When Trinity United Methodist’s children’s ministry director Sherry Gibbs selected malaria nets as a mission project for Vacation Bible School, she had no idea Hollywood would have an interest in her efforts.
Filming was under way last week at the Southport church for “Mary and Martha,” a HBO movie, starring Hilary Swank, about two women’s fight to save children in Africa from that fatal disease.
Using a crowd of local extras—many of them Trinity members—shooting began Monday and wrapped Thursday with a funeral scene.
Call it coincidence, even kismet. Gibbs has another explanation.
“I look at this as God’s doing,” she said.
As she does every spring, Gibbs was searching online for Vacation Bible School curriculum when she came across something that she said really spoke to her.
The company from which she purchases that curricula offers corresponding service project ideas and resources.
“It is called Operation Kid to Kid. Some years I do it and some years I don’t; it just depends on what it is and whether it touches my heart,” she said.
This year’s focus—malaria nets —certainly did. Years ago, Gibbs led a similar effort at another church.
“We set up a malaria tent and the children made cards (for children in Africa). Then, Bible school leaders spoke about malaria—what it is and how many children die from it each year. Along with that, I asked the children to bring a collection each day,” she said.
Then, she asked parishioners to supplement the Vacation Bible School donations with their own contributions.
“So, it really became a church-wide thing,” Gibbs noted.
She was surprised to later learn that the state’s Methodist conference had selected malaria nets as its mission for the upcoming year.
When she heard about “Mary and Martha,” Gibbs was speechless.
“I was just blown away,” she noted.
Production crew members, she recalled, were just as amazed.
“When I took them into the fellowship hall, they were like kids in a candy store,” she said.
That is because many of the Vacation Bible School decorations were in keeping with the set design of the church scenes. The malaria tent, as well as a bulletin board depicting participants’ humanitarian work, were left up as backdrop during shooting.
The children themselves even got involved as extras. And they weren’t the only ones. Trinity members of all ages turned out to sign on as stand-ins.
“They made an announcement at church one Sunday and I just thought, Well, I’ve never done that before,” Allie Lull said.
Fellow parishioners Bruce Corrie and his wife Jane are certainly no strangers to the small screen, having worked as extras on the television shows “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill,” which were both filmed in Wilmington, Southport and surrounding areas.
“When we retired, we decided it was something that we always wanted to do,” Bruce said. “It’s just interesting to sit and do some people-watching.”
Even Gibbs got involved. Although the hours were long and there was a lot of waiting around, Gibbs felt compelled to be a part of a movie with a mission so like her own.
“I feel like God was leading them to our church,” she said. “I think the way this whole thing worked out is just God’s calling.”