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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

Jesus Died for King David | King David & King Jesus

By David Wong, 21, Singapore

David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.” —2 Samuel 12:13

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Imagine you were Uriah’s parents. Imagine you were in the king’s courts when prophet Nathan confronted king David of his sin. You hear Nathan’s searing indictment, “You are the man!” Just then, your heart sinks. You come to the bleak realization that the death of your son was not merely the result of being killed in battle. Instead, it was a carefully orchestrated murder plot by the king to cover his adultery with your daughter-in-law.

Shock gives way to anger and hatred toward David. You hear David acknowledging his sin, but that’s not all you want to hear. You want to hear Nathan pronouncing God’s judgment and justice upon David’s life. Instead, you heard the most ridiculous and unjust statements ever: “The Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin” (v.13). A mere acknowledgment of sin resulted in God’s forgiveness. At this moment, your anger turns toward God. You cry out, “Where is the justice? How can You forgive him just like that? Don’t You understand that he killed my son?”

How can God be just and yet forgiven David just like that? This is radical grace. But it was also unjust grace… or so it seems.

The Old Testament points to Jesus in various ways. One way, as we saw in the study of David’s love for Mephibosheth, is that some bible characters reflect Christ and portray some aspects of God’s character. Another way, as we have seen last week, is by giving us an imperfect picture so that we would look beyond for someone much better. Similarly in today’s story, the forgiveness of King David gives us an incomplete picture of which the New Testament will complete.

So how was it that David could be forgiven? The Bible tells us that David’s forgiveness was made possible only because of Jesus. In Romans 3:23-25, it says, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past.” [emphasis added]

David was forgiven not because he was a man after God’s own heart. It was not because he had an excellent record of good deeds. Such thinking will only create legalism and moralism in the church and in our life! David’s good deeds count as nothing! God could justly forgive David because one day, God would punish David’s adultery on Jesus. Jesus died for David’s adultery and murder.

Likewise, Jesus has died on the cross for our sins! This is the good news! Rejoice because if you confess your sins, God is faithful and just to forgive you and make you clean (1 John 1:9). In the same way David’s confession was followed immediately by forgiveness, so it is for us! Our confession of sin, in Jesus’ name, will immediately be followed by forgiveness from God! Rejoice, and give praise and glory to Jesus!

As we end off this series, my hope and prayer is that these articles will lead you to greater praise and greater treasuring of Jesus. May it also prompt you to consider how the stories of the Old Testaments fit into God’s bigger story of redemption.

Soli Deo Gloria; Glory to God Alone.

Read the entire series!

An Introduction
Part 1 – Crippled but Accepted
Part 2 – Brought Near
Part 3 – David and Mephibosheth
Part 4 – I am Pregnant

I am Pregnant | King David and King Jesus

By David Wong, 21, Singapore

Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.” —2 Samuel 11:5

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Samuel chapter 11 opens with David neglecting his kingly duties. It leads to adultery, and culminated in the murder of an innocent man. This week, we will briefly examine the fall of king David, and how it points to Jesus.

King David wanted to satisfy the lust of his eyes (2 Sam. 11:2). He threw caution into the wind and sent his men to take Bathsheba to him. After the one-night dalliance, Bathsheba became pregnant. At that time, Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was fighting a war against the Ammonites. There was no plausible explanation for the pregnancy except adultery. David devised a plan to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba in order to hide the cause of the pregnancy. When this failed, David connived to murder Uriah in the battlefield. He then married Bathsheba quickly to cover up his sins. Months later, Bathsheba gave birth to a son, and the chapter ends with the only reference to God in the entire chapter: “But the Lord was displeased with what David had done.”

In this chapter, we see the man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22) running after the lust of his own heart. We see the shepherd of Israel, the man who looked with godly kindness upon Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9), becoming a selfish and ruthless murderer.

This is an accurate reflection of us. Some times, when passion and love for God abound, we do costly sacrificial acts of love for God and others. Yet, often times, we fail to reflect Him. We stumble. We are weak. Though we may not commit adultery or murder physically, we have committed them in our hearts and minds and are likewise guilty (Matt. 5:21-30).

Our leaders—be it our youth leaders, cell group leaders, or pastors, fail too. We could at times be disappointed or even disillusioned by their bad conduct or behavior.

The insufficiencies of David point to another King that will come. One that will be the perfect Ruler. One that is sinless who obeyed God fully. One that promises to be faithful to us even when we commit adultery against Him and act like whores by running after idols (Hosea 3).

This is our Savior and King, Jesus. This is our Perfect Leader. Yes, we are weak and frail. But we have a Representative that stands on our behalf before God who never fails. Yes, we have leaders that stumble. But we have a Leader that will lead us in perfect righteousness.

As we look at the failings of David, may it stir within you a yearning for someone better—this person is Jesus.

Stay tuned.

Brought Near | King David & King Jesus

By David Wong, Singapore

So David sent for him and brought him from Makir’s home. —2 Samuel 9:5 (nlt)

After Ziba revealed to King David that Jonathan had a crippled son who is still alive, instead of rejecting him due to his handicap, David accepted Mephibosheth and asked for his location. We pick up the story in verse 5, where King David sent for Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, to be brought to him. David did not sit still and wait for Mephibosheth to come to him. David actively sought and brought him in.

There are a few hindrances that prevent Mephibosheth from coming before David. Firstly, David is the king of Israel. Mephibosheth could not simply walk into the presence of the king. Secondly, as the grandson of David’s biggest enemy Saul, and the nephew of Ish-bosheth (guy who fought David for the kingdom of Israel after Saul’s death cf. 2 Sam. 2-4), by these associations, it would naturally make him an enemy of David. However, these obstacles were cleared by David’s acceptance of Mephibosheth (v.4).

Yet another hindrance remains: Mephibosheth is crippled. Even if the way into the king’s presence is open, there is no way Mephibosheth could walk in on his own. His handicap prevented him from entering into that presence. However, the king did not leave Mephibosheth to do it on his own. David sought him out and brought him into his presence.

This is a beautiful picture of God’s redemptive work. God not only makes it possible through the death of Jesus Christ to reconcile us to Himself (Eph. 2:16), God actually brings us in. Like Mephibosheth, a few things hinder us from drawing close to God. As sinners, we cannot simply walk into God’s presence. We would be consumed by His holiness and wrath. But God clears the way by offering Jesus to take the sin punishment on our behalf and to satisfy His wrath against us.

And like Mephibosheth, there is no way we can approach God on our own. When the Good News is presented to us, without illumination from the Holy Spirit, “the message of the cross is foolish to [us]” (1 Cor. 1:18). We are naturally blind to the gospel because “the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News” (2 Cor. 4:4).

God pursued us and brought us to Himself. We read in Ephesians 2:4-5 “But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead.” God made us alive when we were dead (and dead people can do nothing). He sought us out!
What we could not do, God did. God brought us close. So cherish and praise our awesome and gracious God for all that He has done for us! He made the way, and enabled us to draw near. Praise the Lord!