By George Henson
Christian video ministry I Am Second’s recent premiere of its first 45-minute documentary was unlike many of its previous projects. The film did not feature a celebrity’s Christian testimony.
Rather, it told a “story of hope” involving a 13-year-old boy who died of cancer the month before.
Many Are the Wonders: The Second Story of Ethan Hallmark, focuses on Ethan and his mother, father and friends and the difference one young person’s four-year battle with stage-4 neuroblastoma had on his community.
After being contacted by a minister at First Baptist Church in Midlothian, Texas, I Am Second dispatched a staff member to see if Ethan’s story might be right for one of the five-minute videos posted at iamsecond.com. The videos follow a simple format: a camera trained on a single individual in a white chair telling his or her Christian testimony.
“We were just blown away by the manner in which God has worked through Ethan and the family over these four years,” said John Humphrey, communications director for I Am Second.
It was incredible how God had grown the family from such a devastating situation for Ethan and his family, Humphrey said.
“The more we delved into the story, the more layers came about,” he said. “We said: ‘We have to do something different — this is not just a five-minute white-chair film.’”
The ministry’s budget didn’t include funds for a longer film, but people from Midlothian raised the extra money needed to produce it.
The documentary pictures the Hallmark family in their home and follows Ethan to the hospital. Ethan does sit in the white chair used in other I Am Second videos, but so do his mother and father, Rachel and Matt Hallmark.
The nature of the video and the length of the relationship offered the I Am Second personnel a level of emotional intimacy that doesn’t usually occur, Humphrey said.
“We have hurt with them, rejoiced with them, cried with them, and we don’t usually get to do that,” Humphrey said. “This is probably the deepest relationship we’ve been able to establish with a family.”
That closeness and the seriousness of the situation forced producers to confront some tough questions during the making of the film.
“At each step, we were presented with all sorts of decisions — how to involve the family, how to be sensitive to their needs, how to be sensitive with the opportunity,” Humphrey said.
They also asked themselves if they were being selfish using the boy’s story to further their movement. There were more questions.
“At every step of the way as we prayed about it, we felt God urging us to go ahead but also consulted with the Hallmarks,” he said.
“Ethan loved God with his whole heart. The hope he had stemmed from that,” Matt Hallmark said. “He was a kid who truly lived out his faith.”
That faith was a gift from God, he added.
“It came from God. I know that’s cliché, but it’s true. It’s not because of us. We’re not special parents or anything. We’re just regular parents. But God gave him an amazing spirit.
“It would not surprise us at any point in the day to walk in and see him sitting there with his Bible, reading it. I don’t care where he’s at — at the hospital, at a soccer game, at home, at school. That’s Ethan.”
The large crowd that attended the premiere of the documentary “means Ethan’s cancer is not wasted,” Matt Hallmark said.
The video proves hope is possible even in horrific circumstances, Rachel Hallmark said, adding that some may see the film as one of despair because Ethan will never get to high school or get married.
“I guess by worldly standards, that’s a story of despair,” she said.
But Ethan never saw his situation that way, she said. Nor did the family.
“Don’t get me wrong: we’re heartbroken that he is gone. We’re heartbroken that he had to spend a third of his life fighting cancer. But it ultimately is and always has been a story of hope,” she said.
Through the film, Ethan’s Christian testimony of hope will be shared long after his death, and that is important to the Hallmarks.
“It allows us to see the good even in the ashes,” Matt Hallmark said. “It’s being able to see that even though Ethan suffered, even though he died, people are still coming to know the Lord.”