‘God Is Alive’ — A Film That Believes in Faith and Miracles
‘The good God is doing’ is at the heart of a new documentary.
Living near Peoria, Illinois, Bonnie Engstrom faced a new parent’s worst nightmare when she delivered her new son — with no signs of life. Doctors, including a neonatal specialist, were unable to get the baby breathing.
Engstrom and her husband prayed for a miracle, turning to one specific person to intercede for her lifeless son, James. She hoped God would raise him from the dead through this bishop’s intercession.
A year before Father Marty Smith of Jerseyville, Illinois, was to be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Springfield, he had serious doubts about becoming a priest. As he continued to pray for an answer to whether he was meant to continue to ordination or to become a married father, God answered his prayer in a way nothing short of miraculous.
Grant Wilson suffered constant back pain because his legs were of different lengths. Doctors were unable to bring any relief. Then he turned to a healing service in a Catholic church in Decatur, Illinois. What happened next was miraculous, too.
This trio’s stories are among the five stories that are told in the riveting original documentary God Is Alive. The film was created and produced by the Diocese of Springfield.
Andrew Hansen, director of communications for the diocese, has no doubt that “miracles still happen, and they are happening in Central Illinois.” He and Father Michael Trummer from Neoga, Illinois are the team who filmed the documentary over a five-month time period. They interviewed all the people; then, while driving from one location to another, they discussed the answers to prayers received.
“If you are full of faith, clinging to faith, or have lost hope in faith, we invite you to watch this one-hour documentary that will make you laugh and cry, but, most importantly, get you inspired, move you to hope, and fall in love with faith in a whole new way,” Hansen commented about these “stories of miraculous events and people, who, despite the walls of pain or struggles closing in, found light and joy in unexpected ways.”
These ways might mean the miracle does not happen to the one for whom it is wanted, but for someone else, as in the case of Sara Reichert. She wanted healing for her daughter Hope, who suffered from Aicardi syndrome, a rare disorder affecting the brain. Hope could not walk, talk or feed herself. Hope did not receive the healing her parents hoped and prayed for, but, for mom Sara, there was a miracle.
Similarly, Betty Parquette felt unforgiveable after two abortions — until, while still a non-Catholic, she had a conversation with a priest that launched her on the path of conversion and much more.
Film Comes to Life
Hansen and Father Trummer completed a documentary that has a strong professional touch and easily draws viewers into the stories and discussions. Driving each way to interview their subjects, they discuss different aspects of the faith that connect with the particular visit. And they also share their own vocation stories. After each visit, the duo discuss each faith and miracle story they witnessed. Father Trummer underscores how, in some way, every story touches on things people in general struggle with, from heath situations to forgiveness to following one’s individual vocation, making them very relatable to everyone.
The film is bolstered by Hansen’s background as editor of the Diocese of Springfield’s magazine, Catholic Times, as host of the diocese’s official podcast Dive Deep, and as a former television personality on ABC, NBC and FOX affiliates in Central Illinois and Father Trummer’s vocation as shepherd of St. Boniface parish in Edwardsville and chaplain at nearby Father McGivney Catholic High School.
Goals Aim for Heart and Soul
“The main goal of our documentary is to not only show God is alive, but to inspire people in their faith journey to turn to him and heaven for help, no matter the circumstance, and to always have hope in God,” Hansen told the Register. Since numbers of people, including “nones,” search the internet, Hansen shared a second important reason for making this film.
“Another goal was to reach the countless numbers of people on YouTube who are searching for inspiration, purpose, faith and hope in their lives and engage those people in a unique, raw and authentic way, and do it in a long-form style, as opposed to the more typical short, five minutes-or-so videos you see,” he explained.
“So many people, especially younger generations, are flocking to YouTube for content they are interested in. More and more, people are also seeking authenticity of the people who appear in those videos. Father Trummer and I had no script and no production crew, so it truly is only he and I taking viewers on this journey.”
Viewers flocked to the in-person premiere on July 8 at Sacred Heart Griffin High School in Springfield. “For our premiere night at a local high-school theater, we had to close off ticketing a week ahead of time because we reached our max of more than 300 people,” Hansen said. “What has been great to hear is that people don’t just say that they enjoyed the documentary, but they tell us how one of the stories impacted them. That’s what we want: We want people’s faith lives to be moved.”
Premiere attendee Jessica McGee told the Register that she “liked the documentary because it showed how God can be seen everywhere. His miracles include the seemingly minor and major events in our lives.”
McGee shared one story that particularly stood out for her: Sara Reichert and her care for her child with severe disabilities. “She prayed for a miracle that her daughter would be healed, but the true miracle was her acceptance that all life is beautiful. As both a mother and teacher, I can relate to wanting your child and your students to be ‘the best,’ but, ultimately, all of us are worthy of love, no matter our achievements.”
What is more, this story “inspires me to slow down, look around, and see all that God has given us,” McGee added. “It also reminds me that what I want out of life may not be God’s plan for me, and I can persevere no matter what comes next.”
The story of these miracles and the inspiration they bring has already drawn much reaction from beyond the Illinois diocese. Hansen shared that “feedback we have received from this documentary has been awesome all across the country, and we also know of many families and small groups who have watched it together, which has then sparked good conversations.”
Personally, Hansen, in his car conversation with Father Trummer in the documentary, reflected how, as a parent, mom Sara and daughter Hope’s story gives himself and other parents a “reality check” of other family’s struggles, adding that “their story is just a good reminder that says, ‘Don’t take things for granted.’” Simultaneously, it is “uplifting and inspirational.”
Father Trummer heard from an old friend who reached out and “shared a powerful testimony” of a non-Catholic friend of hers. “Her friend was deeply moved by the documentary and expressed a greater openness and appreciation for Catholicism,” he told the Register. Overall, he has noticed how much it has touched viewers. He advised, “It has been good for us to turn our attention away from what’s wrong and to turn our attention to the good God is doing.”
Reflecting on the five stories in the film, Father Trummer also observed, “Testimonies are really the primary way to build faith. We know that Jesus did miracles in his time of ministry, and we know that God is powerful; but if we don’t direct our attention to what he is doing, we can slowly get the impression that God is distant, far away or unengaged. When people hear testimonies of how God is at work with other people, it builds faith that God wants to do the same for another.”
“A testimony doesn’t simply reveal that God can help, redeem, save or heal in some limited circumstances, but, rather, that he is our Helper, Redeemer, Savior and Healer,” Father Trummer emphasized. “Testimonies remind us not simply what God can do, but Who he is and his nature. When we know who God is, we can more persistently seek his help through prayer.” He points to the bold faith of the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13) because “he understands authority and believes that Jesus is all-powerful and has tremendous authority. In other words, he knows who Jesus is; he understands his identity. When we know who God is, we can petition with more faith. I think we should persistently seek the help we need from God, but also keep in mind that God is good, with us, and using all our circumstances, including the most burdensome suffering.”
Hansen gives credit for God Is Alive where it is due: “I can only credit the Holy Spirit for planting this idea in my head, and I know he has a lot more to share with me and with all the other Catholic content creators out there.”
And along with that, another goal stood out for this documentary. “I’d like to also promote this idea can be easily replicated by other dioceses to help promote amazing stories in their areas,” he told the Register. “Every diocese has people doing amazing things and miraculous events happening, and so looking for opportunities to share those stories to the masses in unique ways can foster high engagement and, most importantly, stir souls to bettering their relationship with God.”
In a release, an important fan of the film weighed in. “The documentary was awesome, and I encourage people to go see it,” said Springfield Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. “It tells some incredible stories of faith, healing, and real miracles, so go watch it.”
As Hansen and Father Trummer prove and summarize at the end of the film, “God is alive. He’s with us. He’s active.”