RAPID CITY, S.D. (BP)--South Dakota pastor John Little is a fan of Christian movies, but even he's generally skeptical when he reads stories about how a particular film is changing peoples' lives.
But after watching "Fireproof" -- and seeing marriages change for the better -- he's a believer.
"I really think Fireproof is the real deal," the pastor of Rapid Valley Baptist Church in Rapid City told Baptist Press. "I've seen it happen."
The 2008 hit that made $33 million on a $500,000 budget, Fireproof will be released on DVD Tuesday. Made by staff and volunteers at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. -- the same congregation that made the 2006 film "Facing the Giants" -- Fireproof opened in the Top 5 nationally in total gross despite playing in fewer than 1,000 theaters and also finished in the Top 10 its first eight weeks in per-theater average gross.
The DVD release coincides with the release of “The Love Dare” book earlier in January in a leather-like cover. Rolled out as a paperback last fall, the book -- which ranked No. 1 last year on The New York Times paperback advice list -- plays a key role in the movie's plot. A Love Dare Bible Study also has been released.
Although the DVD is being released to the general public Tuesday, it has been available for purchase by churches -- along with a necessary screening license -- since late December. Churches must obtain a license before showing it to their congregations. (Licenses can be purchased at Outreach.com).
Fireproof (PG) stars Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea and tells the story of how a firefighter captain works to save his failing marriage. The movie's website has a list of approximately 2,400 testimonies from people, most of whom either have seen their marriage change for the better or witnessed someone else's marriage improve. It also has a few testimonies from people who are now divorced and regret the movie wasn't released earlier. ("I only wish it had come out about 6 years ago, when I got divorced. I honestly believe it could have saved our marriage at that time," one testimony reads.)
"This movie penetrated the core of what a lot of couples go through and even a lot of single adults go through; they saw in the movie the past mistakes they've made in marriages," Little said.
With assistance from the Dakota Baptist Convention, Little's church was one of dozens nationwide that brought Fireproof to their respective city by buying a block of 1,000 tickets. The church publicized the movie in part by having a ticket giveaway on a local Christian station and pop station. The effort was worth it: The movie stayed in the Rapid City Theater for two months -- longer than did movies that cost millions to make -- and impacted countless marriages in the process.
Just the other day the church's lady's prayer group "had a praise report," Little said, "from a couple who had just about called it quits but now were back together after watching the movie. And they were [reading] The Love Dare."
Two local businessmen were so impressed by the movie that they bought and distributed tickets to firefighters, police officers and military personnel. That, too, had an impact.
"The chaplain at Ellsworth Air Force Base e-mailed me several times telling me that his counseling load had gone up since Fireproof, with couples who wanted to restore their marriage," said Little, whose church showed the movie on Sunday, Jan. 25.
Such stories are also common in East Athens, Ala., where pastor Tim Anderson of Clements Baptist Church has seen the movie change lives. He is preaching a sermon series titled "Fireproofing Your Marriage" that will cap with a church-wide viewing of the film Feb. 8 and a launch of couples reading The Love Dare. One recent sermon had a particular impact on a local couple. On that Sunday, Anderson told his congregation: "If you're counseling someone or encouraging someone to divorce, please stop. You're not a friend if you're doing that." He soon got a call from a lady who had attended the service that day.
"She said, 'Pastor … I'm calling to tell you that I called my friend and apologized, because I had been given her bad counsel.'"
Days later, he got another call from the same woman.
"'Pastor, I want you to know that my friends are now in counseling. They have viewed Fireproof. It has helped them greatly. And while they still have a long way to go, divorce is not an option and they're working through their problems,'" the woman said, according to Anderson.
The movie, Little said, is powerful because it deals with topics -- pornography and money among them -- that often lead to divorce.
"I liked the fact that it was real," the South Dakota pastor said. "It portrayed real life and issues folks go through. I was glad to see it approach the subject of pornography in such an open and direct way without being crude or rude."
Ken Bevel, who plays firefighter Michael Simmons in the movie, said he has been amazed at how Fireproof influenced people. Although Bevel isn't a professional actor -- Fireproof was his first acting role -- he at times has been noticed in public as "the guy from Fireproof," including one time during a shopping trip the day after Thanksgiving.
"There were thousands of people in Wal-Mart running around," Bevel said, "and this guy walked up to me and said, 'Hey, you're the guy from Fireproof.' I said, 'Yeah that's me.' I kept looking for what I went in there for. But he said, 'That movie really impacted me and it saved my marriage.' It just stopped me in my tracks right there, because this guy who doesn't know me just decided to come up to me and say, 'What you did in that movie really blessed me.'"
Anderson, though, said Fireproof isn't just for people whose marriages are on the rocks.
"I don't care how good your marriage is. It needs to be better," he said. "All men and women struggle in relationships. … [The emphasis on Fireproof] has been great for my wife and me, as well."