HOUSTON – When Brooks Douglass awoke in ICU after enduring a gunshot wound, the last thing on the mind of the 16-year-old preacher’s son was forgiveness.
After all, the two men who shot Douglass also hogtied his family at gunpoint, raped his sister Leslie, who was 12, and killed his parents Richard and Marilyn.
But after several decades and career changes, Douglass decided to share his journey to forgiveness by creating a movie, “Heaven’s Rain,” telling his story of faith and finding peace in the middle of life’s turmoil.
“On a personal level, I want it to be a tribute to my parents and the people that they were,” said Douglass, who hosted an early screening of the movie at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Houston. “It’s not just about the power of forgiveness; it’s about the power of God’s work in our lives to help us to do things that we don’t think we’re capable of – and we’re probably not capable of.”
Photo by Hannah Haggerty
Brooks Douglass, producer and actor, attended a premier of his film “Heaven’s Rain” at the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Houston.
A production of the Christian film studio EchoLight, the movie delves into the lives of the Douglass family, who served as missionaries in Brazil for three years and as Baptist ministers in Oklahoma City. Douglass, who attended law school, joined the military and served as Oklahoma’s youngest state senator, produced the film and starred in the movie as his own father.
Leslie, who still lives in Oklahoma, also plays a singer in the movie.
Douglass said Heaven’s Rain has taken more than five years to complete. But telling the world about his past was the last thing on Douglass’ mind when he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his interest in filmmaking.
While taking a scriptwriting class, Douglass said the one topic he avoided writing about was his family’s tragic history and his painful memories. But Douglass’ writing instructor advised him otherwise.
“Where I come from, that’s why you should write it,” Douglass said his teacher told him.
In 2007, Douglass began writing the script for Heaven’s Rain, which depicts his parents’ faith, their untimely death and his battle to find justice and to forgive. The only details that are different from reality, Douglass said, are the actors’ hair colors and a collapsed time frame of a few events.
His writing instructor helped Brooks finish the script in 2008. A year later, Douglass traveled to the jungles of Brazil to begin filming.
In 2010, Douglass and his crew started filming in Oklahoma City where his parents were killed in their home in 1979.
“They said at the hospital that [my sister and I] shouldn’t be alive,” said Douglass, who had picked himself off the floor, dragged his sister to his car and sped to the hospital for medical attention after the gunmen left. “There’s a reason the Lord got me out of the house.”
Despite struggling with anger toward the gunmen for nearly two decades, Douglass decided in 1995 to do the unthinkable – meet with one of the murderers.
“When I got into where I was actually meeting with him, it was like everything made sense,” Douglass said, as he understood that he had wanted to go to law school and become a senator to make up for the injustices against his family. “Over the course of an hour-and-a-half-long meeting with him, things began to make sense. I never really thought about the amount of rage and anger I carried around inside of me until I was sitting there looking at him, talking to him.
“I’m so tired of carrying this around in my chest,” Douglass said he told the gunman in prison. Every word from the confrontation scene in the movie was from his actual conversation with the murderer. “It was sort of a moment of clarity that ‘I’ve got to deal with this.’ It became more apparent to me that maybe I need to forgive.”
The gunman Douglass met with – Glen Ake – had changed since the crime. During their meeting, Ake said he had become a Christian and apologized for what he had done, Douglass said. Ake was executed a year and a half later, in 1996.
Douglass said forgiving was a journey in itself, but he had been encouraged to do so from the legacy his parents left behind. The final sermon his father preached the day before he died, Douglass said, was about forgiveness. Having this sermon on tape, Douglass said much of the sermon he preached in the movie was straight from his father’s words.
Marc Harper, EchoLight director of marketing, described the film as Christian ministry.
“Just like Jesus used stories to illustrate the Kingdom of God,” Harper said, “this story illustrates so many truths that apply today: forgiveness, healing that came from hurts, triumphs out of tragedies, light out of darkness through Christ.”
Heaven’s Rain is slated for a soft release by early 2014, Douglass said. Until then, he is in the process of creating two additional films as well as working to pass stronger criminal victim’s rights laws.
“I’ve had great successes in my life, but I’ve also failed more times than I’ve succeeded,” Douglass said. “And to get through those times, I often said, ‘What made me get off that floor in the first place?’ I remember that question coming to mind – ‘Why did I even bother getting up off the floor that night?’ … I wanted to live, and I believe God wanted me to live, and even my parents would have wanted me to live and to go forward and live the best life possible. We’re capable of that. Through our faith, we can overcome those times. We do have a reason to get up off the floor and to live that better life and be a better person, and to know that it means something.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Beth Byrd is a staff writer for Baptist Press.)