21 May, 2024

‘Unsung Hero’—Beyond the Movie

by | 3 May, 2024 | 5 comments

DALE REEVES SPEAKS WITH DAVID AND HELEN SMALLBONE AND THEIR DAUGHTER, RECORDING ARTIST REBECCA ST. JAMES, AT CHRIST’S CHURCH MASON LAST WEEKEND. (Photo courtesy of Geoff Blankenship/EPIC Photoimaging, LLC)

By Dale Reeves 

The movie Unsung Hero opened nationally in 2,800 theaters on April 26. It tells the true story of a family of nine that uprooted themselves from Australia and moved to the United States, and whose children became successful recording artists—five-time GRAMMY Award-winners For KING & COUNTRY and Rebecca St. James.  

©2024 Lions Gate Entertainment Inc.

The movie was released by Lionsgate Entertainment Company, which distributed other faith-based films such as I Can Only Imagine and Jesus Revolution. Coincidentally, the movie was released on the 49th wedding anniversary of David and Helen Smallbone, the parents whose dramatic, life-changing story is recounted in the film. 

The faith-based, family-friendly movie is doing remarkably well at the box office. With only a $6 million budget, Unsung Hero grossed more than $7.7 million on its opening weekend, ranking second among all films.  

Joel Smallbone, co-lead of For KING & COUNTRY, helped write and direct the movie and also stars as his father, David, in the film. 

“We’re on a mission to make mums, miracles, and family the number one conversation in North America!” Joel Smallbone said. 

Well-known actress Candace Cameron Bure is an executive director on the film, and she also stars as a neighbor of the Smallbones who becomes the hands and feet of Jesus to them in their time of need.  

“When they came and shared the script with me, and I heard their story—it’s unbelievable!” Bure has commented. “The film is about miracles, it’s about the unsung hero!” 

You can check out the movie’s trailer via this YouTube link.

Several weeks ago, I was invited to screen Unsung Hero. I had experienced some of its story years earlier when working as an editor at Standard Publishing. To know some of the story is one thing, but to see it portrayed on the big screen is exponentially more moving.  

After seeing the movie, Bart Millard of the Christian band Mercy Me reflected, “It’s not fair to call it a movie. It’s a love letter about the power of family.” 

I believe this strong message of how a family overcomes unbelievable obstacles through supporting one another and the power of prayer is desperately needed in every family today. 

LOOKING BACK 

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to press the rewind button and take us back a few years. It was sometime in 1994 when I first met David and Helen Smallbone and their family of seven children. I had done an interview with the band DC Talk (TobyMac, Michael Tait, and Kevin Max) for a teen magazine I edited at my job with Standard. I worked with some kind folks at their record label, ForeFront Records, to acquire some images of the band to use with the story. Along the way I got to know one of their label’s executives, Greg Ham, who told me of a new artist ForeFront had just signed. Her name was Rebecca St. James. They had high hopes for her career. 

I didn’t waste any time planning a trip to Brentwood, Tennessee, to interview Rebecca for our magazine. She was 16 years old at the time. I got to meet this Australian family comprised of her mum and dad, and her six younger siblings. We quickly forged a unique bond that has lasted 30 years.  

I watched my friend Bec, her father/manager David, her mum Helen, and her siblings all assume whatever roles were necessary as Bec’s career in Christian music began to take shape. As she started touring in churches and schools across the country, David would always lead the band and her family in a time of devotion before every evening’s concert. 

One day the family shared with me that they had been looking for a family devotional to use and they had noticed there weren’t many out there. They had given some thought to writing their own devotional.  

I had been impressed with Rebecca’s passion for God at such a young age, so I asked what she thought about writing a book that would not only show people something of her relationship with God, but also challenge many others to grow along with her.  

The way the book came together was evidence of God’s working.  

Whenever Bec and I would begin to work on some of the content, she would always start by asking, “Do you want to pray first?” I have heard a number of Bec’s interviews in person and on the radio, and she has always made this request first—even with journalists and media who weren’t necessarily believers in Christ. 

Before you know it, I was on the road with the family in their van, traveling in northeast Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania. I don’t know if they’d ever seen that much snow before.  

Each day we would get up and head to the next concert venue. While David drove, pulling a trailer of sound equipment behind the van, Helen would shout homeschool instructions to the kids. Bec’s youngest brother, Josh, sat next to me eating Cheerios while I pecked away on my black-and-white laptop. “Joshie” is now the general manager for Smallbone Management/For KING & COUNTRY. He and his siblings learned their trade while traveling with this family-run ministry as children. 

They learned about sound mixing, setting up and running lights and merchandise tables, partnering with Compassion International, singing background vocals, and interacting with people before and after concerts.  

I still chuckle about the time we were in the United Center in Chicago where Michael Jordan played basketball. As the show was being set up, two union workers asked me about the stage manager, Joel, who was 12 years old at the time 

“Does he know what he is doing?” they asked. “He’s just a kid.”  

“Yes,” I said, “he absolutely knows what needs to be put where. He does this every day!”  

Joel is now one half of the lead vocalists—with his younger brother, Luke—in the highly successful band For KING & COUNTRY. 

STILL TRUE TO THEIR CALLING 

The result of my first travels with the Smallbone family culminated in the book 40 Days with God: A Devotional Journey, released by Standard Publishing in 1996. I wrote this in the foreword of the book: 

I have seen firsthand how her intimacy with God is her strength and her inspiration. What you see on stage is genuine. With Rebecca, there is no pretense. She has opened herself up to God and has asked Him to direct her every step. . . . She really desires that what she says to others be God-directed, and not self-motivated. 

Those words remain true today, almost 30 years later. Rebecca’s heart and message resonated with many people. She received thank-you notes and emails from teenage girls and guys, college students, moms and dads, and even some grandparents who loved the book. She also received many heartbreaking stories of the trials so many young people were going through. Rebecca read each of those notes and responded as time would allow. And many of their thoughts helped inform the content of our follow-up book, You’re the Voice: 40 More Days with God

Altogether during the years when Rebecca toured extensively before becoming a wife and a mom of three kids herself, I was Rebecca’s co-writer on five books. What an exhilarating journey it was! But now, let’s fast-forward to this past weekend.  

A few months ago, Josh Smallbone asked me if we’d like to have Rebecca and her parents, David and Helen, with us for our worship services at Christ’s Church Mason the weekend of the movie’s opening. (Duh! That was an easy and emphatic YES!) 

LOVING THE CHURCH AND THE LOST 

Our church’s worship leader, Jeremy Braley, and I got on the phone with Rebecca to start planning the worship set for the weekend they would be with us. We decided Rebecca would lead one of the worship songs and also sing a special that is sung at a critical moment in the movie. Rebecca also offered to sing background vocals on the other worship songs. That tells you something about her heart for collaboration, her humility, and her love for the church. 

REBECCA ST. JAMES HELPS LEAD WORSHIP WITH THE BAND AT CHRIST’S CHURCH MASON ON APRIL 28. (Photo courtesy of Geoff Blankenship/EPIC Photoimaging, LLC)

This past Sunday was a wonderful day at our church. Our band backed up Rebecca as she sang, “You Make Everything Beautiful.” I interviewed Bec with her parents, and then preached a short message on how their citizenship (and ours!) is in Heaven.  

We discussed the movie, how David and Helen successfully homeschooled and parented seven kids on the road, and what the “secret sauce” was in raising them all to know and love Jesus.  

They shared their story of God’s provision and protection in an honest, transparent, authentic way, and the folks in our church loved getting to share this unique experience with them. If you’d like to view the whole service, go to the church’s website.

I asked David about his hope for this movie. 

“My hope is that believers in Christ would consider it as an evangelical tool, and that they would suggest to work friends and family members who are not Jesus followers that they go and see the movie,” David said. “It is about Jesus and it is about family. I love what I heard from a man who saw the movie in Tulsa, Oklahoma, ‘I’m going to go home and love my family better.’”  

I would highly encourage you to go and see the movie this weekend or next. You can find more info regarding local theater showings at https://unsunghero.movie

Unsung Hero is scheduled to be released in Australia on May 30, which will coincide with For KING & COUNTRY’s “Homecoming” musical tour through Australia and New Zealand. And the film will be released in many other countries over the next several months.  

The Smallbones’ global move from Australia to the United States forever changed the trajectory of their family and the countless thousands of people who have come to know and follow Jesus because of their songs, their authentic example, and their deep commitment to seeing the unsaved come into the marvelous light of our Savior’s love.  

Will you join me in praying for the success of this movie and for the Smallbones’ ongoing ministry to the body of Christ and the many folks who do not know him yet? 

Dale Reeves is the story pastor at Christ’s Church, Mason, Ohio. He and his wife, Karen, have two grown daughters and four grandchildren. 

THE SMALLBONE FAMILY TODAY.

5 Comments

  1. Joy parrott

    I would like to say, that your family is in my prayers ❤️ I am glad you made this movie it’s so very heart warming. God Bless All of you.

  2. Janice Summers

    Absolutely beautiful and well presented documentary from start to finish. A must see currently playing in America.

    Congratulations to everyone involved in the script and production of such an amazing story of the Smallbone family.

  3. Angelos Giotis

    Beautiful….and well said.

    Will see this film tonight.

  4. Mike Thompson

    Great article, Dale. It brought back memories of when CCM hosted the Rebecca St. James concert in 2002. I was so impressed with the Smallbone family! The movie is on our list of ones to see soon.

  5. Melinda Johnson

    Been following the Smallbone family since Rebecca was 16 years old too! I have both of the devotionals (40 Days and the follow-up). I bought them when I was a teen in the 1990s. I love this family very much! I’m just a tad younger than Rebecca so her message of purity and modesty was always a help back then. I bought the music album for the movie and it’s incredible! Especially “Place in This World!” by my favorite Michael W. Smith. I’m so grateful that some artists made it up to New Hampshire where I lived at the time. I think I met Rebecca in 1998, actually, at a summer Christian music festival.

    I haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet because being a mom of four kids ages 9-22 yrs old keeps me very busy. . . . They filmed the movie in eastern Kentucky, about four hours from me, but I was too busy to partake on their roll calls.

    I’m so grateful it’s being received so well because the other current movies that are out sound awful.

    I can’t wait to see it! Thanks for your review!

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