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 ClashEntertainment.com 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.