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James Fazio: Changing Lives after a Near Death Experience

James Fazio knows what it’s like to be at death’s door, but he’s not one to let a harrowing experience stop him from grabbing life by the reins. He’s now using his love for surfing and filmmaking to help turn around the lives of troubled teenagers, giving them their own story of a second chance in life.

The 27-year-old American pro-surfer, filmmaker, and father of two, has just completed his first documentary, Time Well Spent, about four teenage boys from different parts of the world who each have a unique story of pain and hardship but are bound by a common love for surfing. He hopes to release the documentary in the boys’ home countries, followed by the US.

In the 1½-hour long documentary, viewers follow Kross Brodersen from Hawaii, Henry McAlvany from Indonesia, Declan Bradley from Australia, and Yeferson Bellido from Peru on a surfing journey that culminates in a discovery of their value, worth, and place in life.

It’s a project that has cost James heavily in terms of energy, money, and time—it took him close to three years to put this documentary together—but it’s been worth every cent, second, and inch of effort. To James, this is simply his way of giving back to God after being given a second chance.

 

God’s Plan for James

The documentary’s tagline, “Your past does not define your future”, reflects James’s own life journey. The surfer almost died at the tender age of 13 after he contracted Kawasaki disease, a rare auto-immune disease that causes blood inflammation. For months, high fevers raged in his body, causing skin to peel away from his hands, feet, and around his mouth and throat. The last bit was the worst, as it left his throat sore and unable to eat. He needed 16 aspirin tablets every day just to keep his temperature down and the inflammation at bay.

“They had to shove Go-gert (yogurt in a tube) down my throat just to take the aspirins,” he recalls. To make matters worse, he was resistant to every medical cure. The prognosis was grim: James was likely to die from the disease. “I was pretty bummed thinking I would die without really doing anything,” he says.

And even if he did survive, he was told, he would suffer from heart problems for the rest of his life, making it impossible to lead an active lifestyle. That was heart-breaking news to the young boy, who loved surfing and soccer.

But God had plans for James. Through a prayer chain at church, his story came to the attention of a woman who had heard of a new experimental procedure. James was put on Remicade, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis or severe plaque psoriasis. “My parents signed document after document, giving consent for me to take this medicine,” he says.

Young James was only the second person to undergo this experimental procedure. To the surprise of the doctors, it worked. “They were shocked by my case—that I was one of the most resistant cases, yet walked away with no long-term side effects or heart troubles,” he says. James’s case was even reported in a medical journal.

Six months later, James was back playing sports and catching his first waves, doing nearly everything that seemed so impossible just months before. “It was truly a miracle,” he says. “I should not have made it. I should have not ever been able to play sports again, and I most definitely should have had major heart problems for the rest of my life.”

Convinced that divine intervention saved his life, James resolved to change his perspective towards life. “God saved my life at 13 years’ old and I knew I wanted to live my second chance the best I possibly could. I wanted to know this amazing God who saved me and I wanted to live a life for Him,” he shares.
 

 

Photo taken by Eillot Gray

 

Giving Back to God

From then on, James desired to give to others the way God had given to him.

As soon as he completed high school at the age of 19, he went to Chile to volunteer and eventually landed in an orphanage in Perú, Casa Generacion. There, he met Yeferson Bellido, a 17-year-old who was the oldest boy in the orphanage and also its longest resident. The duo became firm friends and would go surfing every day. Once James heard about Yeferson’s life story, he was determined to share it with the world.

“He went from living on the streets and living with abuse of all sorts, to moving into an orphanage, and becoming one of the top surfers in Peru. And he was studying to be an architect at university,” he says. “Most of the people I know from privileged life circumstances can’t even accomplish half of what Yeferson did.”

James was not a filmmaker at that point, but Yeferson’s story gave him a strong desire to be one. “I had a dream one night,” he says. “God spoke to me and said to use filmmaking to show people His love and character.” This was confirmed by three people who told James he would be making movies one day.

James met the rest of the boys—Kross, Henry and Declan—through his travels, family members and colleagues. “We chose these boys because they had been through so much in their lives, and their common factor was that they turned to the ocean as their refuge,” he says. The ocean, he explains, was a safe place for them to get away from their problems and frustrations. And despite having gone through abuse and homelessness—one also losing his parent through suicide—they still had “amazing hearts” and wanted to do more with their lives.

 

Yeferson Bellido | Photo taken by Elliot Gray

 

Declan Bradley | Photo taken by Eillot Gray

 

A Rocky Journey to the Waters

While God placed their hearts to bring the boys on an amazing trip, it was not all smooth sailing. Apart from finding the money to finish the documentary and facing disapproval from friends and acquaintances, James and his team also had to deal with the paperwork to get passports and visas for the boys.

With no official sponsors or backing, money was often tight. Friends could not understand why James wanted to devote so much time, energy, and money to the documentary. “We received a good amount of flak of taking this project on,” he recalls. “But every time we were about to give up because we had no money, or something wasn’t coming together, God worked it all out and provided for everything through incredibly generous people.”

The team received funds through a small crowd-funding campaign and from friends and a non-profit sports organization, More Than Sport. But the backbone of the support was Kross’ and Declan’s communities back home—they came out in full force to support the boys’ fund-raising.

Looking back, James says it’s still impossible to comprehend how everything came together. “It was truly nothing special we did, but all Him,” he says. “One huge undertaking was the boys’ legal paperwork: we had to track down birth certificates, get social security cards, identification cards and finally passports. It was incredible it all came together on time.”

And it was all worth it. James recalls a particularly touching moment where Kross handed the keys to a house he and the team had “worked their butts off” to build, under the blazing Panama sun, for a local family.

Photo taken by Eillot Gray

Kross had spent a large part of his childhood homeless or couch hopping, so the gesture was especially touching. It was also at that moment that Kross realized he was no longer just a homeless kid, but an “amazing young man” who had the ability to make a difference in someone else’s life, James says. “He was crying, all the other boys were crying, and our whole crew was crying while trying to hold the camera steady. It was a special moment to be part of.”

Kross Brodersen | Photo taken by Eillot Gray

 

Henry McAlvany | Photo taken by Elliot Gray

 

More Stories to Be Told

While James is relieved that the project is finally completed, he is slightly nervous about how the film might be received. “For me, this being my first big personal project, now comes the thought, ‘What will people think about my work?’ ” James says. He plans to submit the documentary to various film festivals before looking for a proper distribution channel. “I am also very excited for the four boys, for their stories to be heard, for them to feel proud and even hopefully get discovered by companies for their incredible stories and surfing.”

Ultimately, says James, the documentary is about inspiring people to see that they are “worth so much more than they choose to believe”. “I want others that are in a similar situation to see hope in the boys’ stories and choose not to give up,” he adds.

As for his future plans, James is thinking of doing a few more documentaries. He plans to do a feature on Yeferson as well as document the story of the woman who started the Casa Generacion orphanage.

Ask James why he does what he does, and this is his reply: “God saved my life, changed my heart and gave me a purpose to live. I do what I do because I want the broken and the lost to feel the hope again. To feel they’re worth something. To be inspired to live a fulfilling life. And to show them the gracious love that God has shown me and that they have a Father in Heaven who is there for them.”

Photo taken by Eillot Gray

 

To find out more about the documentary, click here

A Passionate Pursuit for the Savior

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

I wonder if anyone here has heard this potentially irritating song? First written by The Proclaimers, a Scottish band, it was later on recorded by many artistes, including Steven Curtis Chapman.

The song talks about a guy passionately following someone he wants to spend his life with. So serious was he that he would go to the extent of walking mile after mile just to reach the person’s doorstep.

Likewise, to the Savior whom you have proclaimed your love for, are you passionately pursuing Him?

‘Follow me’
In the book of Matthew, Jesus once uttered two simple words, “Follow me.”

In Jesus’ time, being called a “follower” meant that one was close to his master.

Rabbis then were known as “followers of God”. In return, many men vied to be followers of these rabbis as it was considered a high honor to be close to these holy men.

However, unlike the rabbis, Jesus did not require men to vie for Him—all He sought was their obedience to follow. Simon Peter and Andrew heard the call of Jesus, dropped their nets and followed Him immediately.

The act of dropping their nets was significant because it meant that they gave up their livelihood.

The next step
However, Jesus’ call to follow requires more than merely walking beside Him.

Luke 9 tells of the account when Jesus predicted His death.
passionatepursuit_luke9

Following Jesus thus is a continuous process. It’s a daily affair that those who are His have to take part in.

The Bible instructs us that the first thing to do when following Christ is to deny the flesh, the world and ourselves.
passionatepursuit1john

As Christians the Bible is explicit: We cannot serve two masters. If we are slave to our livelihoods—our self-glory—there will be no room in our hearts for Jesus Christ.

Christ was willing to die to save the lost. His example in death is the basis why those who follow Him must be ready to sacrifice their lives as well.

Following Christ is, to a Christian, an unhindered passionate pursuit, fixing our eyes on Jesus all the way.

But many of us, after following Jesus passionately, fall back to our old ways. Somehow the self-glory we threw away has returned, gleaming brighter than ever. Our passionate pursuit of Christ slows to a jog and soon enough we find ourselves orbiting.

This orbiting behavior can become very dangerous because we can, at will, blur Christ out.

We no longer fix our eyes on Him but stagnate and very soon, we forget Him.

Sin happens when we close our eyes to God. We choose to blur Him out, sometimes on instigation by the devil.

The disciples themselves were not spared of this, especially Peter.

We read John 21 that after Christ’s death and resurrection, the disciples saw Him 3 times. Following the second time, Simon Peter said, “I’m going out to fish,” (John 21: 3a). Peter decided to go back to his old livelihood!

What happened to the Peter who followed Jesus immediately? What happened to the Peter who was filled with remorse after denying Christ?

Surely, he must have made it a point in his heart to never commit the same mistake.

But the Bible tells us Peter went back to fishing. From chasing after Christ, to slowly fading away after Jesus was arrested, to orbiting and waiting for Jesus to come back. Peter decided enough was enough and bailed out.

However, Jesus did not give up on Peter. He knew Peter’s heart’s condition and worked a redemptive work in him, offering him a second chance. Jesus used the same two words to Peter at the close of the chapter.

“Follow me.”

*************************************

What a wonderful Savior we have who is so full of grace that though He knows our very weakness, He still works in us nonetheless.

Written By Isaac Tan for YMI

Call To Commitment: Obedience vs Disobedience

Ask most Christian youth out over the weekends and you’ll likely get rejected. “Sorry I’m not free. I have youth fellowship on Saturday, church on Sunday and cell group after church. Oh yes, I also meet my youth mentor for Bible study on Wednesday nights.” By society’s standards, any youth involved with that amount of activities would be deemed as “religious”, even “godly”. Many times, it’s the visible things we do that cause others to form impressions about us. “Since he/she spends so much time at church, he/she must be a very dedicated Christian.”

There is nothing wrong with being involved in Christian activities, but what about the other times when we are not?

I knew of a boy who was a ministry head in the Youth Fellowship at his church. In school, he led a prayer group every week with other students. Behind the seemingly perfect picture of his Christian service, he was known for flirting with different girls he met at school. This dichotomy between his personal life and religious life was a real problem, one that many of us are likely to struggle with as well.

As a song aptly describes, “Man sees the outside, but God sees the heart”, Jesus is not concerned about the things that we do to show our piousness but whether we are truly following His will in our daily lives. His use of words like “I never knew you; depart from me” should warn us of the seriousness He attaches to breaking God’s commandments in the Bible. We can deceive man with our outward actions but we cannot deceive God.

(This article is first published in Power Up With The King,
a Bible-study material printed and produced by Singapore Youth For Christ)

lessons from a soccer game

By Sophie Otiende, Kenya

There is no doubt that soccer is the most popular sport of our time. From Africa to Asia and even the Middle East, soccer fans are widespread all across the world. The differences in culture, race, religion and opinions are dissolved when fans unite and cheer for their team. Just watch the World Cup and fans will show you the true meaning of being in unison.

Being a big soccer fan, I have to admit that it is that sense of belonging that I hunger for and that always keeps me going back. When I am cheering my team, I truly belong. I don’t struggle with anyone or anything (maybe just the opposing team) because at that occasion nothing counts, not what my neighbor is wearing, not what race they are, not what they did yesterday. What counts at that moment is the game.

However, I firmly believe that our cause in the body of Christ is much larger than a soccer game. It gives rise to a serious question, “Why is it that soccer seems to have the ability to unite man more than Christ?”

In the final hours of Jesus’ life, He spent time in prayer. He offered a heartfelt prayer for His people as recorded in John 17. Why was He so urgent? What is so vital that Jesus felt He had to pray for us in the last very painful hours of His life, when frankly He should have been praying for Himself? The answer is simple, UNITY.

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 17:22-23

Jesus knew the importance of unity in the body because any division among believers would undermine the church’s testimony to the world. In these last days, the Christian body face many problems that stem from a lack of unity.

What makes unity possible? In soccer, the simple answer is focus. In the stadium, our focus is the game at hand. I think focus is what we have lost in the church.

We have forgotten what our main cause ought to be. We forgot that it is not, it has never been, and it will never be about us. This walk is about Christ. Church is about Him. Yet many times we lose focus of Christ and we find ourselves in much discord.

As we look upon soccer, we realize that our unity is only as strong as we are when focused. My prayer is that when we get to church, my name as a Christian should count, not my race neither what I did or did not do. What should matter at all times is for what reason are we gathered and the answer is plain and simple: Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is LOVE.