"God's Not Dead" 2 actor Paul Kwo has an important message for Christians struggling with questions of civil disobedience and religious freedom: Truth is found not in the laws of man, but in the Word of God.
"In today's culture, we need to be asking hard questions about Christianity; ask the questions needed to help solve a lot of the problems that we're seeing today," he told The Gospel Herald in an exclusive interview. "We need to not be complacent with the reality around us, but question everything, stand up for what we believe in, and keep searching for God's truth."
"God's Not Dead 2," which hit theaters Friday, April 1, examines this very issue. The movie, a sequel to the 2014 production "God's Not Dead," follows a junior high teacher as she attempts to express her Christian faith that results in her facing a lawsuit from a civil liberties group in the process. The teacher and her defense team must prove through historical, not religious evidence -- that Jesus truly existed.
The film stars Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, Robin Givens, Hayley Orrantia, Ray Wise, Ernie Hudson and Sadie Robertson, with Pat Boone and the late Fred Thompson in his last film appearance.
Kwo reprises his role as Martin Yip, a foreign-exchange student from China who embraced Christianity in the first God's Not Dead despite his father's disapproval. This time around, Martin is armed with his new found faith, and shows great courage by not just asking questions regarding his faith, but also taking the bold step of seeking answers to these questions.
"We get to see Martin's new journey, and as a result of his faith and his discussions and arguments with his dad, he gets new insight as to what he needs to do with his life," Kwo said. "It's a wonderful journey of someone who started as non-believer to someone who inspires others to believe."
"Stand with God", a devotional from BroadStreet Publishing based on the movie, has also been released in conjunction with the film. The 40-day devotional promises to inspire readers to grow closer to God and provide the tools needed to help believers stand firm in the Gospel when faced with life's difficulties.
Says Kwo: "Go get this devotional book after you watch God's Not Dead 2, because you'll actually get to see how elements in the story and events in the story relate to our day-to-day life and how we can apply some of the topics and themes to our own lives and inspire us to become stronger in our own faith."
Below is the complete interview with Paul Kwo.
GH: Your character, Martin Yip, is one of a handful who return from the first movie. How is Martin's journey different in God's Not Dead 2?
PK: In the first film, Martin Yip was a foreign exchange student from China who came to the US to study and happened to be in the same class as the lead character, Josh, and the atheist professor. He was moved watching Josh argue with the professor about God's existence, and by the end of the story, he became a Christian.
In the second film, he takes his journey to the next place. Now that he has become a Christian, he has to confront the reality of this new situation, especially with his parents being completely against him being a Christian, and his dad gets into a big argument with him. So, we get to see Martin's new journey, and as a result of his faith and his discussions and arguments with his dad, he gets new insight as to what he needs to do with his life. It's a wonderful journey of someone who started as non-believer to someone who inspires others to believe.
GH: How realistic do you think the film is in its depiction of the challenges to religious liberty in the public square?
PK: At the end of the film, there is a list of real court cases that are happening right now where people are being challenged, and their faith is being challenged in the public square. I think this film draws on that reality, and there are definitely real people out there who are experiencing these kinds of issues and being sued or going to court over these kinds of situations. It's absolutely a real thing that's happening right now in the world.
GH: Why is the film's message so pertinent today?
PK: We live in a diverse era, so we have to be very careful about the things that we say, because there are a lot of people around us. But at the same time, we want to be aware that just because we're in this kind of a world, that doesn't mean we should throw away our own beliefs and not stand up for what we really believe in. This film really touches on that the idea that we can find a good balance in this diverse world to share what we believe, but do so in a very loving and supportive way. This film really gets that message across and inspires others to share their faith with the world. It's very important for us in this day and age to do so.
GH: You've said in the past that you were raised in a Christian home, and your dad is actually a pastor. But how has your own faith strengthened throughout this process?
PK: It's wonderful - my dad is a pastor, and I've been a Christian all my life. But sometimes, you can get comfortable, you forget what you should be doing. This movie for me has inspired me to get off the couch and talk to people about Christianity, talk about what I believe in, talk about my faith and my journey. A lot of it is faith - I think for me to even be an actor, to be the musician that I am today, it's because of God. He set up my entire life, and all of these miraculous things have happened over and over time and time again to get me to this place. The fact that I am in this film is one of those little miracles that God has set for me. It's a wonderful thing - this movie has inspired me to talk about my faith a little bit more with friends and family and with people around me.
GH: Why do you think devotional books are good for Christians - like your character in the film - who are trying to deepen their faith?
PK: Devotional books in general are great for us, because sometimes we need that little extra boost, a little bit of inspiration that we may not be able to get from ourselves. On certain days we just need that little kick to get us going. Inspirational books are a great way to do that. This one is a little more special because we use story elements from the movie, both the first one and the second one. Go get this devotional book after you watch God's Not Dead 2, because you'll actually get to see how elements in the story and events in the story relate to our day-to-day life and how we can apply some of the topics and themes to our own lives and inspire us to become stronger in our own faith.
GH: There aren't that many Asian-American actors in Hollywood. What are some challenges that you face when it comes to race and stereotypes?
PK: That's definitely a big issue that needs to be addressed in Hollywood - there aren't a lot of opportunities for Asian-Americans in Hollywood. I'm really blessed to be able to do this role and that the producer, director and writer decided to represent the Asian-American community with this story, because it's a real thing that a lot of Asians do go through. I actually have a friend who went through this exact storyline in real life; she became a Christian when she was a highschool student, and then her parents were completely against it. To be able to tell this story in a movie that reaches a greater audience - I think that's wonderful. I would love to see more of our Asian stories told, because there are just a lot of great stories coming out of Asia. In fact, for me, I wrote a play a long time ago that depicts the Christian world in China and what's going on over there. There are a lot of things happening over there that we don't have a chance to see, and I would love to have that opportunity to tell these stories.
GH: What do you hope viewers will take away from God's Not Dead 2?
PK: My hope is that viewers get inspired to ask questions, ask hard questions about Christianity, ask the questions that we really need to be asking right now today to solve a lot of the problems that we're seeing in today's culture. I hope viewers will be inspired to not be complacent with the reality around them. I hope viewers will question everything and stand up for what they believe in, and keep searching for God's truth. I think that's the most important thing that people can take away from God's Not Dead 2.