Every little girl has dressed up as a shining angel at least once, but Roma Downey made a living out of it. iBelieve spoke to the creative genius who went from playing a messenger to bringing the Bible to life…
There are plenty of people who can say they’ve encountered an angel, but there are less that can say they have been one.
It might only have been on TV, but Roma Downey portrayed one of God’s glittering messengers for several years. Having since branched out to work behind the camera on the History Channel’s acclaimed series of dramatic depictions of Bible stories, she knows a thing or two about bringing the message of God’s love to a broad audience.
“I have loved Jesus my whole life and it has been such a privilege for me,” she says. “To be able to marry my work and God together has been such a blessing.
“I had the privilege of playing an angel on Touched by an Angel for many years – almost a decade, and we would deliver a message on the show. The message was that God loves them, and before filming every scene we would come together and pray. The prayer we would say was ‘Less of me and more of you’.
“You know, the year that I was cast to play that part, I was an actress looking for a job. I wasn’t on any kind of mission especially. But I was so grateful that I was selected to play that part.
“The central theme of every episode was that there is a God and God has a plan for your life and that God wanted to be part of your life and that he loves you.
“And over the years, I can’t tell you the kinds of feedback that I’ve had where people said it was the exact message they needed at the exact moment they received it. At the height of that show’s success, we had over 20 million people tuned in every week.”
Having occupied such a stage for so many years, it’s easy to imagine Roma using the vast resources at her disposal to make a significant impact for the kingdom of God, but she is adamant that everyone is just as capable of making a difference as she is.
“It’s been my experience that there is so much need in the world, and often people get paralysed and many people think, ‘Well, I’m just one person, what difference can I make?’” she explains.
“And yet the truth is when we step up together and when you do something combined with something that I do and combined with something that everyone else does then the truth is that we can change the world and we can make a difference. I think, perhaps, the virtue that I hold dear is one of kindness.
“I try to live my life with my faith in loving actions. Yes, I am a weaver of stories, an actress, an entertainer, and yes, I am a wife and loving mother – a loving wife too (chuckles).
“But at the end of the day, if someone were to remember me and to say that I was a kind person, I would like that very much.
“One of my favourite stories is the story of the starfish that we hear at church all the time about the girl and the starfish. She is busily peeling one off at a time and it’s baking in the midday sun and the seagulls are flocking down. And there is one man who says, ‘What are you doing here? There are so many starfish and there’s only one of you. You can’t possibly make a difference.’ And she says, ‘Yeah.’ She peels a starfish off and she flings it far back into the ocean. And she says, ‘Well, I’ve made a difference to that one.’
Nor is Roma simply spewing trite advice. Ever since her childhood, faith has been an important part of her life and a motivating factor in her actions.
“I grew up in a house full of faith and my mother died when I was a little girl and I found comfort in my faith,” she says. “I have always had a deep connection with my faith and I was fortunate to have been brought up in a Christian environment. My faith is a very important part of who I am.”
That belief has shown itself in Roma’s creative endeavours, but it’s equally visible in her commitment to Operation Smile – a charity helping children with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities.
“My husband’s gotten involved with the group and my children have come on medical missions with me,” she says.
“We actively encourage our children to step into service. To whom much is given, much is expected. We have travelled the world with them and for them to fundraise and draw awareness to them.” Roma and her husband, Mark Burnett, also collaborated on a series on the Bible for the History Channel which won widespread acclaim for its faithfulness to the biblical narratives and dramatic quality.
“For many years I have tried to step into work that would be pleasing to God,” Roma explains. “I was so fortunate to deliver a message of God’s love on Touched by An Angel for almost ten years. It is now such a privilege to be a part of this extraordinary Bible series. I am a person of faith, but being part of this project has deepened my faith. It was a God thing for us to be working together and we knew that what we were working on was something important. We made sacrifices being away from our three children for six months and that was hard. But this has deepened our faith as a family and deepened our love and our marriage, so that’s a gift from God.”
As a story-teller, Roma sought to bring the whole of her not inconsiderable talent for telling a tale to bear on their production.
“We felt it was important to tell the story in a way that brought deep emotional connection with people. The characters in the Bible are us, in many ways. The challenges they face; their love, hopes, dreams – we can all relate to them. It is important to make the connection with the heart. It is through the heart that we embrace God.[quote_box_center]I think people are hungry for hope and for God and it will connect in their hearts.[/quote_box_center]
“And we found this was the thread through the whole story, through the entire Bible: the cohesive tissue is the amazing love that God has for us, most evident in the birth and life of Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection.
“We are all aware that what we’re doing is bigger than all of us. I think people are hungry for hope and hungry for God and ultimately, it will really connect in their hearts. We’ll be long gone but hopefully this series will still be seen and still offer hope and inspiration with a story of redemption and love.”