Joseph Herrin (02-06-2016)
Pictured: Bridget Marshall - Audio Technician, Anna Marshall - Cinematographer, Caleb and Zoie Marshall - Actors
A story is told of Queen Victoria, the Sovereign of England and Ireland from 1837 until 1901. The tale relates that the queen was much beloved by her countrymen, and she cared deeply about their welfare. The queen was prone to taking long strolls through the countryside and would occasionally stop by the homes of common folk to visit with them. Without disclosing her identity, the queen would see how her subjects were living. In her anonymity the queen would obtain their honest views of the government and their ideas regarding what could be improved.
On one stroll through the countryside a sudden rainstorm arose and the queen sought refuge in a nearby home where the lady of the house invited her in for tea. When tea was over the queen asked if she might borrow an umbrella, promising to return it on the morrow. The woman of the house had a number of umbrellas, including a new one which was her favorite. She started to reach for this umbrella, but thought better of it, handing the queen one of her old, but still functional umbrellas instead. The queen thanked her and departed.
The next day the common woman was surprised when a government carriage pulled up outside of her door. A government servant dressed in official attire approached. In his hand was the borrowed umbrella. The man returned the umbrella, expressing the queen’s thanks for its use. The woman was struck dumb, not having realized she had entertained her beloved queen as a guest in her house. She was filled with regret that she had not offered Queen Victoria her best umbrella. She had been granted a rare opportunity to provide personal assistance to her queen and had failed to give her beloved sovereign the best she could offer.
Although this story is likely a mere fancy, no more true than the tale of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and confessing it to his father, it has often been used to illustrate that we should always give our very best in service to others. After all, the apostle Paul stated that some believers “have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2). We are further admonished, “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward” (Colossians 3:23-24).
Two Greek words serve as the source for the English translation “heartily.” They are “ek psuche.” These words are literally translated as “from the soul,” or “out of the soul.” In essence, the apostle is admonishing the disciples of Christ to perform their labors wholeheartedly, giving their best effort. As a coach might exhort the players of his team, Paul was saying, “Put your heart into your work!”
From the time I was first called by Christ into a ministry of writing, I have been mindful of the need to put forth my best effort in the labors I engage in, whether it is writing a book, answering an e-mail, or creating newsletters to send to men in prison. I have deemed it to be unacceptable in the Lord’s sight to merely do what will suffice. Rather, I have made it my aim to manifest a spirit of integrity and excellence, knowing that it is from Christ that I will be rewarded for my labors.
I had a solid scholastic upbringing in my youth. The Lord used a hereditary bone disease which runs in our family, to channel my interests toward academic pursuits. Because my bones broke easily in my youth, I was restricted from sports and many of the activities that consumed other children’s time. I am grateful for the Father having directed my attention to scholastic activities.
Despite this solid educational foundation, I found myself driven to improve my writing in my adult years. When I began writing books in 1999, I kept on my desk a copy of the Hodges’ Harbrace College Handbook. This handy reference work is a guide for writers. It sets forth the rules for proper grammatical style, punctuation, and diction. Such a reference work might be utilized by an editor at a major periodical such as The New York Times, or The Wall Street Journal. These renowned news sources have a reputation to uphold. Sloppy writing; misspelled words, or poor grammatical style, would immediately be noticed by a large percentage of their readers. Many associate sloppy writing with sloppy thinking.
From some decades back, when I was in my twenties, I recollect an anecdote in a biography of a Christian minister from the 1800s. This man lived in a great city. Arising early one morning, he was struck by the fact that many merchants were already out in the streets making preparations for whatever business they were engaged in. This man of God felt convicted that he should give as much, or more, devotion to his responsibilities as a minister, for He was in the service of God whereas these men and women were merely acting from pecuniary motives. He determined from that day forward to arise earlier than the merchants, being convicted that service to the Lord demanded his very best.
Although a man’s work or ministry may not require that he rise earlier than others, the principle this minister was expressing is a valid one. As disciples of Christ, we should demonstrate a greater devotion to performing our labors in an excellent manner than the world does, for we work with the hope and anticipation of receiving our reward from the Father.
I remember in the early days of my internet ministry receiving an e-mail from a man who complemented me on the quality of writing present on my website. He related how he visited a large number of Christian websites, only to be disappointed that their owners demonstrated very little care for the quality of their compositions. He stated that he was hesitant to recommend many sites to his friends and associates, even if the site was expressing some valuable truth, for he knew that others would judge the message by the careless and unprofessional manner in which it was conveyed. I was reminded that we are called to be “Christ’s ambassadors” (II Corinthians 5:20). An ambassador of the United States to another country would be expected to comport himself professionally. His communications should manifest excellent writing skills and proper protocol. How much more should those who are ambassadors of Christ, citizens of a heavenly kingdom and the servants of almighty God, seek to put forth their very best before the eyes of others?
Don’t misunderstand me. Style and appearance is nothing without substance. Many churches today put a lot of emphasis on appearance. They construct grand buildings, hire landscapers to groom their yards, and they seek to present a polished image before the public. Their meetings feature skilled musicians and competent singers. They hire ministers who are good at public speaking and who can entertain a crowd. Yet many of these churches are spiritually dead. Like the Pharisees of Christ’s day, they appear beautiful on the outside, but inwardly they are full of decay and death.
There is a danger of falling into the ditch on either side of the road. We dare not say that all that is needed is a skillful presentation and a spirit of excellence. Yet, neither may we say that all we need is truth or spiritual substance. Yahweh has called us to serve Him fully with “all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.” As Paul admonished the Colossian believers, we need to perform our labors soulfully as unto the Lord. In the book of Proverbs, Solomon stated:
Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.
Perhaps we as Christians should approach this proverb by the reverse route. Since we do in fact stand before the King of kings, and He will judge our works, let us strive to be skillful in our labors before Him. In another place Solomon wrote:
Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.
I would add to these words the admonition that as Christians we should yield our will to the Father and let His Holy Spirit direct us to the works He would have us to do. Once we have discovered what works He has appointed to us, let us apply ourselves to them with all our might. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans he further admonished them with these words.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord...
Whatever vocation the Lord has assigned to you, apply yourself with diligence to it. Be fervent in spirit, and not a sluggard. Serve the Lord with excellence.
I want to share a recent experience that stirred me to renewed thought about this subject of applying a spirit of excellence to our labors. I was recently blessed to become acquainted - via e-mail - with a family from Salina, Kansas. Teresa Marshall, wife of Eric Marshall, and mother of eight children, wrote to me to comment on the content of one of the chapters from my recent book Lunacy and the Age of Deception. In that chapter I made mention of lighting anomalies in the photographs from the Apollo moon missions. Teresa shared with me that their family had looked at the images, and a linked video I had shared, and could see the telltale signs of artificial lighting being used. She mentioned they had some experience in this area due to their children having produced their own movie which gave them insights into the aspects of how scenes are lit.
Eric and Teresa’s children are home schooled. I was invited to view the movie the Marshall children had created. Due to long experience with Christians in this late hour before the return of Christ, I had low expectations for this movie. I thought it might be a short video, with low quality production values. I expected little more than some hobbyist’s film, with shaky camera work, inferior sound, and a mediocre storyline. No doubt my own experience growing up in church where Christmas and Easter pageants were held annually, always being hurriedly thrown together with minimal attention to props, costumes, sound, lighting, and other theatrical production elements, influenced my expectations.
What I discovered is that the Marshall children crafted a feature length film with excellent production qualities which have earned the film numerous awards.
Awards for the Movie Valley of the Shadow
Following is one of the reviews for this film.
“Although the film was written, produced and acted by children as a home school project, the cinematography was spectacular, and the musical score was great as well. I actually cried 3 different times during this film, it really touched me. So many powerful messages throughout this film. Since they were all children, the acting could be improved on a little, but the storyline, message and filming were fabulous.”
- Christian Film Database
I concur wholeheartedly with the review above, even the point about crying during the film. There were truly some emotionally moving parts of the production. Even though I knew I was watching a work of fiction acted out by children and young adults, I found myself being emotionally engaged as I viewed the movie.
Valley of the Shadow is set during the American Civil War. The screenplay was written by Abigail Marshall who was 16 years old when she wrote it. It took her three months to write. It was an impressive feat for one so young, for not only is it an engaging story with well thought out scenes, but this young woman imbued the movie with several profound spiritual messages. It is a story of forsaking vengeance to embrace forgiveness. It espouses trusting God in the midst of trials, distresses, and difficulties.
Not only did Abigail write the screenplay, she also played the role of Mrs. Charlotte Gray, the matriarch of the family who is at the center of the movie. Her involvement doesn’t stop there, however. Abigail scored the music for Valley of the Shadow. I was taken aback when I learned this, for as I was watching the movie I thought they had used professional compositions which were chosen to match the mood of the various scenes throughout the production. The music was not what I would anticipate from a group of home schoolers who had produced a movie.
Added to this achievement, various members of the family performed the music. Abigail played the piano and solo violin. Her older brother Matthew, who was 25 years of age at the time, played the banjo. Eric Marshall (the father) played the guitar. A family friend, Aaron Herbel played the harmonica, and Teresa Marshall sang the vocal for the hymn Be Still My Soul which occurs at a key part of the film.
Anna Marshall, was 19 years old when they began filming the movie. She too wore a number of hats. Anna and Abigail served as co-directors for Valley of the Shadow. Anna was also the producer and cinematographer, and she played a small role as Mrs. Hawkins in the movie. I think the one facet of the film that surprised me first, informing me that this was not your average amateur production, was the quality of the camera work. It remained consistently excellent throughout the movie. The scenes were skillfully framed. Lighting was good, even in difficult to shoot scenes. There was a judicious use of panning and different camera angles to create artistic visual effects in the movie. It was apparent that Anna had studied the craft of cinematography so that she might create a movie with a polished professional appearance.
Bridget Marshall was 14 when filming began. She was the audio technician for the movie, and also in charge of sound effects. I shared with Bridget’s mother that sound is an oft overlooked and underappreciated component of movie productions. People expect good quality sound, but it is quite difficult to get right. Bridget had to contend with ambient noise, including the sound of the Kansas wind, noise from airplanes, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers. She rose early some days to capture the sounds of crickets, owls, and other sounds of nature. The sound quality was excellent throughout the movie. Bridget also had a small acting role in the movie as Sarah Harley.
Although only 11 years old when filming began, Chloe had the responsibility of acting in the lead role for the film, that of Annalisa Gray. She performed well in this role, a fact that I can attest to as I was becoming annoyed with the actions of Annalisa Gray in the movie when she was exhibiting a spirit of unforgiveness, vengeance, deception, and disrespect toward her mother Charlotte Gray. At the same time, I rejoiced when she repented and manifested the Christlike characteristics of forgiveness and humility.
Caleb was 9, and played the role of the 13 year old boy William Gray in Valley of the Shadow. This was another major role in the film. One thing I particularly liked about the movie was the interaction of the children together. In this day when Hollywood portrays only dysfunctional families who are full of selfishness, strife, and wicked behavior, the Gray family manifested love, concern, and compassion for each other. It was great to see the children manifesting affection for one another as Christian siblings should.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers (and sisters) to dwell together in unity!
Zoie Marshall was 6 years of age during most of the filming. She is very photogenic and brightened up every scene she was in. She was cute as she attempted to help out with chores that were beyond her years, and her facial expressiveness was great. She seems to have a knack for acting.
Eric and Teresa’s two oldest sons, Matthew and Joseph, were away in Texas during most of the filming. They were 25 and 22 years of age at the time. When they returned home to Kansas during Thanksgiving they were recruited to fill some cameo roles in the film.
Matthew Playing Banjo - Joseph Smoking Pipe
The making of this movie was a project for the entire Marshall family. Eric served as Executive Producer. I think that means he got to pay for extra expenses incurred during filming. He functioned in the post-production activities of editing, visual effects (green screen), and some of the audio work. He also helped out with the set building. Eric and his son Caleb made all of the tents in the movie, a significant chore by itself.
One of the big labors of the movie was costume design and creation. After Abigail finished the script, she, Anna, and Bridget spent six months working on the costumes for Valley of the Shadow. Their mother informed me that during the summer months the girls sometimes spent 8 hours a day and more sewing and creating the many wardrobe pieces for the movie.
Two of the Soldier’s Uniforms Created for the Movie
As you can see, these three sisters created some elaborate outfits. The attention to detail is excellent. Abigail, Anna, and Bridget were certainly, “not lacking in diligence,” rather, they were “fervent in spirit.” They committed themselves soulfully to this production whose ultimate goal was to lift up Jesus Christ, presenting a message of the gospel and the transforming power of His life.
There was much attention even to the props used in the film. For example, they made sure the books referenced in the movie were written prior to the American Civil War. The image above shows Annalisa Gray writing a letter using an antique fountain pen and ink well. On the movie’s trivia page, an interesting story is shared regarding how they came upon these particular items.
Many of our props came from antique stores, ebay, or our grandparents’ houses. Sometimes, God just provided them, like with the inkwell and pen that Chloe (Annalisa) is using in this picture. Mom was searching ebay for pens when she had the thought to call Grandma to see if she had a pen. Mom put off the thought and then had the thought again at lunch time. So she called Grandma. No pen. A few minutes later Grandma called back explaining that she was out of town eating lunch with an old classmate. She had told her classmate about the phone call, our movie project, and that we were looking for an old pen. Grandma’s friend “happened” to own an 1880’s inkwell and pen. She eagerly let us use it! We love God’s timing and how He provides!
Much more could be said about the spirit of excellence this Christian home school family brought to the production of Valley of the Shadow. It is fitting that the world should regard the labors of Christ’s disciples as exceptional. Who among mankind should manifest an excellent spirit in all they do more than the Christian? This morning I was listening to John’s Gospel and was struck by the words the headwaiter spoke to the bridegroom when he was brought the water that Christ had turned to wine during the wedding at Cana.
"Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now."
Undoubtedly, the bridegroom at this wedding feast had served his best wine, but the wine Christ produced was better yet. Compared to the wine of Christ, the best wine of man was deemed inferior. Should not all men regard the works of the saints in Christ as possessing an excellent quality? In the book of Acts we are told that the apostle Paul joined himself to some other believers to create tents.
There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.
What do you suppose the quality of the tents were that Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla made? If I were to buy a tent from anyone in those days, I would go to these three first. Paul stated “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The Spirit of Christ in Paul would compel this man of God to do all things with a spirit of excellence. He would not cut corners. He would not cheat anyone. Paul would give people more than they anticipated. Like the exceptional quality of the wine Christ produced, so too should be the workmanship of all the people of God.
Eric and Teresa Marshall have done a good job of instilling in their children a passion for excellence. How might these young people impact the world for Christ if they remain fervent in heart, devoted to the Lord, and manifesting an excellent spirit in all they do? As disciples of Christ, let us all seek to demonstrate an exceptional attitude in the performance of our duties. Let us shine forth as exemplary servants of Jesus Christ/Yahshua the Messiah. Let us be as Joseph in the house of Potipher and as the chief official of Pharaoh. Let us be as Daniel in the service of the King of Babylon. Let us show forth our excellent qualities as in the example of the Proverbs 31 woman.
If you lack the skills or knowledge to excel at some vocation or ministerial calling God has appointed to you, do not be slack. Remember, you are an ambassador of Christ.
Ways to Watch Valley of the Shadow
The Marshall family have graciously provided a number of options for readers of the Parables Blog to view the movie Valley of the Shadow. The movie is hosted online with the streaming video service VHX.TV. Their agreement with this service provider doesn’t allow them to show the movie free of charge. However, they have set-up a discounted price of $1.00 for the first 100 viewers to watch the movie. You can take advantage of this discounted offer by going to the following website, clicking on the option for “HD DOWNLOAD” and entering the word “Excellence” where the option is found to “Use Code.” This option does require a debit or credit card.
If you prefer a DVD of the movie, a PayPal link has been set-up for readers of this blog to receive a disk through the mail. Only a shipping charge of $4.00 will be required to cover the expense of the padded mailer and postage costs. The movie on DVD is being offered free.
(Please note, this mailing offer is available for the continental United States only. International readers should contact Teresa Marshall at the contact link below for options.)
If you cannot afford either of these options, you can contact Teresa Marshall at the contact link below and the family will provide you with a free download.
Related Movie Links
Valley of the Shadow Introduction
Cast and Crew
Montage of scenes from the movie set to My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music
If you watch the movie, consider sharing some words of encouragement with the Marshall children for their work. You can use the contact link above.
The movie was a 2 year project begun in 2012. Following is a list of the Marshall children and their ages now.
Matthew is 28
Joseph is 25
Anna is 23.
Abigail is 20
Bridget is 18
Chloe is 15
Caleb is 13
Zoie is 9 (almost 10)
Heart4God Website: http://www.heart4god.ws
Parables Blog: www.parablesblog.blogspot.com
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