MARSHALL - It takes something special to be able to inspire other people. In the past six years, organizers for the Marshall Area Christian School (MACS) Promise Banquet have found those types of outstanding individuals, bringing them to Marshall as keynote speakers.
This year, for the 6th Annual MACS Promise Banquet on Tuesday, March 5, Alex Kendrick - a director, producer, actor and pastor - was chosen to be the honored speaker.
"We're pretty excited to have Alex come here," said Tim Gross, MACS board member and fundraising chairman. "We're always looking for somebody that people know and who people can connect with. They know who he is. He's a pretty big name in the Christian entertainment upside of things, with 'Courageous,' 'Fireproof' and the other movies he's been a part of."
Word has it that Kendrick set out to make a difference after reading a survey that revealed films had become more influential than churches. He founded Sherwood Pictures in 2002 and immediately got down to business, attempting to change the perception of movies in mainstream America.
"People maybe don't know the name, but they know Alex's face," Gross said.
Together with his brother Stephen, Alex Kendrick has written, acted, directed and produced four movies - "Flywheel" (2003), "Facing the Giants" (2006), "Fireproof" (2008) and "Courageous" (2011). He's received more than 28 awards for his work, including Best Screenplay, Best Production, Best Feature Film, Most Inspiring Movie, Most Inspiring Performance and Best of Festival. Kendrick has also authored a number of books.
"I think Alex certainly brings a new dimension this year," said Corey Prins, MACS school board chairman. "He's most recently known for the movie 'Courageous,' which is basically a call or a challenge to fathers, to not be a couch potato, to step up and be a family leader. It's about being who God calls us to be, about honoring your family and leading by example."
"Courageous" made $34.5 million in the box office and was released internationally in theaters and on DVD.
"I don't know what message Alex has in store for us, but it will be a good one," Prins said.
Prins will be a first-time emcee for the Promise Banquet, replacing Darren Johnson and Wade McKittrick, who have served as event emcees in the past.
"I've done public speaking before, but when you start to think about the size of the event, it's humbling," Prins said. "They're big shoes to fill."
Gross estimated that 500 seats were already reserved for the upcoming banquet, which will be at the Southwest Minnesota State University P.E. Gym.
"The response has been very good," he said. "There is still seating, but it's getting limited. We have 500 already reserved, but people can still contact the school (507-532-2762) to register. I think we'll fill out around 600. It's amazing."
There are three main reasons for sponsoring the Promise Banquet, organizers said. The main reason, Gross said, is to raise funds for tuition assistance and other programs.
"It's a way to provide tuition assistance to those that qualify," he said. "And whatever money we have leftover, we as a board, work on improving the school. We've purchased some SMART Boards in the past, as well as musical instruments and some library computers and software for checking out."
The entire event is paid before it happens, Gross said.
"That's a huge part, having the cost of the speaker, the meal and rent covered," Gross said. "So every dollar everyone gives that night goes to our school. Anybody can come, as long as they have a reservation."
The second reason for the event is to showcase what MACS has to offer.
"We want people to know the school, to let potential families know what the school could offer their children," Gross said. "We're at 113 students, from pre-school through eighth grade. Our enrollment has definitely gone up every year, especially since we moved into the East Side School building. And, we have plenty of space to grow."
Prins pointed out that the third reason for hosting the Promise Banquet is to offer an outreach to the community.
"It's not all about taking from the community, it's about giving back to the community," he said. "There's nothing more important that we can give to the community than what Christ has given us in the Bible with the message of salvation. Matters of this earth are temporal, but matter of the Lord are eternal."
Last year, keynote speaker Don Piper gave the audience a glimpse of heaven as he reflected on his near-death experience. In 2011, comedian Ken Davis reminded everyone to "lighten up" and to appreciate human interactions.
Actor Kirk Cameron brought the Promise Banquet to a new level of excitement and attendance in 2010, with more than 600 people coming to hear about ways to "fireproof" their marriage.
In 2009, Dave Dravecky shared his amazing story of making it to the major leagues, battling cancer, fighting his way back to the major leagues, breaking his arm during a pitch and eventually suffering a career-ending arm amputation. In 2008, Michael Reagan entertained the audience with humorous stories and tragic events from his life.
"The Promise Banquet is a wonderful event," Prins said. "We're just blessed to have the quality of speakers we've had for an event like this."