Faith trip film reaches fundraising goal, aims for television
Last December, 12 young people from La Sierra University, Washington, Arizona and New York loaded into two vans and embarked on a 1,000-mile evangelistic odyssey that required complete dependence on God.
Calling their journey “Faith Trip Inspired,” the 12 students and recent graduates aimed to bring the gospel to residents of six cities as they journeyed from Riverside to the 2012 Generation of Youth for Christ conference in Seattle, Wash. They began their two-week quest on Dec. 16, their vans loaded with boxes of religious books and DVDs. With no money, no food and facing unpredictable winter weather, the students tested their reliance on God to provide for their needs and help them reach others with the message of salvation. Their journey took them through Bakersfield, Stockton, Redding, Grants Pass, Ore., Vancouver and Seattle.
This September, television audiences will be able to learn first hand of the group’s adventures, struggles and successes in an interview with trip participants on the “3ABN Today” television show produced in Illinois. La Sierra communications graduate and film student, Felicia Tonga, an organizer of the faith trip, will attend the interview. She graduated from La Sierra on June 16 with a Bachelor of Arts in communication.
The group hopes to include a trailer of a poignant “Faith Trip Inspired” documentary recorded by Tonga, Brandon Armstrong of 3ABN and Michael Taimi, a La Sierra alum and director of the film. The three comprised the group’s media crew. La Sierra University’s film and television department provided a camera and equipment for the documentary.
In order to raise the necessary funds to complete the documentary, the filmmakers posted a teaser of the project on crowd funding site Kickstarter with a goal of raising $4,000 between May 13 and June 12. By the deadline, they had exceeded their goal and brought in $4,027 from 27 backers who in return for various contribution amounts will receive thank you cards, photos with the team’s signatures, and copies of the documentary DVD. View the “Faith Trip Inspired” teaser here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/543413109/faith-trip-inspired-the-documentary.
The funds will help pay for post-production processes this summer including editing, coloring and sound mixing. Additional interviews may also be conducted requiring equipment rental, purchase of stock footage and musical background, Tonga said.
“We are humbled and amazed watching the Lord work to supply for our needs,” said Tonga. “To us, launching a Kickstarter page was just like going on another faith trip. We were constantly updating our Facebook pages, making contacts with conferences and other Adventist media sources hoping to get sponsorships. However, the majority of the sponsorships came from church members, family, and friends many of who were not Adventist but were Methodist and Catholic.”
Tonga, along with officers of the Tongan Seventh-day Adventist Youth of America began planning the trip last October and raising funds for trip start-up expenses through various churches. “We had about two months to raise money to rent two mini vans for three weeks, get camera gear, buy uniform sweaters, and purchase books. It was a lot of work and the trip had not even begun,” said Tonga.
She announced the faith trip plans in the Hawthorne Seventh-day Adventist Church which she attends, where Armstrong, who is from Seattle, and Steven Leger of New York heard her appeal. Both expressed interest in joining the trip, Armstrong aiming to film the experience. They also attracted another filmmaker, Taimi, who learned of the trip plans through a video trailer on Facebook. “I was hooked to film their story,” he said.
Eventually a diverse group of 12 young people of Korean, Hispanic and Tongan backgrounds began mapping out their plan. Using Google Maps and tips from conference colporteurs, they determined which cities and neighborhoods they would enter between Riverside and Seattle.
Through letters and church fund raising appeals they secured $2,000 to cover rental costs for two vans and $1,600 to pay for boxes of books written by Ellen G. White such as “The Desire of Ages,” vegan cookbooks, and copies of the documentary “Final Events.” They purchased the literature and DVDs wholesale from the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and the Arizona Conference.
“We believe it’s an ordained work. We were ‘colporteuring,” said Tonga, a 28-year-old Riverside resident. “There are books and truths that should be scattered like the leaves of autumn. …[And] we wanted to inspire young people to step out and do something they wouldn’t normally do.”
Tonga and other members of the Tongan SDA Youth of America contacted Lesieli Heimuli, a former Methodist who was baptized into the Adventist faith in 2008. They asked her to serve as the group’s head literature director. Heimuli decided to join the project based on her past experiences colporteuring for the Central California Conference. “I knew that I would have to solemnly rely on God and that He would challenge me,” she said. “Most importantly, I knew that God was calling me to take the initiative in being a leader. Not only that, but this is an ordained work that must be done.”
The group structured their days to involve three hours of driving, and six or eight hours of knocking on doors, offering the literature at no charge, and seeking donations to cover food and gas costs. Team members left their cell phones behind and used walkie-talkies to communicate while canvassing. To deal with the stresses of the journey and to bring their needs to God, the group spent time praying each morning before breakfast and prayed often throughout the day.
Seventh-day Adventist families in Bakersfield, Stockton, Redding and other areas opened their homes to the travelers for overnight stays. In Grants Pass, Ore., Pastor Christian Martin provided the travelers lodging in his church when Senitelela Tonga, the group’s logistics leader, called and requested shelter during a record snowfall that closed the freeways. “It was snowing hard that day,” Felicia Tonga recalled. “We had to buy chains for the cars. Nobody had experience putting chains on. We had to stop five times to get them on right.”
One of their more eventful experiences occurred during their first night handing out books in a Bakersfield neighborhood. A resident, not comfortable with the presence of one of the male group members as he knocked on doors, contacted the police department. Three or four police arrived. They were finally convinced of the group’s innocence when the team showed the officers the subject matter of their books. “One cop asked, ‘is this a faith trip?’” said Tonga.
As literature director, Heimuli dealt with the officers. “God truly gave me words of wisdom as well as a calm spirit,” she said. “I learned that I am capable of doing more than my mind can stretch, but only when God is at the center of it all.”
In addition to the strains of travel, the young people had to endure a fair amount of rejection during their quest. “People are usually in a rush so they just close the door on you. We had students who got discouraged,” Tonga said.
Ten students from Weimar Academy joined the effort for one day on Dec. 27, rounding out the team. In the end, the group raised $6,639, including a $1,500 donation from the Seaward Seventh-day Adventist Church in Seattle, and distributed more than 300 books and pieces of literature. The money offset costs for the vans, hotel fees in Seattle and other expenses.
Following the conference, the group drove back to Southern California where group leaders spent one more day colporteuring in Riverside.
The trip provided Taimi an opportunity to observe “…the biggest opportunity for our youth and religion to strengthen their walk with God and show their testimony about our Savior and the three angels message,” he said.
“’Faith Trip Inspired’ was an experience that I will never forget,” said Tonga. “It was not easy, there were days that I found myself crying and praying in my own personal devotions asking God for strength. I learned that God does not answer our prayers the way we expect Him to but He always does what’s best for us and it always supersedes my expectations.”
“Perhaps, one of the most powerful things was seeing lives change before my eyes, watching the students push forward regardless of the rain and the snow,” she said. “This has truly increased my faith and has taught me how to depend on God for literally everything. He always provides.”