Bishop T.D. Jakes is one of the best-known pastors of any denomination around the United States, but before he founded The Potter’s House in Dallas, TX, with its five-thousand-seat auditorium and a thirty-four-acre campus, he was a fledgling pastor in Charleston, West Virginia. In May 1996, he uprooted his family, and fifty faithful families from his church, and relocated to further the mission God had placed on his heart: to reach the abandoned and destitute in the name of Jesus. Now, Jakes is taking that mission to the next level: to the screens audiences are watching worldwide.
Jakes remembers the scary move to Dallas, the leap of faith that was in answer to the prayers he’d been praying. Knowing now how that move changed his life, and how it’s changed the life of millions of other people, Jakes can take the longview to big trips and movements of the heart - even ones made by fictional dogs in stories by authors W. Bruce Cameron.
“I don’t think you have to move geographically to find yourself off-center,” the bishop mused. “But I was on a search to find my authentic self, and most of us are, not just to repeat what other people are doing. With Bella, we can see an individual who is authentic and is who she is supposed to be, whether it’s helping someone in trouble like a homeless veteran, or another animal.”
In A Dog’s Way Home, Bella finds herself separated from her owners, played by Jonah Hauer-King and Ashley Judd, and leaves on a four-hundred-mile journey of her own. While he has appeared in film and on television, his entrepreneurial spirit has driven him toward making films that tell stories of real love and faith as a producer.
“Part of our call as Christians is to use all of the gifts we have to bring to the table, to share what we believe about God and about life with others,” Jakes shared. “With A Dog’s Way Home, the message is right and the tension of the message is powerful. No one can see it and walk away without being changed.”
While the main dramatic arc of the film is Bella’s trip through the wilderness and through various conflicts, there are significant emotional lessons to be learned as well. These are decisions that dogs make as second nature - embracing the stranger, crossing lines of social norms to care for the needy - without discretion or discrimination, Jake said.
“Bella has the purest love,” he continued. “Anyone who has an animal knows that they are the most forgiving, loving, compassionate, thoughtful, and understanding representation of love. Jesus was like that. He sat with the tax collectors, people of ill repute. His love was so convincing; it was transforming. We need to be more like that in our own ways, indiscriminate in love like Bella is whether it’s with a tiny cub or a homeless veteran. We can love and heal those who are hurting.”
While these ideas are subjects of Jakes’ books and sermons, he says that there’s so much more that Christians can do through television and film. He cites his family’s love of the film Imitation of Life that challenged how America saw race, in the same breath he praises Mark Burnett and Roma Downey for tapping into The History Channel to reach twenty-nine million viewers with The Bible. “Pain is not prejudiced, but reaches all levels of people, so as Christians, we should be concerned with all people,” proposed Jakes. “I’m using television and film to have discussions with people who might not choose to come to church, to infiltrate culture with positive themes and hope that we expect of preaching.”
“We do a disservice when we ignore this medium of exchange because we have to go into all the world. You don’t have to get on a camel and go out galavanting, but we can’t ignore or use only one dimension. Jesus taught in parables and if he was teaching today, he’d be using film. We have to preach the gospel and tell stories!”
Bishop T.D. Jakes hopes the latest story he’s helped tell will inspire audiences to love better, and more faithfully, while extending the borders of their community beyond walls and social barriers. Through the example of Bella, may we all come to love more unconditionally.