Pastor and Wife Who Inspired 'All Saints' Movie Share How Myanmar Refugees Saved a Dying Church (Exclusive)

Jul 26, 2017 10:45 AM EDT

The Rev. Michael Spurlock and his wife Aimee firmly believe in the power of prayer and stepping out in faith - even when it doesn't make sense.

In 2007, the Spurlocks were assigned to All Saints' Episcopal Church, a struggling church in Smyrna, Tennessee with just a few dozen members and a devastating amount of debt.

"I was just out of seminary - I'd never been the pastor or the chief shepherd of a church before," Michael told The Gospel Herald during a sit-down interview in Orlando, Florida. "I had no idea what I was doing. We were sent down to see what should happen; should we close the church? Should we sell the property? Could we make a go of it? That's when everything began."

The church was on the verge of closing when a group of Karen refugees forced out of Myanmar unexpectedly joined them. With little resources, growing financial issues, and a language barrier, the congregation was unsure of how to minister to the group's physical and spiritual needs.

"The refugees from Burma arrived after we had determined that there was probably little alternative but to sell the church property and replant the church," Michael shared. "We were going to start over from scratch and try to eliminate the debt. And then, when the refugees showed up, we just turned a radical corner in the life of the parish."

Faced with closure, Michael went against the wishes of his church superiors and came up with an unusual solution: he decided to start a farm on church property. However, without the support of church officials, the Spurlocks were forced to rely on faith.

"Oftentimes, I just didn't feel equipped to handle the enormity of the problems facing the church," admitted Michael. "But, God sustained me and saw me through it. He encouraged me when I would get discouraged."

The people of All Saints, along with the Karen refugees, worked tirelessly on the farm, allowing them to pay the church's bills and feed all of the people.

"We were praying throughout the whole experience," Michael said. "Sometimes, the provision was so could feel the presence of God there."

Nearly a decade later, All Saints is a thriving church - in fact, it's more robust than ever.

"Basic Christian hospitality led to the resurrection in that church," Michael said. "A simple adherence to Jesus' command to love one another, to welcome the stranger, to not be judging who should and shouldn't attend your church. Just the openness to those possibilities changed everything, it was so far beyond our imagining what God wound up doing there."

The Spurlock's inspiring story of faith and perseverance is the subject of the new faith-based drama, from AFFIRM Films, a Sony Pictures Entertainment company, appropriately titled "All Saints".

In theaters Aug. 25, the film stars John Corbett, Cara Buono, Barry Corbin, Nelson Lee, David Keith and Chonda Pierce. The real All Saints church and farmland were used as a backdrop for the production.

"Watching a film made about All Saints is just an unexpected surprise, it's the icing on the cake," Michael said. "The cake is the life that continues there. That's what's been so gratifying, is being brought back into the story and reconnected to the life of the former parish."

For Michael and Aimee, their experience at All Saints is a testimony to the power of prayer and that God can do extraordinary things through ordinary people. All we need to do is listen.

"The power of prayer has everything to do with our story - from the very beginning," Aimee told GH. "We were put in this situation that felt just so frightening. And then, there were these beautiful people who came into our lives and suddenly, our world changed, and it changed for everyone."

"God wanted something different from what we'd expected, and with something that is special and ordained, sometimes there's fear. But God has more in store for us and more plans for us than we could ever dare to hope," she said. "He's amazing."

The Spurlocks hope their story inspires others to open their hearts - and their church doors - to the least of these (Matthew 25:40).

"Jesus commands us to care for the poor and the refugee, and obedience to that simple command is part of the essential being of the Church," Michael said. "If we're not doing that, we're not living into what we are. We are the Body of Christ, and Christ's body should be reaching out, should be welcoming the stranger."

He added, "Jesus' own experience was one as a refugee. If the Church doesn't do it, then who will? It does seem to be a simple Gospel mandate."