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More than 2,000 people attend local movie over the weekend

March 27, 2014

Crowds stretched from the ticket counter to the outside doors at the Northland Cinema in Worthington, for the multiple showings of Gods Not Dead over the weekend. 
 FULDA FREE PRESS/Submitted Photo
FULDA FREE PRESS/Submitted Photo
Crowds stretched from the ticket counter to the outside doors at the Northland Cinema in Worthington, for the multiple showings of Gods Not Dead over the weekend.
By Meredith Stanton Vaselaar
To be exact, 2,196 people watched “God’s Not Dead,” at the Northland Cinema in Worthington, Minnesota, last weekend (March 21-23).  The movie, which had a limited release nationwide at just 780 theatres, was shown ten times in Worthington over the weekend, with seven of the ten shows being filled to capacity.  And all 2,196 tickets were FREE.  

  “God’s Not Dead,” has been advertised, through movie trailers, through online articles and media outreach, and printed materials.  How Worthington came to be chosen as one of the few sites to host the movie on opening weekend is a story of faith.  Synops (from www.imdb.com): “College student Josh Wheaton's faith is challenged by his philosophy professor, who believes God does not exist.” The movie also explores the lives of others who are experiencing challenges to their Christian faith. The movie opened on March 21, 2014.

  Deacon Jesse Drost, of the American Reform Church in Worthington, had heard of the movie and wanted to bring it to Worthington.  Not only did Deacon Drost want to bring the movie to the area, he also had another plan – to make the viewing free to everyone who wanted to see the movie.  While he was looking into the possibility of doing this, Pastor Doug White, of the Worthington Christian Church, also was looking into getting the movie to Worthington.  It was not long before the two men were in contact and began to work together to accomplish what they thought could be a difficult project.

  “In order for Worthington to be considered as one of the sites for viewing the movie on opening weekend, we had to guarantee (to sell) 500 tickets on opening weekend,” says Drost. “We had to also guarantee that the movie would be shown at least three times the first weekend,” adds Pastor White, “and the theater had to have digital capabilities.”  Worthington was approved as a site for the opening weekend – it was approved rather early in the application process, and became an official site a couple of weeks before Sioux Falls was approved.  Not bad for a smaller city in the middle of the prairie.

  Word began to spread about the project, and area churches of all denominations began to spread the world, as well as raise money for the event.  Local businesses gave very generous donations for the project. Soon, enough money was raised to cover the first 500 tickets.  As churches and businesses got the information out to the area, more donations poured in.  Eventually, enough money was raised to cover the cost of the 2,500 tickets needed in the event that all ten opening-weekend movie performances were sold out.  But the donations did not end there. In all, the money raised was enough to cover the cost of 1,000 extra tickets. Those tickets will be distributed over the course of the eight performances to take place from Monday, March 24, through Thursday, March 27; two performances each day, at 4:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.

  “The response was way more than I thought it would be! The local community really rallied behind this,” says Drost. “This was something God made possible; He put the idea in my head and made it possible for people to see.” 

  People came from all over to see the movie. There were groups from Marshall, and Mountain Lake, and Little Rock, Iowa.  People from Worthington, Adrian, Fulda, Round Lake, Lismore, Bigelow, Slayton, and Luverne came to see the movie. The audience members were all ages – from elementary school students to senior citizens. Groups of teens and college students were in attendance. The audience seemed to be equally represented by gender, and was diverse in ethnicity.  The crowd had one overwhelming thing in common: a desire to see this movie.

  After one of the showings, people were selected at random to respond to the question:  “What did you think of the movie?”

Shannon Reker, Adrian commented " 'God's Not Dead' was an inspiring movie with a good plot and good acting. The movie shows the hardships of being a Christian, including what happens when the rest of your family is a different religion.  The movie was an inspiration to all of us to have courage and it shows the difference we can make by rising to the challenge of defending our faith."  

  Jorge Euceda, Worthington, said, “The movie was amazing! God is NOT dead!  More people should come and watch it. I am going to tell all my friends to come and see it!” Kelly Trejo, Fulda, agreed, saying, “The movie was amazing! Everything that they showed, I could relate to.  I have experienced miracles, too (as some characters did in the movie). I think the movie is good – especially for teenagers. (Something like this) is much needed.”

  Rachel VanDyke, Fulda and a Senior at WHS, said, “I loved it! It was very inspiring.  I would recommend that people go see the movie. I am texting ‘God is not dead’ to all of my friends.” VanDyke also mentioned how the main character stuck to his faith no matter what, regardless of the challenges he encountered.

  Stephanie Mejia, Fulda and an upper elementary student, said, “I really, really liked it, and how they made a movie about God. I think one of the main ideas was to stand up for what you believe in.”

  Kristin Walerius, Round Lake, is a youth paster for Timber Bay in Worthington.  She said, “I loved it! Loved it!  The teenagers who attended with me liked it, too.”  Walerius said, “This movie could give the quieter, shyer kids the courage to share their faith with their friends.”

  At each of the showings over the weekend, there was a long line of people without tickets, hoping to see the movie. Here is a sampling of why they were willing to wait for a long time, for a mere non-guaranteed chance to see the movie:

  “My son saw the movie already and said, ‘Mom, you HAVE to go!’,“ said one woman.

  A man standing in line said that he was drawn to the provocative message of the advertising of the movie; a mother and daughter said that they, too, had seen previews and signs for the movie, which was enough to drive up from Little Rock, Iowa, on the slim chance of getting in to see the movie.  A graduate student said that the premise – a college professor with no faith at odds with a student who is Christian – was similar to something she encountered in one of her own courses while in college.  And another woman standing in line explained, “I was looking for an inspirational movie, rather than one full of violence, or romance – that’s why I am here.”

  The movie was very well received. Pastor White attended the movie with some young people, and he said, “The movie was very good.  The students liked it. The audience was engaged and applauded both during the movie and at the end of the movie.” 

  According to Northland Cinema manager Eric Reisdorfer, this was the first time something like this had been attempted – partnering with an outside agency to bring in a movie, and to work with advance, free tickets and so many showings.  “There were very few kinks in the process,” says Reisderfer, “and it would be nice to do something like this again.”  Reisdorfer recalled only one other time in which the crowds were as big – and that was for the premier of the movie “Twilight.” Reisdorfer was pleased that Northland Cinema was able to host “God’s Not Dead,” during its premier weekend. “I would like to thank everyone who came,” he says.

  Along with the cooperation among the local churches, sponsoring agencies and businesses, private donators, and the theatre itself, the local Gideons organization (covering Nobles and Murray counties) was present, handing out pocket-sized copies of the New Testament, including Psalms and Proverbs, to anyone who wanted a copy.  The Gideons have had a local camp for more than fifty years. At their monthly meeting less than two weeks ago, it was suggested that the Gideons be on hand during the movie premier and they were happy to participate.  More than 500 copies of the books were handed out (with copies in English, as well as Spanish), along with copies of “The Life Book,” which was a big hit with teenagers.

  Deacon Drost is pleased with the cooperation of the churches in the area, for what was truly an ecumenical event, as well as the businesses, the organizations, and all who helped with the event.  Drost says, “I want to thank all of our supporters and who who helped make this event possible, and for the generosity that made it possible to offer this film for free.”

  “God’s Not Dead,” will be shown at the Northland Cinema in Worthington through Thursday, March 27, 2014.  There will be 1,000 free tickets available for these shows.   (www.northlandtheatre.com)    The movie is tentatively scheduled to be shown at the Palace Theatre in Luverne, on April 4 (as of this publication, the performance is not free).

  For further information on organizations discussed in the article, please check the following links:  God’s Not Dead official website:  www.godsnotdead.com;  Worthington Chamber (for listings of city churches, etc.):  www.worthingtonmnchamber.com;  Gideons  www.gideons.org; Timber Bay www.timberbay.org

  There were many sponsors for the “God’s Not Dead” movie event, including: local and area churches, Slumberland Furniture, Matt Widboom Family, Sibley State Bank, Marthaler Ford/Chevrolet, CEA Co-op Elevator, Weg’s Blue & White Dairy, Bousema Farms, Jaycox Implement, State Farm – Jason Vote, Friendly Dental, Steve Dykstra Family, Tri-State Truck Wash, Lindquist Tax Service, Don Groninga Construction, Mike Crowley Crop Insurance, Bob & Steve’s Shell, Hinsberger Contruction, Real Estate Retrievers, Daily Globe, Harvey’s Signs, KM Graphics, and many, many others who gave donations and gave of their time.



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