By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Just a few months after American Family Radio personality J.J. Jasper and his wife, Melanie, lost their 5-year-old son, Cooper, in a 2009 dune buggy accident, they agreed to share some of their experience for the benefit of others living through intense pain.
The result was the American Family Association documentary “Flame On,” whose title echoes Cooper’s favorite superhero saying – and his last words.
“Flame On” tells of the struggle that the couple and their daughters had in coping with the loss of their joyful little boy. But it also shows “a gracious, loving God who gives us light through the dark moments of life.”
Even in their filmed interviews, the Jaspers’ voices often cracked with emotion, telling of their desperate but determined clinging to each other and to their Lord.
“There are no words to describe how we hurt,” J.J. Jasper said. “But God’s sovereignty and His character do not change. He is still a good God. We knew that intellectually, and now we know it experientially.”
Tupelo-based AFA has distributed more than 50,000 copies of “Flame On,” and nearly twice that many have viewed it online.
“We’ve heard from hundreds, maybe thousands, who said it started the healing process, that they were able to get closure, that they were able to get over a hump in terms of their grief,” Jasper said.
Millions have felt the Jasper family’s experience through another movie entirely. “Courageous,” debuted in theaters last fall and issued on DVD last month, is the latest offering from Albany, Ga.-based Sherwood Pictures, and in late January had grossed nearly $40 million.
Stephen and Alex Kendrick are the writers, producers and directors who’ve led mostly-volunteer teams to create popular movies that present Christian themes to a broad audience. Already friends with Jasper for several years, the brothers gingerly approached him months after Cooper’s death.
“We felt the Lord leading us to deal with certain kinds of grief and then overcome that with a courageous faith, so there’s an element where one of the couples deals with the loss of a child,” said Alex Kendrick, who also plays the lead role in the film. “We very cautiously approached J.J. and asked if we could go through the emotions, the grief that he went through.”
Several hours of phone conversations translated into two main scenes in the movie.
“There was a moment when J.J. told us he would be somewhere and will have kind of zoned out, thinking about Cooper, and that he would be jarred back into reality when somebody asks, ‘Are you OK?’” Alex Kendrick said. “There are moments when the character of Adam is zoned out, thinking of his daughter that he lost in a tragic accident.”
Jasper had also related turning down Cooper’s several requests for a much-desired gift and how he second-guessed his reticence after his son’s death. That regret turned into the poignant dance scenes in “Courageous.”
“Stephen and I incorporated a lot of what J.J. shared with us in the movie ‘Courageous,’ because it was so real, based on real events, horrible events, but based on real events,” Alex Kendrick said.
“J.J. … saw that this was another opportunity to use Cooper’s story to help other people and minister to other people,” Stephen Kendrick added.
The Jaspers were invited to be on location in Albany for part of the filming. All the girls helped move cable and props, and eldest daughter Lauren got to be a double for lead actress Renee Jewell during a lighting test.
“Whenever the character Javier is coming down the alley, we’re actually in the bushes with the camera crew,” J.J. Jasper said. “And whenever you see all the officers sitting around that table in the back yard, we’re actually in the house. My daughters are playing Old Maid or Go Fish with the other actors.”
The Jasper family will also go to San Antonio later this month, where both films are semifinalists in the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival – “Courageous” in the feature category, “Flame On” as a documentary.
Until now, only a few people have known of the Jasper family’s connection to “Courageous.”
“We had some close family and friends who’d say, ‘Boy, when I watched that it made me think about your family so much,’” Jasper said. “We’d just smile and think, ‘There’s a reason for that.’”
None of his family would have volunteered for the grief they’ve endured, but he said they are gratified to be living out 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
“I read the gospels and think of the little boy who offered his lunch, and Jesus fed five thousand,” J.J. Jasper said. “And I think, is it possible He’s going to take this little blond-haired, blue-eyed, 5-year-old boy and impact five million?
“It amazes me to see what God can do when we surrender.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION, visit www.courageousthemovie.com,
www.flameon.net and www.saicff.org.