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New NAMB projects to feature Mary Lou Retton, Cassie Bernall

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The announcement of two high-profile broadcast media projects — a new children’s program featuring gymnast Mary Lou Retton and a potential theatrical or television movie based on the life of Columbine High School martyr Cassie Bernall — highlighted the regular meeting of North American Mission Board trustees Feb. 9.

Also introduced was another program for FamilyNet titled, “Open House,” a talk show featuring hosts Chuck and Jennie Borsellino focusing on strengthening the home and family through the discussion of Christian truths.

The announcements came during an address by NAMB President Robert E. Reccord that touched on a variety of projects currently under way through the board and its partners — including the success of YouthLink 2000, the recently overturned FCC ruling that would have added to restrictions for Christian television stations, an update to the Church Planter Management System software package for churches, and the agency’s North American Mission Study for 2000, which focuses on using media in evangelism.

The focus was clearly on the agency’s effective use of technology in fulfilling its mission.

“If the North American Mission Board is indeed to make an impact on an entity called North America … it must understand the times — and it must know with those times what it must do,” Reccord said.

In other business, trustees learned that 72 new missionaries have been appointed or approved since Jan. 1, joining more than 5,000 missionaries currently serving in the United States and Canada. They also learned that the agency’s Chaplains Commission had endorsed 24 new chaplains and pastoral counselors, and renewed endorsements for 63 others.

The Mary Lou Retton television show — titled “Mary Lou’s Flip Flop Shop” — will combine the fresh educational concept of “creative movement” for preschool children with positive Christian values.

Retton will be joined in her imaginative “Flip Flop Shop” by a cast of costumed characters, each with unique characteristics that reinforce particular values. Also part of the team will be a group of children who will participate in the activities — making it easier for young viewers to get out of their seats and join in.

“My show will create a foundation for kids — teach them the values of honesty and truthfulness,” Retton said in a news release announcing the program. “We will educate and entertain through the use of physical movement. This will be an interactive program that will be both educational and fun.”

Retton, and her husband, Shannon Kelley, are active members of Second Baptist Church of Houston. Reccord said discussions about producing “Mary Lou’s Flip Flop Shop” arose after Retton was featured in an evangelistic television commercial produced by NAMB.

A multiple gold medallist in the 1984 Olympics, Retton even today is “one of the top 10 most admired people in North America,” Reccord said.

“She wanted me to tell you she is ecstatic about the opportunity to work now and in the future with Southern Baptists and the North American Mission Board broadcast team to bring value-based programming to children,” Reccord said.

FamilyNet will partner with nationally known producer Bill Young in bringing the program to commercial television as well, Reccord said. The version of the show produced for FamilyNet audiences, however, will have an explicitly biblical ending. “And that’s a God thing,” Reccord said.

The Christian long-distance telephone company LifeLine has been enlisted as a corporate sponsor for the program. “The partnership between Mary Lou and LifeLine makes this program possible, and provides a win-win situation for all parties,” said Randy Singer, NAMB’s executive vice president. “Strategic alliances are the order of the day in maximizing the reach of media resources. This is clearly a situation where one plus one plus one equals much more than three.”

The Cassie Bernall project is another unique opportunity for NAMB, one which opens the possibility for the agency to produce for the first time a feature-length movie for theatrical or television release.

Reccord announced that the agency had reached a final verbal agreement with Brad and Misty Bernall late the previous evening for an option to acquire all motion picture and television rights to their daughter Cassie’s story — described in Misty Bernall’s popular book “She Said Yes.”

Cassie Bernall was one of 13 victims in the April 20, 1999, shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Reports of her unflinching answer of “Yes” when asked by her killer if she believed in God quickly became one of the most powerful stories surrounding the shootings.

Misty Bernall’s book focuses on Cassie’s dramatic transformation in the years and months before the shooting. It describes how God’s grace and “tough love” led Cassie from a life of rebellion and involvement in the occult to one of unquestioned commitment to Jesus Christ.

Brad Bernall, contacted by Baptist Press at his home in Littleton, said he has talked with several producers and their agents regarding rights to their story, but he “never was completely comfortable with anything.”

He felt differently when NAMB contacted him, based on his positive experience speaking as part of NAMB’s report to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting last June in Atlanta.

“I just knew the North American Mission Board was a group of really good folks, and we shared the same beliefs, values and morals,” he said. “… Right away I knew that was the right path to take.” Bernall said he expected the formal agreement to be signed in a matter of days.

Bernall, a member of West Bowles Community Church in Littleton, said their hopes for the movie project are the same as for the book — that others might benefit from their story.

“We felt Cassie’s story before her death needed to be shared, and by doing the movie we would be able to encourage parents and young people with her story,” he said. “They can see how much trouble she was in, and how she made a conscious decision to turn away from the dark and follow the light.”

Reccord said the intent is that Cassie’s story would serve as a powerful witness of the life-changing power of Christ.

“These are places where Southern Baptists have never gone before,” he said. “It is reaching out to people we don’t usually touch in the normal way we do things. But if we don’t do whatever it takes to reach people where they are … we are going to miss some of the very people Christ sent us to touch.”

The debut of “Open House” is part of that emphasis as well. Reccord called the talk show, which will begin airing soon on FamilyNet, “an everyday show for everyday people.” In addition to humor, entertainment and practical information aimed at strengthening the home, the hosts also directly address spiritual concerns of Christian families.

A video clip shown to trustees, for example, featured the Borsellinos sitting in a kitchen set discussing Sunday school’s important — but not exclusive — role in their children’s overall Christian education.

“It’s then Mom and Dad’s job to water those lessons the other six days of the week,” said Jennie Borsellino.

    About the Author

  • James Dotson