Darren Wilson, a professor at Judson University, traveled to Africa, China, Europe, and across the United States to look into reports of resurrections, miraculous healings, and other events he describes as freaky-deeky.
What would you say if someone told you their molars were turned into gold during a church service?
What if someone showed you an assortment of large and perfectly cut lavender, green, and clear gemstones that they said fell from the sky into the back yard of their mobile home?
What would your response be if someone opened their Bible and showed you a pile of manna, or small pieces of bread, they said just materialized between the pages?
And finally, what if you met someone who claimed he was beaten to death by a mob and came back to life after a group of Christians prayed for him?
If your first reaction to all of the above is to dismiss these claims as crazy, outrageous, impossible, or hallucinations, you wouldn't be alone.
That's exactly how Darren Wilson felt when he start looking into these stories.
But when Mr. Wilson, a native of Monroe, chose to look deeper into these reports, eventually he started to believe them. And he wound up putting his findings into the form of a documentary film, Finger of God.
"When I started down this road, I was pretty skeptical. I thought all of these people were weirdos," Mr. Wilson said in an interview. "It just boggled my mind."
But there was one overriding factor for him not to dismiss them outright and to take a closer look: One of the couples who said their teeth had been turned to gold were his Uncle Bob and Aunt Patsy. These were people whom Mr. Wilson had known all his life and whom he described as reasonable, believable, "salt of the Earth" types.
Early in the movie, Uncle Bob and Aunty Patsy open their mouths wide as if to say "Ahhhh," and the camera zooms in for close-ups of their glittering gold molars.
The couple said their dental miracles took place in 2003 at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, a church where charismatic revivals drew huge crowds in the 1990s.
Many people have asked Mr. Wilson why, if in fact this was a divine miracle, would God bother doing such a thing? After all, what good does it do in the grand scheme of things to turn people's teeth into solid gold?
"People always ask that," he said. "The biggest question is why would God do it? And I'm like, 'I don't know why he does it for other people but I know why he did it for Uncle Bob and Aunt Patsy. Their marriage was on the rocks, and this miracle restored their marriage. And that's a pretty good reason.'•"
Mr. Wilson, who teaches film and media at Judson University near Chicago, traveled to Toronto and interviewed the Rev. John and Carol Arnott, founders of the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship.
From there, it didn't take much digging to find other people to interview and places to go to look into reports of miracles.
"Once somebody heard what I was doing, they'd say, 'You have to talk to this person,' and that's how it led to this big old crazy journey. I had nothing mapped out. It was just, 'Let's see where this goes,' and that's where it went."
Mr. Wilson packed his camera and headed "down one rabbit trail after another," he said.
"I didn't know what I was going to start making, I just felt the Lord had told me to go make a movie," he said. "I didn't know what this movie was going to be about, which was, for lack of a better term, these signs and wonders I'd heard about."
The first 15 minutes or so of the 100-minute documentary include scenes of gold dust appearing on people's clothes and Bibles, manna materializing in the pages of a Bible, gemstones falling from the sky, and "what I call the 'freaky-deeky stuff,'" Mr. Wilson said.
"The movie is almost in chronological order of this big old crazy journey," he said. "The first part is what I call 'the freaky-deeky stuff,' the stuff that's really out there. It's what makes a lot of people mad, I've discovered, and the part that gets me all the nasty e-mails."
His travels took him across the United States and to China, Africa, and Europe.
In New Haven, Conn., he spent a day with Jason Westerfield, founder of Kingdom Reality Ministries, who prayed diligently and then walked through town looking for people he could pray for to be healed.
In Redding, Calif., Mr. Wilson went to Bethel Church, where students at the school of ministry spent their evenings visiting emergency rooms and malls asking people if they could pray for them.
Mr. Wilson, 32, grew up attending Redeemer Fellowship Church in Monroe and said the types of things he filmed in Finger of God were not part of his everyday Christian experience.
"I think that's one of the reasons maybe the Lord chose me, because I was a skeptic. I would have looked at this movie and said, 'What?' I'm not an idiot. I'm not a moron. I'm a college professor. But the stuff I put in the film, I'm about as sure of it as a person can be without taking it to the lab," he said.
In one scene, Mr. Wilson interviews a man named Francis at an airport in South Africa where the man describes being attacked by four men and beaten to death. He came back to life when church members prayed for him, he said.
Mr. Wilson said missionaries in Mozambique report that 90 people have been resurrected through prayer in the last 10 years.
"It's mostly the most humble bush pastors deep in the heart of Africa," he said. "When somebody has a child die here in the states, they call 911. But there, they call the pastor - especially once they know this particular pastor has prayed for people in the past and the people were raised from the dead."
The Rev. John Piipo, senior pastor of Monroe's Redeemer Fellowship, had been the church's youth pastor when Mr. Wilson was a teenager.
"I've known Darren personally for many years and we almost laughed that he was doing something like this," Mr. Piipo told The Blade. "I'm with almost everything in the movie. Theologically I'm with it."
He said Mr. Wilson's intelligence and skepticism are the right ingredients to handle the kind of events found in Finger of God.
"Darren is an example of someone who, for me, is a credible witness. When he observes something or says something, as far as he can tell it's the real thing happening," Mr. Piipo said. "He wouldn't put something in his film if he didn't think something really interesting was happening there."
Mr. Wilson studied screenwriting at Regent University in Virginia Beach but never made a movie before Finger. When the string of miracle stories started to grow, he grabbed his camera and began filming.
"I shot everything myself, I edited everything by myself, I did the whole thing by myself, basically," he said.
The documentary was made on a minuscule budget of about $20,000, funded by Mr. Wilson's family and friends. The money was used almost exclusively to cover travel costs.
"Basically, whenever I needed money I didn't have to ask anyone. I'd go to the mailbox and somebody would have sent me a check for $1,000 or $300 or $3,000," he said. "They'd say the Lord told them to send me money. It was a lesson for me in trusting the Lord."
Finger of God was released eight months ago and, much to Mr. Wilson's surprise, has sold more than 30,000 copies.
"I'm being really honest, I didn't think anybody was going to watch this movie because I had lived with it for two years and by that point I didn't know if it was good or not," he said. "Then we just started showing it to people and we threw it up on Amazon.com and on our Web site [fingerofgodfilm.com] and people started watching it and telling other people about it. It was kind of this big underground word of mouth thing that happened around the world."
His company, Wanderlust Productions, just released a deluxe version of Finger of God with five DVDs and 10 hours of extra footage.
Mr. Wilson is in the midst of making his second movie, a documentary titled Furious Love, this time with a more comfortable budget of $500,000.
"I guess you could call it a sequel only because it continues my journey where Finger left off. We're trying to find what God's love is made of trying to debunk the whole idea that God's love for people is Hallmarky, saccharine, and cheesy," he said.
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