by Robert Noland
This Friday is the release of the movie Woodlawn, the miraculous story of God’s presence at a Birmingham high school campus in the early 1970s.
In 1973, Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama, was forcibly integrated with 500 African-American students bussed into the school. Hatred and racism took over. Daily, there was an FBI and local police presence on campus. Violence became the rule, not the exception. The school board, under government pressure, threatened to shutdown the school.
Hank Erwin was assigned as a sports chaplain to the area. Amid the chaos, Hank presented the gospel to the hopelessly divided football team, and the majority of the players responded to his invitation. Erwin’s two sons, Jon and Andrew, wrote, produced, and directed the film.
The story unfolds as the power of God revolutionizes an entire community, culminating in the largest high school football game ever played in the city, with 40,000 attending. The main character of the movie, and the real-life hero of Woodlawn, is Touchdown Tony Nathan, the first African-American superstar player in Alabama.
Right in the middle of what Time magazine called “The Jesus Revolution,” revival changed an entire city and taught people only one Answer can ever solve the explosive and divisive issues of humanity.
With amazing performances from an outstanding cast, Woodlawn has upped the game for faith-based movies today. The Erwin brothers crafted this true story into an amazing testimony of the power of God.
So what will the audience gain from viewing Woodlawn?
When you read any commentary on the early 1970s in America, it sounds eerily like the times in which we live today. I recently heard someone on a TV interview say we have officially become the “Divided States of America.” If the hope of Christ could break through the violence and volatility of the 70s, He certainly can today as well.
Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” We must believe and pray that if He accomplished this in Birmingham, in that day nicknamed “Bombingham,” He can again today in these “Divided States.”
2. Unity in Community
The scenes in Woodlawn of Friday night games show the bleachers with the aisles marking the clear dividing lines between the white and African-American families, and remind us of a much different day. But those lines of demarcation over many issues still exist in cities all over our country and even inside our own government.
When the Holy Spirit is allowed access into people’s lives inside a community, unity becomes the focus, just as it did in Birmingham. When God shows up, we can together declare that everyone counts in His kingdom.
We’ve strayed so far from the meaning of this word, the concept now sounds archaic to us today. But God is still in the business of miracles and making unbelievable stories like Woodlawn into reality. The powerful presence of God can indeed visit America once again and make sweeping changes for His righteousness to reverse the evils we see every day in our streets and on our screens.
All it would take is to submit and surrender to Him, just as Tony Nathan and the Woodlawn football team did back in 1973. Revival today is indeed possible, because Jesus Christ is always reaching out to us.
ROBERT NOLAND is author of When God Shows Up, a 40-day devotional, leading readers toward renewal and transformation through faith in Jesus Christ.