Submitted by Rory Lawrence
I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was the mid ‘90s, and I was doing what I did every weekend—clubbing. I was in a hip-hop dance group, and we would travel to the Tampa, Orlando, Daytona, and Miami areas simply to find the best clubs and compete in dance-offs. One weekend, as I was leaving a local club in my hometown of Lakeland, a stranger in the parking lot called me over to him. He said that he was a local hip-hop artist, but needed some dancers to form his group. Normally I would brush these situations off (because all I wanted to do was battle against other dance groups and not be behind rappers), but I felt I should listen to him. So I listened, and we exchanged numbers.
I met up with him the following week to listen to his music and noticed how different his lyrics were. There wasn’t any cursing, and the lyrics didn’t degrade women. It was all positive…and then I heard him say, “Jesus,” in the song. I also heard Scripture and praise to God. I immediately asked him, “What is this?” He replied, “I’m a Christian rap artist.” I wasn’t turned off because I was brought up in a godly home and knew some of the Bible. I ended up joining his group. During my time with my new friend, he shared the Gospel with me, and within one month, I was radically changed. I gave my life to Jesus and I’ve never looked back.
Several years passed and I got out of dancing and the hip-hop scene. My love for God and my desire to know more about my faith led me to relocate from Lakeland to Tampa and enroll in Bible college. I was deeply involved with my church and the young adult ministry. After college, I enrolled in a ministerial internship at my church and became a licensed minister. Mind you, I never had the desire or passion to preach. I just wanted to learn more about God and my faith. A couple of years later, I was ordained.
Here is where the game changed for me. I knew in my heart that I was not called to be a pulpit preacher, so to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind, I called a meeting with my pastor. I told him what was on my heart, and he said he knew all along that I had a different calling. He told me that with my personality and outlook on life, I would reach people who would never be reached from a pulpit or church setting. He then asked what I planned to do. I said, “I want to get involved in acting—an old hobby of mine.” He smiled and gave me his blessing.
I hadn’t done any acting since high school, and I didn’t have a clue where I could get training as an adult. I did some online research and found Venue Actors Studio in Pinellas Park. Through a wonderful instructor, I began to learn how to really act. After a couple of years, I’d been in a few plays and some local independent films, but it was hard for me to go to some auditions because the project’s content did not align with my personal convictions. I knew I wanted to be in great shows, but I didn’t want to compromise my faith.
I was sitting in church one day when the idea of putting on my own show came to me. I was so excited until I shared the news with one of my fellow actors who laughed and said, “We are actors; we wouldn’t even know how to put on a show.” Yet, I had a vision burning inside that I couldn’t shake, and I knew it was from God. So, I began the process of putting on my first show.
I went to people in the industry who were producing, directing, and promoting shows, but none of them would help me. The ones who did offer guidance seemed reluctant to do so. The only support I had was from other actors, so I decided to do a variety show. Regardless of the doors that were shut, God proved Himself faithful. He showed up in many ways, providing for our every need to put on the show.
I invited actors to come and audition for the variety show but with one stipulation: Their material had to be clean and family-oriented. I was shocked by the push back that I received from actors and others in the industry. They told me that I would not sell one ticket and I was “stepping on one’s creativity” when I censor the content of their performances.
Well, I stuck to my convictions, and needless to say, the show was a sellout. We had to turn people away. A few months later, we did the same show again and got the same result. By this time, I was thinking I might be onto something. I began learning more about directing and producing and decided to direct the Broadway classic A Raisin in the Sun. When I took on this task, I really didn’t know what I was in for and how much work and research it would take to present this classic play to the public.
One day in rehearsal, I became discouraged and decided to cancel the show. As I prepared to give my “cancellation speech” to my cast, a woman walked into my rehearsal unannounced and asked if she could sit in. All of my rehearsals are closed to the public, but I felt impressed to let her stay. Looking back, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was a divine appointment from God. Shortly after moving to Tampa from NYC (for a play that she was cast to perform in), she heard about my play. This Christian woman, who had been on Broadway, was looking to get involved with outgoing theatre people. Amazingly, she wanted to help my production, and her knowledge propelled me to an entirely different level. Our show was a hit.
At this time, my Christian friends were all asking me when I was going to do a Christian-themed play and my answer to them would always be the same, “When the right one is laid on my heart.” I’ve seen many Christian/Gospel-themed plays and I knew that I wanted to do my own, but I wanted it to be different and not the typical “church play.” In the meantime, I directed other plays.
Finally, I began to get some Christian-themed ideas for a play that I felt would work. I knew that I wanted to write something that would be dramatic and would appeal to the saved and the lost. It took me a year and a half to finish the dramatic gospel Fighting God. I never told anyone about it, and when it was finally done, I began to share it with some of my peers who write gospel shows and they told me, “That might be a little too much.”
That’s when I knew that I was on the right path. I wanted to provoke people. The content of the play deals with rape, suicide, molestation, and atheism and how we deal with these situations as Christians. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about how it would be received by theatregoers and the Church. I knew that the same people who came to my other shows would come to this one and those people included atheists, non-church goers, skeptics, and believers.
Well, by God’s grace, the show was a hit. Every night people would laugh and cry, and most importantly, they would leave touched. I can’t keep up with all the phone calls, emails, and social media messages from people sharing how the play spoke to them. Pastors who attended the show have told me that if I do the show locally again, they would bring their entire congregation.
To top it off, Fighting God was 1 of 50 plays (out of 500) selected to perform at a recent theatre festival in Washington, D.C. Fighting God was also selected as 1 of 40 plays (out of 1000) to perform at an upcoming theatre festival in Atlanta. God has confirmed many times that I am doing what He has called me to do—and all for His glory. By allowing the Lord to lead me, I believe that I’m here to change the game, not conform to it.
One of my favorite Scriptures is Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV), which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” That passage speaks volumes to me because it shows that God had me on His mind—even while I was out there in the world not thinking or caring about Him. I did nothing to deserve His unmerited favor and love and what Christ did on the Cross. God has given me a new outlook on life. Since I’ve come to know the Lord, I see life in an entirely different way. I now know that the life I lead is not about me or what I can gain, but about whom I can help and what I can give to further the message of Christ.
If you would like to see Fighting God, Rory’s next performance is at 8 p.m. on September 28, 2013 at the Lake Mirror Theatre in Lakeland, FL. For more information, visit www.rqlproductions.com.