Category Archives: Ben Avery

How The Gideon Changed My Life

By Ken Raney

Here’s how the Gideon changed my life…my wife, Deb, and I have been fortunate enough to attend all five Gideon conferences, and every year the Lord has used the Gideon to encourage us as we attempt to use the gifts and talents the Lord has given us, for Him and His Kingdom.

Admittedly, those are high sounding words. But what does that really mean?

We went to the first Gideon at a time when I had given up on ever using the talents I believed God had given me. I was working in the corporate world, making a pretty good living. Our youngest daughter was a junior in high school and we were facing an empty nest within a year. Deb had received an invitation to attend a new conference that was being formed in order to get established authors in front of Christian filmmakers to pitch their stories to be made into movies. Deb wanted to go, but we needed to pay $300 nearly a year in advance. After we prayed about it, I said, “I think you should go, and I want to go, too!”

Months later, as we were getting ready to go to the conference, I told Deb that this was probably the end of my efforts to be an illustrator producing art and stories I hoped would lead young adults to the Lord. “Unless something happens at this conference to change my mind, I give up!”

Well, the Lord broke through to me at the Gideon! Did I get a contract for my book? No. Did I make a connection with publishers that encouraged me with my book? Nope. The only thing that happened is that I met and talked to dozens of people who felt the same way I did. God had given them a gift. They had a passion to reach the world with the message of Jesus Christ through entertainment media. Some were being successful; some were, like me, frustrated and despairing, but all of us shared this common calling.

I left the Gideon with the distinct belief that I had heard the Lord say to me that He had something He wanted me to do. What a refreshing revelation! I was not only encouraged, I was emboldened.

Our second Gideon was just as spiritually refreshing as the first. We heard keynotes and devotions from professionals in media telling how the Lord had guided them to do what they do. Their struggles. Their triumphs. And again, we were greatly encouraged by the presence of the Holy Spirit ministering among us.

In fact, artist Mike Maihack told me near the end of his first Gideon, “This is almost like a spiritual retreat!” He and his wife, Jen (a photographer), loved it.

Three times a day, we would all trek down to the cafeteria and stand in line next to a musician, a make-up artist, a director, an actor or actress. We would talk and learn about each other and our testimonies. I truly believe one of the best things about the Gideon is being able to have lunch with fellow Christian creatives and learn from and about them. Many a friendship and partnership has been forged over breakfast.

About three months before our second Gideon, I was laid off from my job. I had been Advertising Manager for a good-sized manufacturing firm, and they decided they didn’t need me on their payroll any more. The interesting thing is, I was not surprised. In fact, I was somewhat expecting it, because about two years earlier, the Lord spoke to me and told me that I would not be retiring from that company. It seemed he had something else in mind for me.

I came home from work early on February 27, 2009 and announced to my lovely wife, Deborah, that I had been laid off, and that I was fairly certain God did not want me to look for another “real” job!

Needless to say, this was not well received. We decided to pray and set some benchmarks as we tried to discern the Lord’s will. Again, one of the benchmarks was the Gideon.

Deb and I left the second Gideon believing the Lord did indeed have something in mind, but we differed on what that might be. I had received a vision from the Lord for an entertainment website aimed at Christian teenagers. I remember leaving the Gideon and telling Deb, “Wouldn’t it be cool to launch at the Gideon next year?”

The Gideon had provided a lot of contacts for content, career interviews, and collaborators on Clash. I received much encouragement and help with Clash from fellow Gideonites.

When it came time to start planning for Gideon #3, I contacted Lori Marett, the Gideon co-director, and asked if I could give one of the devotions in the morning. I told her I had something big to announce. She graciously said yes and I spent the next eight months setting up a corporation for Clash, producing the website, and loading content. Clash launched on February 1, 2010. Three months before the third Gideon.

My plan was to get up in front of the 260 attendees of the Gideon and report the amazing things God had done with this new website/ministry.

Instead, I had to get up and tell them that even though I was sure God had called me to do this, and He had confirmed it time and again with signs, and even miracles. At that point Clash was not a success in the way I had hoped. We had hoped to have 100,000 teens visit the site every month and we were only drawing about 5,000. And we had exhausted our advertising budget and really had no hope of attracting any more visitors to the site.

Well, apparently that was a much needed message, because I was swamped after my talk by others who had or were facing the same thing. They felt a call from the Lord, yet things weren’t going like they expected. Again, I left very encouraged and determined to press on with what the Lord had given me to do.

I just checked and as of January 1, 2013 we are at 10,000 visits per month.

The Gideon has had a large number of stories where attendees have achieved success, and in many cases as a direct result of connections made at the Gideon. We marvel at watching the careers of Saylors Brothers Productions, Erica Lane’s music, Erwin Brothers Productions, Ben Avery writing for Kingstone Comics, Eric Wilson, Ray Blackston, and Doug Peterson writing for Kingstone’s Bay Forest Books imprint, and some others whose names can’t be released quite yet.

And me, I’m making a living as an illustrator and graphic designer in the world of Christian Media.

Big names? Yes, the Gideon has had its share of big name media folks: Ted Baehr, Brian Bird, Mitchell Galin, Dallas Jenkins, Michael Joiner, Michael Katt, Paul McCusker, David Nixon, Linda Seger, Nancy Stafford, Phil Vischer, Ken Wales, Muse Watson and many, many others.

This year, as always, Christian films were shown each day of the conference, and many times the Gideon hosted the world premiere of a movie. Producers, directors, and actors answer questions after the film, then we break for some great brownies or cookies, and go back to watch another movie. Many attendees sit around and talk late into the night and then complain about how tired they are the next day.

In the four years Deb and I have attended the Gideon, there has been a noticeable improvement in the quality of the films in terms of production values, cinematography, and acting. More and more, Christian movies are on a par with excellent secular films––every bit as well-done, well-written, and well-acted.

If you are a Christian creative or want to be one, pray about attending the 6th annual Gideon Media Arts Conference and Film Festival, July 12-16, 2013 at the Orlando Airport Marriott, in Orlando, FL. Even seasoned professionals can be inspired and learn new things as they rub shoulders with others in entertainment media. You can sit down to lunch with a singer who has dozens of CDs, and wants to make a movie of an incident in his life in which the Lord saved him from a plane crash, or you can meet a retired U.S. General who was involved in the Black Hawk Down incident, or hear the inspiring testimony of the National Champion Waterski Jumper, or learn about making movies, writing novels, creating graphic novels, all from people whose heart’s desire is to be used by God to reach a lost world for Jesus Christ.

We hope to see you at the Gideon next year.


Gideon Is…Relationships!

by Ben Avery

Gideon is an incredible experience for many people and for many reasons, but for me, there is one reason I look forward to being at the Gideon every year.


Sure, there are showings of great movies by Christian filmmakers. And there are the seminars filled with invaluable information. And there has been some pretty good food in the past. And don’t forget the keynote speakers, who spiritually motivate and professionally inspire.

But Gideon is, to me, more. It is people. It is iron sharpening iron. Relationships, as I said.

On many different levels.

At Gideon, I have had the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting people I know. Many of them are people I stay in contact with throughout the year.

A couple of those relationships have been on a professional level.

I have gotten to know a handful of people who have contacted me during the year between Gideon conferences, asking me for advice about creating comic books.

I met a man who ended up hiring me to do a number of freelance writing projects.

I met a man who has partnered with me to produce a podcast for over a year now.

I met some people, face to face, who I had collaborated with on projects in the past but only been in contact with via e-mail before.

I have made some friendships, familiar faces that I am so glad to see every year.

But also acquaintances that, when sitting at a table eating dinner and “breaking bread,” I would never have had a chance to talk to outside the confines of Gideon. At meal times, I have found myself sitting with aspiring screenwriters, a career musician who wrote music for movies, working actors, hopeful actors, producers, publishers, novelists, aspiring novelists, singers, songwriters, singer/songwriters, young people still figuring out what they want to do with their lives, young people with concrete certainty what they want to do with their lives . . . I could go on, but you get the idea. These are people who I learned from just by sharing experiences, anecdotes, and even just sleepy greetings during breakfast.

Many of these relationships have been on a deeper spiritual level, too.

One woman listened to a dream that I have for a ministry/media project and gave me many words of encouragement and $20 toward that project. “Seed money” she called it, telling me she believed in that project. And as I move forward on that project, her encouragement is one thing that is in the front of my mind.

I made a friend who, in the couple years since we met, I have been able to encourage and receive encouragement from him and he has encouraged me, once encouraging me to do something I knew I needed to do, definitely did not WANT to do, but when he talked me through it, ended up doing it.

Iron sharpening iron.

Finally, and most importantly, a relationship I have found strengthened at Gideon is my relationship with God

Now, I can’t guarantee how it will happen for you, but I can again share from my own experience.

While I have been at Gideon, I have been able to listen to some very powerful sermon messages and testimonies. I have, as I mentioned above, had some interesting discussions with other people at Gideon. Sitting over dinner, I have had some of the most encouraging words spoken to me by both friends and near strangers.

And while Gideon has been so busy as I tried to make it to seminars I want to attend and prepare for my own seminars and get to dinner on time and making appointments with other Gideonites with their own busy schedules . . . I have also found Gideon to be a retreat.

A retreat away from the busy-ness of everyday life. A retreat from the responsibilities of everyday life. A retreat from friends and family.

And so, as busy as I am, I found that I had time to spend with God in a different way than I do at home. I have had a chance to hear God in a different way that I do at home. There is something about being in that different place, surrounded by people who are there to improve their craft in service to God, that makes you look at things in a new way.

I cannot guarantee you will have the same experiences I have had, but I can tell you that, if you let it, you will be touched by the many relationships that come your way.

I have.

“17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Proverbs 27:17 NIV