By Joe L. Brown
“It’s a rental,” I thought after seeing a preview of To Save A Life with other youth workers. But then a pastor shared at our youth network meeting how the movie resonated with his students and how they experienced growth and transformation because of it. So I jumped in and bought the basic package, which includes lots of good material for promotion and planning.
The movie description reads: “Jake and Roger grew up as best friends. But in high school, Jake becomes a star athlete who has it all: a college scholarship and the perfect girl, an ideal life that comes at the exclusion of his childhood friend. Meanwhile, Roger no longer fits in anywhere and becomes tired of always being pushed aside. He makes a tragic move that spins Jake’s world out of control. As Jake searches for answers, he begins a journey that will change his life forever.”
This narrative barely scratches the surface. The movie boldly reveals a raw slice of high school life. It touches on a host of issues: suicide, cutting, drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, teen pregnancy, gossip, hypocrisy in the church, peer pressure, wild parties, depression, divorce and swearing, just to name a few. Too many issues and too little time. Parents and other youth workers were mildly impressed, but our teenagers thought it was fantastic!
We showed the movie to parents a week before their students saw it and parents loved that. Christine, mother of a freshman girl, was concerned: “I don’t want my daughter thinking everything will work out fine if she gets pregnant.” Tim, with a sophomore son, didn’t think that would be a problem: “There were real and life-changing consequences.” Susan, a parent of three girls, said, “A key part of the movie was how Christians were not portrayed as perfect; hypocrisy in the church was evident. But God touched Jake and helped him try to do the right things, despite the mixed message.” One dad wept as he watched Roger being rejected by his peers. Another mom said, “We should be more attentive to the person who is the outcast…. As Christians, there should be no outcasts in our community.”
Students eagerly praised the film. “It was great, not at all cheesy,” said Andre, 19, who plans to be more careful with his behavior, realizing that younger people are looking up to him. Josiah, 17, related situations in the movie to his life: “I guess I’ve got to do what’s right, no matter what others may do.” Laura, 14, thought we should watch it again… immediately!
The movie provides a bridge to issues that can be somewhat awkward. Our youth group seems more open to discussing difficult issues. We’re not as afraid to bring up sensitive topics or to offer help to friends that are hurting. Students have also expressed a desire to reach out to their peers. Plans are underway to show it again in the fall, with a greater effort to invite not only friends, but those who seemingly have no friends.
Its author, Jim Britts, says To Save a Life is not a Christian movie. But I have to admit it’s the best movie I’ve seen on following Jesus.
Joe L. Brown is the “youth guy” at Heritage Bible Church, Bakersfield, Calif.
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