A Friend Made All the Difference

"God has never been in the habit of doing the expected thing." Doug Bender

 

STEPHEN BALDWIN, ACTOR

So often, when God speaks, we fail to see the angels He sends — or, perhaps, the donkeys. We don’t see the truth in the advice of a friend, the guidance of a mentor, or, in the case of Stephen Baldwin, the words of a housemaid.

Stephen began his acting career in television, eventually starring in shows like The Young Riders. After finding roles in numerous smaller or independent films, he landed his breakthrough movie role in The Usual Suspects, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. But as his professional life soared, Stephen’s personal life fell in the opposite direction.

“Unbeknown to me at the time, my life before Christ was a totally day-in and day-out existence of self-absorbance,” Stephen admits. “I just did what you’d normally do when trying to maintain a career in the movie business, the Hollywood treadmill of life. I was very much swept up in that existence.”

A prolific actor with scores of big- and small-screen credits to his name stretching through three decades, Stephen became a household name starting in the mid-1990s. But no amount of Hollywood success could win him satisfaction.

“What’s weird about the movie business is that it’s so obsessive you can’t see it when you’re in it,” he says. “Satisfaction isn’t even something you consider. But I began realizing that for me it was not satisfying at all. I was missing the incredible presence that I have now of peace, the understanding that God runs my life and not me.”

Stephen had grown up Roman Catholic but had left the faith as soon as he was old enough to make his own decisions. “I found the whole experience rather meaningless,” he says. “When I turned thirteen, I walked away from any type of Christian experience.”

Once he stopped practicing faith, he quickly dove into drugs and alcohol. By the time of his role in The Usual Suspects, Stephen says he had “snorted enough cocaine to throw the entire population of a small South American country into anaphylactic shock.”2

It wasn’t until his wife hired a cleaning woman from Brazil that Stephen heard the voice of God calling him back.

In 1987 Stephen had met Brazilian graphic designer Kennya Deodato. The two married shortly afterward and had two daughters, Alaia and Hailey. To help with the daily housework of raising the young girls, Kennya hired a woman from her hometown of Rio de Janeiro.

But the woman came to their Arizona home with a mission of her own. No matter what chore she took on, she sang. And a common theme repeated through each song, whether she cooked, cleaned, or helped with the baby.

“Have you noticed what she sings about in every song?” Kennya finally complained to Stephen.

“What is it?”

“Jesus,” she whispered. It wasn’t a word that came easily in that household. They used it in swearing or in anger, sure. But to say the name like it meant something real felt freakish just by association. Religion couldn’t have been further from either of their minds. Having a full-blown Christian singer as a housemaid seemed weird beyond all words.

A few days passed as Kennya contemplated what to do with this endless string of Jesus songs.

“I noticed your singing,” she finally said to the woman. “And I was curious: Why is every song about Jesus? Maybe there’s another tune in your repertoire, so to speak.”

Augusta was the woman’s name. She stopped what she was doing and burst into a belly-shaking laugh.

“I’m your boss!” Kennya responded with annoyance. “What’s so funny?”

Augusta composed herself. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I’m laughing because you think the only reason I’m here is to clean your house.”

“You’re scaring me,” Kennya said. “What do you mean?”

“For me to go to America for the first time and work for complete strangers was a very big life decision,” Augusta shared. “So I did what I always do whenever I make big decisions in my life. I went to church, spoke with my pastor, and prayed with my friends.”

She went on to explain that she had received a prophecy in answer to her prayer. The word prophecy sounded as bewildering to Kennya as a six-sided circle. But Augusta insisted she had received her prophetic answer during a prayer meeting at church.

A group had gathered, with each person sharing a prayer request. Augusta was struggling with the decision to move to America, which meant leaving family, friends, and everyone she’d ever known. If it was God’s plan for her life, she’d go. She just needed to know what God wanted.

As everyone began praying, a lady came over to Augusta with a prophecy. “I think I’ve heard from God about your situation,” she said.

“Stephen, I need to tell you why Augusta says she has come to our home,” Kennya reported later. “She says the real reason she’s here is that you and I are going to become born-again Christians.”

She paused as they both shared a look of incredulity.

“And at some point after that, we’re going to have our own ministry.”

Stephen could only stammer in disbelief at the absurdity of the statement.

“Just to hear that idea vocalized at that point in time was utterly ridiculous,” Stephen recalls. He had just started his role in The Young Riders. The Western television series would eventually lead to his being cast in several career-making films.

“I was literally embarking on one of the biggest breaks in my career,” he says. “I was making more money than I could ever imagine. But that really was the beginning of my spiritual journey for me.”

Augusta only stayed with the Baldwins a short time. But in the year and a half she worked in their home, she and Kennya became good friends. In time, Kennya began to listen more seriously to the good news of Jesus that Augusta sang about so often. They even began studying the Bible and praying together. When the Baldwins moved back to Stephen’s home state of New York, Kennya and Augusta began attending church together.

“Sure enough, it wasn’t too long after that that Kennya became an extremely intense committed believer in Jesus Christ,” Stephen says.

“Honey, sit down,” he remembers Kennya saying to him after one of the church services. “I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. What I need to do each day, to the best of my ability, is to become the most obedient servant to Jesus that I can. I don’t know what you’re going to do, but that’s what I’m going to do.”

The change that followed in Kennya’s life astounded Stephen.

My wife’s a Jesus freak, he thought to himself at the time. She immediately began a daily regimen of Bible study and prayer. She attended church and began to see new purpose in her life.

“I became curious about the authenticity of her experience,” Stephen says. “I saw firsthand that she became tremendously committed to her prayer life and her studying of the Bible. As I was pondering why all this was happening to her, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened.”

On September 11, 2001, nineteen men associated with the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda boarded four separate planes. Once in the air, the men proceeded to hijack the various planes. At 8:45 a.m. they slammed the first of these planes, a Boeing 767 topped off with twenty thousand gallons of jet fuel, into the north tower of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan.

Media immediately began reporting that a plane had struck one of New York’s tallest skyscrapers. The theories at the time called the incident a “freak attack.” Eighteen minutes after the first plane hit, with television studios broadcasting live the images of the flame-engulfed building, a second plane streamed across televisions around the world. United Airlines Flight 175 turned sharply and crashed into the south tower on live television.

An hour later, at 9:45 a.m., terrorists slung another plane into the west side of the Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense. One hundred people died on impact, in addition to the sixty-four people on the flight.

Passengers and crew aboard the fourth plane caught wind of the earlier attacks. Seeking to halt another disaster, they fought against their hijackers. In the tumult, the plane sped out of control and crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

In all, 2,996 people perished in the attacks. Causing more deaths than even the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched America into World War II, 9/11 changed the nation — and it also changed Stephen Baldwin.

“I didn’t think something like that was possible,” Stephen remembers. “It couldn’t happen in America, not in New York in 2001.”

But it did happen. And Stephen began thinking that the impossible was possible.

When Augusta came into his home singing about Jesus and talking about a prophecy that he and Kennya would become “born-again Christians,” it had sounded absurd and impossible. But the world was changing. The absurd was happening. And he saw the impossible happening in the events of the world, but also in his wife.

If what they say about Jesus Christ is true, he thought, then He could come back tomorrow and then the game’s over.

For the first time in his life he began contemplating the real meaning of life and what might come after it. “I started to seriously pursue who I was,” he says, “and what life was about. I wondered what the Christian faith could look like if I really focused on it.”

He’d toyed with Christianity as a child. But what he’d experienced then had just been religion and tradition at best. But when he saw the transformation of his wife, his curiosity had risen to the level of opening the Bible and attempting prayer. Now he wondered what would happen if he went all in with God.

“I came to a place of willingness,” he says. “I decided to walk this walk of faith in Jesus Christ for myself. I was going to do this thing as obediently as I could according to the Bible. I decided to give it my all. It’s been fascinating to see that the message Augusta brought to me and my wife has come true — completely beyond anything I could wildly imagine.”

Stephen and Kennya are still surrounded by the type of Hollywood doubters they once were themselves. He is well aware that something strange and supernatural has occurred in him.

*

“The presence of the Spirit of God inside of me and in my life is something that I have never been able to even remotely experience anywhere else in life — not in Hollywood, not in success, not in anything. Jesus referenced how you don’t know where the wind is coming from and you don’t know where it’s going. That’s how faith works with God. If tomorrow God had me pack up the wife and kids, sell the house, and do this or that, and if I knew it was the Holy Spirit communicating to me, then I would absolutely do it.”

Stephen’s story is not the hit-rock-bottom-and-come-to-Jesus story that others have experienced. While he struggled with drugs and alcohol for many years, he found help in a twelve-step program and became sober many years before finding Jesus. His professional career hadn’t fallen apart, forcing him to crawl back to God for help. His marriage hadn’t collapsed, leaving him alone and searching. Instead, he was wooed by the promises of true satisfaction in Jesus. As great as his life was, Jesus offered a better one.

“Most people assume that I hit bottom and had nowhere else to turn and that’s why I became a Christian,” he explains. “But my life was awesome. I just didn’t realize it could be better.”

“The Spirit of God within me is constantly speaking to me. He allows me, emotionally and psychologically, to not have any fear about life or my existence because it’s not mine. It is God’s life in me for Him to do with what He wants. My walk of faith has become more of a wild ride for me than I ever expected. That’s exactly what I always wanted.”

True to the prophecy Augusta described years before, the Baldwins cofounded Breakthrough Ministry shortly after Stephen began following Jesus. The ministry reaches out to young people involved in extreme sports, such as skateboarding or motocross, with the good news of Jesus. In 2009, Stephen also helped found Now More Than Ever, a ministry designed to reach enlisted men and women with the hope of Jesus.

Those who knew Stephen before Jesus, and even a few who know him now, would have never thought he would be chosen to communicate the words of God. But God has never been in the habit of doing the expected thing. He hasn’t done the expected thing in Stephen’s life. And He’ll surprise you with your life, too, if you let Him.

Excerpted with permission from I Found Love by Doug Bender, copyright e3 Partners Ministry.

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Your Turn

Sometimes, God doesn’t let us hit rock bottom in order to change our lives. He can bring redirection at any time! A life with Jesus is full of surprises if you choose to follow Him! ~ Devotionals Daily

 

Doug Bender

Doug Bender is the author of I Choose Peace: Raw Stories of Real People Finding Contentment & Happiness. There you can read the full story of Austin Carlile and many more who found peace when they choose Jesus. He works with I Am Second as a writer and small groups coach. He developed many of the small group tools found at iamsecond.com and has coached churches, organizations, and individuals to use I Am Second groups to share the message of Jesus with their friends and family. He also works with I Am Second’s parent organization, e3 Partners, as a church planter and pastor in countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and the US. Doug and his wife, Catherine, have four children: Bethany, Samuel, Isabella, and Jesse.   Titles from Doug: What a Man Who Lost Everything Can Teach Us about Christmas Gift Giving How to Lose Everything and Find Contentment Rockstar Loses Everything and Finds Peace Why You Don’t Need Another Present to Be Happy This Christmas

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