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Read more of the R&E interview with actor Stephen Baldwin on evangelism:
The DVD LIVIN’ IT is, first and foremost, an outreach tool created with my partner Kevin Palau, who is the son of Luis Palau, who is a very well-known and very successful international evangelist. He’s not as well known here in the United States. He’s kind of a Latin Billy Graham. The goal with LIVIN’ IT was to create content that would share views and perceptions of the subculture of skateboarding and BMX biking and those participants and their faith. The athletes involved in LIVIN’ IT are Christians, some of them very successful. One of our BMX riders is Bruce Chrisman, who was the gold medalist at the 2001 X-Games, and the gold medalist at the 2003 Latin X-Games. So we’re not talking about just a bunch of Christian skateboarders and bikers who are these obscure guys nobody knows about. These are some pretty successful guys.
The birth of LIVIN’ IT was in March 2003 at a big event that Palau put on in Fort Lauderdale, Florida called BeachFest. I attended this function, and there were 300,000 people on the beach in Fort Lauderdale over two days, a regular type of rock concert situation with TobyMac and Third Day and Mary, Mary and Jump Five and all of the premier Christian music groups. But down the beach a little bit, they had built this amazing 10,000-square-foot skate park. And it really kind of blew my mind for the first time to see these tattooed, pierced, edgy skate culture guys who loved God, were very strong in their faith, who in their own kind of cool way were this new wave of these Jesus freaks that are coming. You’ve got to be careful when you say that phrase, “Jesus freak,” you know what I mean, because within Christianity, for those who understand the word of God, it’s positive. But those who don’t understand it can sometimes be a little frightened by it.
It just blew my mind to be there on the beach in Fort Lauderdale and watch 3,000 little kids standing around the skate park, in bleachers, probably most of them nonbelievers. It was just a free event, a free concert. For kids, if they see a talented skateboarder, they’re going to watch. For me, it was fascinating that these kids were totally focused on these guys. And these guys would bang out an awesome trick, stop, somebody would hand them a microphone, and they’d start evangelizing the gospel. So for me, just the whole thing blew my mind. But first and foremost, to see guys who lived their life for God and Jesus and were very seriously committed Christians, to be demonstrating the fact that they could still be who they were, and they could be these edgy guys, living a skate lifestyle, but still be faithful. You know, not smoke, not drink, not cuss, not be sinning, so to speak. Just absolutely floored me. It was just awesome. And the thing that was so neat was, on a psychological level, what was fascinating to me was here were kids, three, four, five, right on up to 25, standing there, and I’m watching them, and I’m watching the expressions on their faces while these guys are talking to them about the Bible and God, and they’re interested. That was the moment for me that really clicked. I pulled Kevin Palau aside and said, “Luis Palau is awesome, he does great work around the world. But do you see what’s going on over here with these little skaters? You know, this is the future, this is really the future.” That coupled with the fact that in my experience in the Catholic Church growing up I felt like, and I still feel like, with all the evangelism going on in this country, I really believe that there’s a younger generation that really isn’t prepared to carry the torch, so to speak. We’re not engaging the youth of America in a way that they can hold onto long-term. There are statistics that support this. For me, that’s not the case with everybody. There are amazing young Christian organizations — Ron Luce and Acquire the Fire and Teen Mania and so many other organizations. There are a lot of young, exciting Christian youth organizations. But even those guys aren’t completely reaching this huge mass of America’s youth, because there isn’t content — things out there like video games, a 24-hour music channel that is going to be able to get their attention, but with the gospel, and the Bible, and God.
LIVIN’ IT was simply: How can we take this skate culture and create an outreach tool that is edgy, doesn’t have that cheesy Christian thing that everyone complains about. Let’s make something new, let’s do something really cool. …
It’s not my message. This isn’t Stephen Baldwin doing this. Stephen Baldwin became a born-again two years ago. And Stephen Baldwin went into the biggest Christian bookstore he could find. And some of them are pretty big. And I went, “Hey man, what’s up, guys? I’m a believer and show me all the really cool Christian stuff.” And the Christian employees of that Christian bookstore started laughing. And I was like, “What’s so funny?” And they were like, “Well, there is no really cool Christian stuff.” And I sat there and I said, “That doesn’t make much sense. There’s Christian billionaires. Eighty percent of the country’s Christian. Where’s all the really cool Christian stuff?”
It’s my understanding now, based on my experience in business, that most Christians don’t put their faith before their money. That’s the reason why there isn’t a lot of cool Christian stuff. Whenever there’s a potential Christian opportunity for business, the first question any Christian investor will ask you is, “How do I get my money back?” And the reason I love Luis Palau is because this is a guy who is completely all about evangelism and reaching people and the lost with the gospel. The message for me, for LIVIN’ IT, wasn’t about Stephen Baldwin the guy who makes movies and Celebrity Mole and all this stuff and what he thinks about the Bible. It’s not about that. I saw an opportunity to take skateboarders who were hard-core believers, who want to reach skateboarders and the youth and BMX bikers, and I wanted to focus on them. That’s what LIVIN’ IT is. LIVIN’ IT is a demonstration of extremely talented athletes who love God, who want to share that experience in a DVD, showing their talents and their tricks, and then in many of the bonus features is their testimony. Just like that day on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, I thought that there might be a really cool opportunity to have the main feature of the DVD just be a regular skate video. Let it be this cool thing with awesome tricks that little kids and a lot of adults are watching and loving. We set it to some awesome, new, edgy contemporary Christian music that people hear, and they go, “That music was Christian?” That was the goal, to create something very cool that the kids could watch and then explore the DVD, go to those bonus features, hear the testimonies, hear about what’s going on in the lives of these guys they admire and look up to, and then hopefully be touched by it.
The philosophy of utilizing the skate culture for evangelism was something that wasn’t my idea. Actually, 17 years ago, a skate pastor named Paul Anderson created something in Portland, Oregon called Skate Church. He was a skater, he was a Christian, he met some skaters who weren’t Christians, and he got an idea: how do I create a skate park affiliated with a church and use the skating as a way to start relating to these guys and then talking to them about the Bible? And so I give all the credit to him.
After that day in Fort Lauderdale I started researching, and on the Internet there were a bunch — you know, seven to 15 skate ministries. I started to say, “There’s something going on here.” There’s this really new edgy thing happening in relation to God and skateboarding. I just wanted to do my part in helping create more of an awareness for that. And for me, I think the thing that’s the most awesome aspect of that is, the new idea that’s fresh and effective and interesting is usually the one that’s going to become the most successful. I’m absolutely certain now that here in America you are going to start to see a wave in churches of skate ministries.
A lot of people don’t understand. In 2002, in this country, there was an observation that for the first time in America, more kids were actively pursuing skateboarding than baseball. A lot of people, a lot of Americans probably aren’t aware of that. Why? Baseball is on TV every day. But they don’t understand. More kids just want that piece of wood with the wheels and doing the tricks because they can do it alone; it’s challenging. That sport [is] being used as a way to get a hearing, get the attention from the kids. I wish this was around when I was going to church, because the best part for me is, they like it. We are positively reinforcing the gospel and the Bible and God with a sport they enjoy. I just think that anybody who is interested in wanting to communicate more about God and the Bible to their own children or any youth around them, a skate ministry and an outreach tool like LIVIN’ IT is an excellent way to do that.
I think there’s a big problem today in America with Christianity, and I don’t mean the existing problem of believers and nonbelievers. I think times change. And I think people need to change with the times. Technology changed with the times. Cars changed; everything around us changes with the times. And there’s the ongoing debate about: is the Bible real? What the Bible says is [that] the Bible is the word of God. And God’s a pretty powerful guy. You know, he created everything. So I think if he can do that, then he can keep his word exactly how he wants it. So anybody who debates that, you know, they have a choice: believe it or don’t. That’s what it says in the Bible, believe it or don’t. That’s what it says in the Bible. It says either you’re going to believe or you’re not. If you do, you get this; if you don’t, you go there. I’ve had one pretty direct confrontation. Somebody who was evangelizing on the radio said, “I don’t know about you guys, but the Jesus I know, if he were back here today, he wouldn’t by any means feel like hip-hop music could be used to spread his gospel.” I called that radio show. And I got on the phone with that evangelist, and I said, “Well, I’m Stephen Baldwin, and I make movies. And I love the Lord. And there’s an amazing hip-hop group called The Cross Movement. Sounds just as good as Puffy, just as good as Jay-Z, just as hard, just as slammin’, just as edgy, and they are all about evangelism and the ministry. Because God spoke to them, changed their lives, and now they want to share it with the youth through their music. And I think that’s wonderful. I think that’s going to give some inner-city kid maybe a chance to hear the word of God in a way they can relate to, that they never would have had an opportunity to do so if The Cross Movement didn’t exist.” My question to that evangelist was, “So if that happens, if the kid hears the word through the music and it gets him in the Bible and he becomes saved, aren’t you wrong?” And the guy said, “What’s the difference between that and somebody putting a Bible verse in a pornographic magazine?” I said, “The difference is, the editor or the owner obviously isn’t a Christian, is he? That’s the difference. These hip-hop guys are believers, and their message happens to be in this music.” I had fun proving that fellow wrong. But it’s not about that for me, honestly. I didn’t want to prove the guy wrong; I just didn’t agree with him.
There is this old regime of the Christian movement here in America that has done a wonderful job, has really spread the word, spread the gospel. But we can’t allow, in my perception, our traditions, which in the Bible are really looked down upon, to stop, literally, the potential of the gospel reaching the youth of America. A big part of what’s motivating me is, these kids don’t have a choice today. It really makes me sad that Grand Theft Auto, the video game, is, if not the number one video game in the country, it’s in the top five. It’s made so much money. This game is being played by five, six, seven, right up until 11 years old. In the game, you can solicit a prostitute, have sex with her, and beat her to death with a baseball bat. Number one game in the country. Now, I’ve been in some radical films: USUAL SUSPECTS, FLED, you know. I’ve done some things that, before I believed what I believe today — and obviously comparing those things to what I described isn’t even the same. But there are things that, if I could do them over again, knowing what I know now, believing what I believe, absolutely I’d have done them differently. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to be doing films in the future that have violence in them, as long as it’s not gratuitous, as long as I can be a part of films by my choice now, based on my faith, that are not gratuitous in their violence and language and sex, that have certain redemptive qualities — I’d love to do those films. But there’s a lot of young kids out there playing these games and watching MTV, which, quite frankly — MTV now probably more than 75 percent of the time depicts sex and money. That’s not what MTV was about when it first started. Why is that? Why does MTV only suggest the importance of making money and the power of money and sex? That’s all they do now. In the position that I am in, and with the opportunity that I have being in that position, I’d like to create some change in that regard. I believe that the Christian community is responsible for trying to create its own content, trying to reach these kids and give them an alternative to MTV and Grand Theft Auto. …
How can somebody like myself bang my drum, so to speak, and create more of an awareness of the importance of not relying on Hollywood? Don’t take your Christian idea to Hollywood. That’s like going, “Hey Jesus, I’ve got this idea, let me go ask the devil to help me create it.” You know what the devil’s going to do? The devil’s going to go, “Sure, buddy, come on in. Have a cocktail. Want a cigar?” He’s going to make you nice and comfortable, and he’s going to make you sign a contract that the end result won’t be what your initial intention was, I assure you.
I’m excited to create more awareness about the importance of giving the youth of America a choice. There’s a 24-hour music channel. There’s a 24-hour comedy channel. I believe there’s a 24-hour gay channel coming. Why isn’t there a 24-hour Christian channel that’s edgy and hip and cool and new and different, like all that other stuff? Makes sense to me.
Against my will, my evangelism has become very important to me. And when I say my evangelism, I mean I’m in, still, a pretty sensitive, interesting transition here. LIVIN’ IT, the skateboarding DVD, was something we originally created and we were thinking maybe 10,000 copies would get out there. Well, we finished the editing three or four weeks ago, and we already have a commitment to 50,000 DVDs that are going to go out. We anticipate another 50,000 before the end of the year. What’s really cool in my mind is, they like it. There’s obviously a desire and a need for it. I’m going to do everything I can to continue to push LIVIN’ IT and create the awareness of LIVIN’ IT and getting it out there as an outreach tool.
Rick Warren’s church in Southern California — he wrote THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE — has 24,000 members of his congregations. When we spoke, churches like that and other Christian youth organizations with larger numbers said, “We want to buy a whole bunch of the DVDs and get them out there, but we’re also interested in the skaters coming and doing a little demo and doing a two-day outreach, and could Stephen come and speak and give his testimony?” Early on in the process, when about 12 of these speaking engagements had been booked, one of the guys who works for Luis Palau came up to me and said, “So Stephen, look, we want to streamline and organize everything, and you’re busy, and we want to have as few glitches in the process. And we’re anticipating a lot more of these speaking engagements for you and your ministry and your evangelism …” And I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m just Stephen Baldwin. Don’t ever call it my ministry or my evangelism. I’m not that guy.” And this really conservative Luis Palau guy who works for an evangelist let me finish, and he turned to me and went, “Steve, when you make a skate video about God and the Bible, and then you go around to churches and talk about it, and it’s in reference to Jesus, whether you like it or not, buddy, that’s a ministry.” I’ll never forget that exchange between me and that fellow. Right after it, I looked up and was, like, “What are you doing, what are you doing?” You see, it’s kind of unfair, because you really can’t fight God, because when he’s going to do something with you, he’s going to do it whether you like it or not.
I’m excited about my life today and the message I have for people, because I don’t hear a lot of people talking about their faith and God and the Bible, and I don’t hear them necessarily expressing their experience here in this realm in the world. Christianity for so long has been talked about — where will you spend eternity, and you have to repent, and you know, if you want to go to heaven. That’s such a big thought, and it’s been the one that’s been talked about so much. Yes, that’s important. But what it says in the Bible is, when you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and when, after doing according to the Bible what it says to do, the way the Bible says to do it, which is the way God says to do it, it says you’ll become baptized in the Holy Spirit, which is what happened to those folks on the day of Pentecost. And then they’re speaking in tongues and the gifts of the Spirit — a lot of supernatural, very powerful stuff. I don’t hear a lot of people evangelizing about that experience. What’s fascinating about my life today is, I am living those experiences. I am living and having supernatural experiences. A lot of people get really freaked out about that. I speak in tongues; I’ve been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Is it something that I initially didn’t understand and was a little freaky? Yeah. But when I opened my heart a little bit and said, “Okay, Lord, I’m willing,” he showed me. And that’s a big part of my walk that I like to share with people.
I was shooting a television series in Tucson, Arizona called THE YOUNG RIDERS for ABC. My wife is Brazilian, born in Rio de Janeiro, raised in New York City. Met her when I was 19. We’ve been together, married, 14 years, which in Hollywood is totally insane. But God was looking out for me. We hired this gal to come work with us after the birth of our first daughter, this very big, kind of tough 55-year-old Brazilian gal named Augusta. She was working around the house for the first week, singing every moment of the day. And in the chorus of every song was one word that you couldn’t miss: Jesus. She would sing in Portuguese, didn’t speak a lick of English, and my wife spoke Portuguese, and she would be singing, singing “Jesus.” After about a week of this, my wife and I got together and my wife says, “Did you notice that Augusta likes to sing a lot about Jesus?” And I said, “Yeah, I noticed that. Well, good for her, she probably needs it. God bless her.” After a week of this, my wife said to Augusta, “My husband and I noticed, and what’s up with that?” The woman burst into hysterics laughing. Like doubled over, keeled over, belly-laughing. My wife said, “I’m your boss. What’s so funny?” Augusta composed herself and said, “Forgive me. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I’m just very happy that you asked me this question. I’m a little charmed by the fact that you think I’m here to clean your house.” My wife said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Before I accepted the job in Brazil, I went to my church and prayed with my pastor and congregation, and it was prophesied — there was a prophecy that day — that I had to accept the job because the people I would work for would come to know the Lord Jesus as their savior and would eventually go on to have their own ministry.”
This was very interesting, and my wife came to me and said, “Guess what Augusta said?” You can only imagine who started laughing then. Augusta stayed with us for about three years; my wife started studying the Bible with her. Our second daughter was born. Augusta went to work with someone else. We moved back to New York. But the seed had been planted in my wife. And when we came back to New York, my wife started attending an extremely charismatic Brazilian church here in New York City. About three years ago she was officially baptized in water and said the sinner’s prayer and gave her life to the Lord. The year after that was probably the most — oh gosh, I almost really can’t find the words — spiritually, for me, and emotionally for me, and psychologically for me, it was an extremely powerful year because I watched my wife, my best friend. Every day she’d wake up and she would literally get down on her knees and put her face on the ground for 45 minutes. And wake up, get up, get in bed, and read Scripture for half an hour, every morning, every night. That’s three hours a day, every day, for a year. …
She never pushed it on me, never pointed a finger, never judged me. She did something — well, God did something in her that was very awesome. It was a demonstration for me of somebody who was having an experience that was real. What was happening in that 12 months was, slowly, I was becoming extremely curious about what that experience was. Because she wasn’t faking it, and it was a mighty powerful thing. I realized she wasn’t fooling, based on a couple of very interesting spiritual conversations that we had. In one of them, actually, she had expressed to me, “I love you, and I think we’re supposed to be together forever, but I need you to know that I’m going to live my life for Jesus Christ. Just so you know, if push came to shove and I had to choose him or you, you’d be gone.” … I felt like I was in a Clint Eastwood movie, and the problem was, my wife was Clint Eastwood. That’s kind of scary. But it really got the wheels of my mind spinning, going, “What is happening to her?”
That’s when I started to read the Bible and started praying myself and found a church that I thought was wonderful up in New City, New York. There’s a wonderful church called New City Gospel Fellowship. An amazingly humble and talented pastor named Carl Johnson. The church is rapidly growing. It was then I had made the decision that I really have to start getting serious about this. At that moment, 9/11 hit. Two planes flew into the World Trade Center and they fell down. And that was when Stephen Baldwin personally said, “Well, here’s a demonstration of something happening in my lifetime that, if you asked me beforehand, I would have said, never in a gazillion years could two planes turn left from Boston, hit them, and they would fall down. It’s never going to happen. Never, ever, ever could that happen, and I’m a pretty wild guy in my thinking.” But it did.
It really made me come to the realization that if something in my lifetime that I believed could never happen did, then couldn’t the translation potentially of something like that or that kind of a thought be, well if that could happen, then anything happen? If anything could happen, where am I in my life, in my beliefs, in my values, in my morals? If the World Trade Center could fall down because of [a] terrorist attack, Jesus could come tomorrow. That was the revelation I had. And for me personally, it was all God’s perfect plan for Stephen Baldwin’s life. But not to become some guy who’s, like, “Repent.” I’m not that guy. I’m the new guy that is going to bring it to people and bring it to the youth of America in a new way that stays true and righteous to the law, which is the word of God, which is found in the Bible. I’m excited about the doors opening and the opportunity of doing that in the future.