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Just a Vessel: Actor Malachi Kirby on Roots, Kunta Kinte, and God

The star of the History Channel's "Roots" talks about his faith, his strange route toward his iconic role, and what he learned from playing Kunta Kinte.

Though he’d had roles in EastEnders and Doctor Who, landing the role of Kunta Kinte in the History Channel’s new production of Roots was the last thing Malachi Kirby expected. The twenty-six year old English actor was reportedly chosen by executive producer LeVar Burton—who played Kunta Kinte in 1970s production, a runaway hit in the United States—for the role.

But as Kirby tells the story, his casting is all God’s doing. And in taking on the physically and emotionally demanding role of a young man captured in Gambia and brought in chains to a plantation in Virginia a hundred years before the Emancipation Proclamation, Kirby learned more than he’d bargained for. The newly reimagined show covers the same ground as the 1977 series, but incorporates several decades of research done since the previous version aired. Along with Kirby, Forest Whitaker, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anna Paquin, and others star.

Kirby spoke to Christianity Today from London by phone about his botched first audition and what followed, and what he learned from playing the character.

The following transcript is Kirby’s words, slightly edited for clarity and length.

The Worst Audition—and the Best

Where do I begin? In January 2015, I had my first audition—January or February. I remember hearing about the audition and then thinking, why are they doing this again? Why are they making this project again? I was a bit scared of it, to be honest. Then I got an audition, and I spent most of the time worrying about what would happen if I got the part, rather than actually preparing for it.

I had the first audition, and it was easily one of the worst auditions of my life. Everything went wrong. I got ...

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Tue, 24 May 2016 17:30:00 PDT
There's Never Enough Time

What Ive learned as a working mother about the limits of time management.

There’s more than enough time. At least that’s what Laura Vanderkam seemed to discover in her 12-month time-tracking experiment. A full-time working mom of four young children under the age of eight, Vanderkam had every reason to complain of having too little time. But after keeping meticulous record of 8,784 hours, she found “abundance” rather than scarcity.

In her recent New York Times article, Vanderkam explains, "I didn’t discover a way to add an extra hour to every day, but I did learn that the stories I told myself about where my time went weren’t always true. The hour-by-hour rhythm of my life was not quite as hectic as I’d thought.” Vanderkam’s log enabled her to see how she’d spent her discretionary time (“327 hours [of reading]”) and delivered her from delusions of overwork. (She guessed at a 45–50 hour workweek but it neared closer to 40.) Unwittingly, her time log exposed a comfortable lie: There’s not enough time.

Unlike Vanderkam, I have never tracked my time. But I have planned for its meticulous use. I am the mother of five children, who not only insist upon clean clothes and dinner but who are engaged in various extracurricular activities. My husband is a busy executive, so more often than not I run the domestic show alone. Additionally, after more than a decade of caring for my children at home full-time, I have re-entered the work force as a writer and speaker. How do you do it all? I am often asked.

It is easy enough to point to the time management advice upon which I have relied—books like David Allen’s, Getting Things Done, which blames mind-clutter as the root of our time anxieties, and Matt Perman’s, ...

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Wed, 25 May 2016 08:03:00 PDT
Living in a (Nominal) Religious Context

Nominal religious contexts do not mean the end of the church.

Many American Southerners still possess a religious terminology that expresses they were saved at the age of 8, baptized at the age of 10, and are on the membership roll at the Crooked Creek Pentecostal Church or the Sugar Creek Methodist Church. Many of these individuals based their salvation on being moral, decent, and upstanding citizens, who love their families, their country, and even their God.

Living in such a nominal religious context presents some dangers, difficulties, and directives for believers who are passionately committed to king Jesus.

Dangers of Living in a Nominal Religious Context

The dangers of living in a nominal religious context aren’t the same as living in a zealous violent religious context like regions in the Middle East. Living in those areas can cost one their life. Living in a nominal religious context may not put one’s life in danger, but if not careful it can endanger a believer in other ways that are just as costly—just on a different scale.

There’s the danger of embracing a comfortable Christianity.

One thing about nominal “Christians” is that their faith doesn’t cost them anything. Their faith or belief is like a trinket or badge they wear. It doesn’t prompt them to give up guilty pleasures, to give generously of their time, talents, or treasures to the Lord or His church, or to vulnerably share their faith with someone else.

If not careful, passionate believers can allow such comfort to influence them so that they too become comfortable.

There’s the danger of domesticating the gospel. Lesslie Newbigin was one who landed on this idea when he came home from forty years of faithful mission work in India. Upon his return, he saw that the church, ...

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Wed, 25 May 2016 05:00:00 PDT
Ken Starr Fired? Baylor Reviews Investigation into Football Sex Scandal

America's biggest Baptist university expected to announce changes next week.

Reports circulated today that Baylor University has decided to fire its leader, Ken Starr, after a months-long scandal involving charges of rape and assault against five football players.

Baylor denied the rumors.

“Ken Starr is president and chancellor of Baylor University,” Baylor spokesperson Lori Fogleman told CT. The Board of Regents is currently reviewing findings from an outside investigation into the school’s response to the incidents.

“We will not respond to rumors, speculation or reports based on unnamed sources, but when official news is available, the university will provide it,” Fogleman told CT. Once deliberations are completed, the university expects to make an announcement by the end of next week.

“Since the briefing, the board has been in the process of considering the information presented and asking additional questions,” board chair Richard Willis stated. “This is a very critical issue for Baylor, and the board is going to make sure to take the appropriate time to determine the right course of action."

"We are certain the actions that result from this deliberative process will yield improvements across a variety of areas that rebuild and reinforce confidence in our university,” Baylor stated. “We are saddened when any student, including a student-athlete, acts in a manner inconsistent with Baylor's mission or is a victim of such behavior."

Starr, famous for his investigation of Bill Clinton, has led the nation’s largest Baptist university since 2010. From 2009 to 2016, at least six students reported they had been raped or abused by players on the Bears football team. Last month, Shawn Oakman became the third Baylor football player ...

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Tue, 24 May 2016 12:40:00 PDT
Amplifying Evangelism—One Critical Component in Becoming an Engaging Church

If we want churches to be evangelistic, we need to emphasis evangelism.

In a few weeks, a very special conference on evangelism will take place at Wheaton College called Amplify. It’s a bit of a mystery why there aren’t more conferences like this in light of the fact that so few churches are actually growing through evangelism. Maybe there’s a connection.

Just look at the worship movement that’s swept across the world. Worship conferences and seminars abound. These conferences have become catalysts that help identify and train worship leaders who are providing local churches of all types and sizes with an incredible worship experience. It would be hard to find a church that doesn’t have a worship leader or a worship team consistently laboring to help inspire every believer to be a worshipper. I’m convinced that if we follow this same pattern we would see evangelism become just as prevalent as worship.

With a few adjustments they can become “engaging churches.” These are congregations that are intentionally equipping believers to engage unbelievers with the gospel. It starts with finding and releasing these evangelism leaders who will build an evangelism team that equips the body of believers in this vital ministry. In scripture, these leaders are called evangelists. When these evangelists are identified and trained, they will provide the consistent leadership that can transform any church into an engaging church.

I discovered I was an evangelist shortly after I came to Christ in college. Almost from the start I was leading people to Christ, including my atheist brother who was in law school. Within two years, I was helping to plant churches on college campuses. Within my first five years of ministry, I helped plant 32 churches. The essence of this ...

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Tue, 24 May 2016 05:00:00 PDT
The Christian Struggle with Mental Illness

Mental illness is not a subject Christians should run from.

As I see the widespread presence and pain of mental illness, another reality confronts me: oftentimes Christians struggle with talking about and understanding mental illness.

There are three points that I want to lay out to encourage all of us to confront effectively the stigma and issues of mental illness. More importantly, let's seek training to care for our brothers, sisters, and even ourselves who suffer with these challenges.

We struggle with how to struggle

The first glaring issue is that Christians struggle with how to struggle with mental illness. In many ways, the church, the supposed haven for sufferers, is not a safe place for those who struggle with mental illness.

Throughout church history, people have written about the “dark times” and how they trusted the Lord in the midst of a trial. But in our churches today, we often feel like we can’t talk about our problems, and so we can’t effectively deal with our suffering.

This truth stretches from the top down. The sad reality of our present church culture is that if a pastor were to talk about the mental illness with which they’re struggling, the next church or organization to which they apply will likely choose another candidate.

How can we, the church, expect to offer the hope of Christ and life-changing help to those suffering if our churches are not a safe place for us to own our brokenness?

We first have to take off our masks and recreate the culture in our homes, churches, and organizations. We don’t know how to struggle with mental illness because the church is not a safe place to struggle.

What is the spiritual issue?

Part of the struggle is discerning the extent of the spiritual issue with mental health. How much is physiological ...

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Mon, 23 May 2016 13:00:00 PDT
Why Adult Coloring Works for Christians

I mocked the coloring book trend, until I discovered it for myself.

Last year, sales of coloring books in the US shot up from 1 million to 12 million units. The sales spike quickly prompted a slew of articles asking whether our culture is collectively stressed out and/or reverting to childhood hobbies. I, too, mocked the trend right up until I started coloring this year as a therapy tool and discovered that it settles my mind and helps me focus.

Now Christian publishers are jumping on board with “Christian adult coloring books" and even Bibles you can color in. Half of the top ten best sellers for May in the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (EPCA) are coloring books. The website for book No. 5 on the list, Whatever is Lovely, offers a playlist to “help set the perfect mood for worship, contemplation, and creative expression” when using the book. Similarly, Christian writer and Bible teacher Margaret Feinberg wrote the adult coloring book Live Loved. The pages are filled with elaborately designed Scripture verses that she hopes will help users “unleash the creative talents” God has given them. “Color and sketch,” she says on her website. “Whisper the words aloud, commit them to memory, and learn how to live loved in a tangible way.”

Is this all just smart marketing and an attempt to make money, or can Bible-themed coloring books actually aid spiritual discipline? I think they can, but like any tool, it depends how we use them.

Coloring has been used as a stress-reliever since Carl Jung, and agenda-based or “study” coloring books are not new, either. One of the first and still most popular adult coloring books is Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden, an “inky treasure hunt” so detailed that it’s ...

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Mon, 23 May 2016 06:22:00 PDT
Saturday is for Seminars—The Gideons and the Amplify Conference

The Gideons and Canada. What could be better?

Gideon’s Impact Conference, August 12-13, 2016—Toronto, Canada

Amplify Conference, June 28-30, 2016—Wheaton, Illinois

Click here to register for the Amplify Conference.

Coming Soon

May 28-29, 2016
Christ Fellowship Miami
Miami, FL

June 8, 2016
Humanitarian Disaster Institute Conference
Wheaton, IL

June 11-12, 2016
The Journey Church
St. Louis, MO

June 13, 2016
Southern Baptist Convention Pastor's Conference
St. Louis, MO

June 28-30, 2016
Amplify Conference
Wheaton, IL

July 18, 2016
Church of God General Assembly
Nashville, TN

August 12-13, 2016
Gideons Global Impact Conference
Toronto, Ontario, CA

September 9, 2016
Capacity Conference
Atlanta, GA

September 16, 2016
American Association of Christian Counselors National Meeting
Dallas, TX

September 30, 2016
MissioNexus
Louisville, KY

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Sat, 21 May 2016 05:00:00 PDT
Daily Bread and Bombs in Ukraine

A snapshot of Christian witness in the world (as it appeared in our June issue).

UKRAINE: Two years after Crimea’s leadership changed hands, fighting persists between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine. One local pastor, Sergey Kosyak, was arrested and tortured for leading prayer rallies for peace in Donetsk, the largest city occupied by separatists. But he went on to open Bread of Life in neighboring Maryinka with the help of Mission Eurasia. Amid near-daily bombings, the bakery (which recently drew the attention of The New York Times) gives away one-fourth of its 2,000 loaves of daily bread, alongside Bibles. Kosyak is one of 75 Russian-speaking missionaries on the 300-mile frontline trying to turn a political war into a spiritual one.

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Fri, 20 May 2016 11:00:00 PDT
News: Gleanings: June 2016

Important developments in the church and the world (as they appeared in our June issue).

Ancient Post-It Notes Boost Bible

The archaeological equivalent of sticky notes is causing secular scholars to re-assess the age of the Old Testament. Sixteen to-do lists inked onto pottery shards from 600 B.C. suggest that literacy in the ancient kingdom of Judah was more widespread than previously thought. Such ostraca “impl[y] that an educational infrastructure that could support the composition of literary texts in Judah already existed” before the Israelites were exiled to Babylon in 586 B.C., concluded researchers at Tel Aviv University. Most evangelical scholars already believe that Moses penned the first books of the Bible sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries B.C., based on references to literacy in the Old Testament. “They’re moving in the right direction,” said Walter Kaiser Jr., president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, of his secular peers. “I just say, ‘Keep going.’ ”

Canada: Attempt to export religious freedom office fails

Canada’s attempt to replicate its southern neighbor’s diplomatic advocacy for international religious freedom lasted only three years. The previous Conservative administration opened the Office of Religious Freedom (ORF) in 2013, modeled after the US State Department. But six months after the Liberal party won the latest elections, the four-person, $5 million ORF has been shuttered. Foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion said his party believes religious freedom can be better promoted from within a broader human rights office. According to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Canadians say it is “very important” that people can practice their religion freely, compared with 84 percent ...

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Fri, 20 May 2016 11:00:00 PDT
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