Letters to God
Director David Nixon Talks about Poignant New Film
April 8, 2010 - What happens when an 8-year-old boy who is battling cancer writes to God? Director David Nixon talks about how his new movie, Letters to God, is not just a true story and a film, but a movement of hope. Also learn how Billy Graham inspired his career.
We didn’t want it to just be 90 minutes of entertainment, then we would lose people who got their hearts touched. We wanted to create an outreach and a ministry around it.
by Janet Chismar
Somewhere between making Facing the Giants and Fireproof, David Nixon was approached by movie distributors asking for "more of these God films." Also around that time, Nixon spoke with a writer friend from Orlando who was helping a father tell the story of his brave 8-year old's battle with cancer.
The end result? Letters from God, which opens April 9.
The film tells the true story of Tyler Doherty, who faces cancer with bravery and grace. To Tyler, God is a friend and the ultimate pen pal. Tyler’s prayer letters find their way into the hands of Brady McDaniels, a beleaguered postman standing at a crossroads. At first, he is confused and conflicted over what to do with the letters. But over time he begins to form a friendship with the Doherty family—and lives are transformed.
"I thought the letters would be such a great way to get the gospel across in a soft way," said Nixon in a recent phone interview. "People would be listening to these little prayers of an 8-year old. It isn’t preachy; it isn’t overt, but you get this deep, deep message across."
Nixon explained why he believes the movie will appeal to Christian and non-Christian audiences. "One of the reasons this story really resonates is because of the cancer connection. Unfortunately, cancer touches almost everyone these days. It seems we are only one degree of separation away from someone we know who has cancer, either a family member or a friend."
But the amazing faith of this little boy changed the lives of everybody around him, said Nixon. "And that is such a wonderful, hopeful and inspiring message for anyone, no matter what they are going through, whether it is cancer or any kind of difficulty."
More Than a Movie
Nixon considers Letters to God to be so much more than a movie. "We didn’t want it to just be 90 minutes of entertainment, then we would lose people who got their hearts touched. We wanted to create an outreach and a ministry around it."
When the team talked with cancer survivors, the one thing that kept coming up repeatedly was that they had all the medical information they needed. But they didn’t have the resources to deal with losing their jobs, homes, cars or insurance.
"So," said Nixon, "we thought, 'Why don’t we put together resources for these people who are going through not just cancer but a very difficult time in their life?' The bottom line is—this is when people turn to God. It may be the only time in their life when that individual knows they need God, and so they turn to the church. We wanted to give the church resources and material to be able to deal with these people."
According to Nixon, the effort has snowballed. Cancer societies and counseling services have joined with them, and books and music are being written. "All these things have come around us to create a movement that will go on long after the movie has ended. We call it a Community of Hope where churches can counsel these people who are at the bottom of lives and really searching for hope.
"And that’s what the movie says," Nixon added. "If this little 8-year-boy with this amazing faith can change the lives of everybody around him because of the hope he has in God, we can go through anything. We who believe all have that same hope."
Tyler (played by Tanner Maguire) and his mom, Maddy (played by Robyn Lively)
The Billy Graham Connection
Originally from Sydney, Australia, Nixon has been producing and directing documentaries in Russia, India, and throughout Europe. In addition to dozens of feature films, he has also produced national commercials for Nickelodeon Family Suites and Walt Disney World Resorts.
And who inspired his prolific career? "I got my inspiration from watching World Wide Pictures movies," said Nixon. "I really got the bug to make Christian movies because of those Billy Graham films."
He spoke of another connection: "My parents are missionaries from Sydney, Australia. My dad is a bush pilot. He’s been flying into the outback, bringing the gospel to the little towns in the outback for 50 years. Do you know, back in the '50s, my parents were part of the support team for the Billy Graham Crusade when it was coming to Australia in 1959?"
Nixon said his parents helped to set up the tent Crusades and all the choirs for Dr. Graham before he came out in 1959. "I have this wonderful picture of Dr. Graham holding me as a 3-year-old child, reading me a storybook in Melbourne, Australia. My mother sang; she was the soloist there. My dad set up the choirs before Cliff [Barrows] would come in. They’ve been good friends of the organization for 50 years now."
His Own Letter to God
In the last moments of our time together, I asked Nixon what he would write in a letter to God, regarding the movie.
He responded, "God, please start to prepare the hearts of the people who will come see this movie." We believe this movie will change them, change their hearts, change their perception. I pray that every day. "And God, use this movie to touch millions of lives, maybe bring people to Christ—this may be the one time in their lives where they really need God."
Nixon believes that Christian movies could be the greatest evangelistic tool of our time. "Every night in these screenings, I say, 'Remember when Billy Graham, back in the '50s, preached the gospel to millions of people in those huge stadiums?' That was a novelty—people didn’t know what they were going to go hear. But they went to those huge stadiums, or sometimes to a tent, and they got saved.”
Now, Nixon added, the masses can be found in movie theaters. "We are doing the same thing that Billy Graham did 50 years ago. And maybe this could be the greatest evangelistic tool of our time. Look at all the people who would never darken the door of a church, or never talk about faith. But guess what? They go see movies all the time.
"That’s why Christians need to take their friends, their family members who would never go to church, take them to this movie," he concluded. "Maybe they’ll get their hearts changed."
His final prayer was that people "become our warriors. Every night in these screenings I say, 'Can we deputize you into our prayer warriors?' Start praying for this movie because it doesn’t matter how good the photography is, or the music, or the acting, if God is not in it, then it won’t touch lives.
"We’ve got to pray that God uses this movie to change millions of lives around the world."
The photo at the top of the page shows David Nixon with Tyler (Tanner Maguire).
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