answers.
God's work in Angola
After Burl Cain, warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, went through Experiencing God, he had a preposterous idea: What if he took Experiencing God into the prison and offered the class to some of the inmates?
Angola houses more than 5,000 inmates and at one time was considered the most dangerous prison in America.
But now, in part due to Experiencing God and the work God is doing in the prison, "50 percent of the inmates are Christians," reported John Robson who heads the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's extension center at Angola. His work with inmates has led to hundreds receiving Christ, hundreds studying Experiencing God and many earning seminary extension degrees.
Where the story begins
The documentary closes with Henry and Marilynn Blackaby.
Experiencing God is Blackaby's life message, the principles by which he has understood and walked with God. It was how he guided God's people as a pastor.
Blackaby, a native Canadian, was pastor of a large, affluent congregation in Southern California when he was approached by a Canadian pastor who asked him to consider returning to Canada and becoming pastor of a small, dying church in Saskatoon.
Blackaby was struck when he said, "The only hope for Canada is if Canadian pastors come back home."
There, in that place of difficult ministry, the principles of Experiencing God took shape into what would become the resource that has led to countless changed lives.
LifeWay Films, producer of the Experiencing God documentary, offers films with the message of faith and hope. For more information, including information about site licenses and movie offerings, go to www.lifeway.com/films.
The original Experiencing God Bible study is available in Spanish as "Mi Experiencina con Dios" for adults, youth and kids in both leader and member editions. Experiencing God is currently published in more than 45 languages around the world, nine of them available as downloads at www.lifeway.com.
Polly House is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).