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Church taking up films as ministry by Abe Levy | June 8, 2013

Link to article in San Antonio Express News

The force behind an independent film debuting Friday in San Antonio is a vivacious, determined pastor named Sun Hui East. Originally from South Korea, she has led a 200-member church in Denver for 20 years.

In January, she and 50 members moved to San Antonio, bringing with them their emerging film company, envisioning this city as a headquarters. Friday's screening at the Santikos Palladium theater is the first step in transitioning here.

Called “Seventy Times Seven”, the movie tells a modern-day story of forgiveness and stars East's son, Josiah Warren, who is also its director.

The church's movie ministry is called Strong Foundation Films created in 2011. Most members have day jobs and volunteer for the film crew, believing in their pastor's dream to “one day win an Oscar.”

Its income will finance mission work abroad, she said, while the movies are a modern tool to capture today's media-charged youth.

“I'm crazy. I'm crazy for Jesus,” said East of her venture, which has produced eight films so far. “Only thing we have is a love for Jesus and a love for people. And we never give up.”

East's church is among a growing number of evangelical congregations making films with socially conservative content. Most begin with meager budgets and an all-volunteer staff, following the example of Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia, which pioneered the model and whose four films have surpassed expectations.

Christians shine the spotlight on their movies at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, noted for its $101,000 top prize. Many filmmaking churches aim to counter the secular storylines by Hollywood, which they say glorify violence, sex and drugs.

The market is under-tapped, said Paul Lauer, founder of Motive Entertainment in Santa Monica, Calif., who promoted Mel Gibson's record-setting film, “The Passion of the Christ,” and is working with East.

“She's a force of nature. When she feels called to something, it's amazing to see how she gets things done,” he said. “Hollywood is not for the faint of heart, and most people fail who come into tinsel town and try to make something happen. But I would not bet against her.”

East's church thrives off of her energy and resolve. She's unaffected by her heavy South Korean accent, nor the fact that she's remarried, a female pastor and lacks industry credentials.

If the films do well, the income will support more movies and mission work. East is planning to build churches in Mexico near the Texas border and has already traveled to foreign countries for evangelistic events.

East, 55, grew up in a nominally Buddhist family with seven older brothers and a younger sister. In elementary school, she used to hand-write romantic stories in journals. By her early 20s, she had written enough to store in several boxes.

She married a U.S. citizen and moved to Denver, where she converted to Christianity at 25 and put romance writing on the shelf.

She composed worship songs and wrote instructional books. In prayer one time with her church, she announced God spoke to her to write a Christian romance book. Called “Endless Love,” it is based on the prophet Hosea and the Bible's narrative of marrying a prostitute.

The book is in development for the screen. When she writes, she locks herself in her room or a hotel until the work is done. Once scenes are shot, she often spends days in editing. She also brings this passion to church work.

In the early 1990s, she co-founded First Love Christian Church and soon became its pastor.

She started a ministry to inmates and the homeless, earning the nickname “Chicken Lady” for the chickens she cooked and handed out.

East laughs when she says God told her to make movies.

At first, she hired a production crew and editor but grew frustrated with how they cut out Christian elements. She and her church took over most of production and became students of film. The film ministry is primed to take off, they said, primarily because of prayer and loyal church members.

“It just seemed wrong not to stay with family,” said Esther Shock, a church member, about her decision to follow East to San Antonio.

From 4:30 to 7 a.m. each day, East opens up her house for prayer. Three times a week, they gather for worship, setting up folding chairs in her kitchen and living room. The walls are covered with crosses and portraits of Jesus. Many have Bible verses underneath in Korean lettering. She scattered a few dozen open Bibles across most rooms.

At a recent worship service, about 30 people belted out worship songs. The pastor's son-in-law, who does film editing, strummed a guitar. After the singing, she gave a motivational talk about Bible-based lessons on success.

“Everyone in this world has a dream to be successful, but if God is not in it,” she said, “we cannot do anything.”

alevy@express-news.net



“Seventy Times Seven” debut

Dates: Friday to June 21

Show times: noon, 2:25pm, 4:50pm, 7:15pm, 9:40pm and 12:05am

Where: Santikos Palladium IMAX

Information: (361)371-2703