HANNIBAL -- Actor Kirk Cameron drew amens from 1,100 listeners as he shared his salvation experience, lessons he learned from a movie about marriage and information about his current project.
Cameron, best known for his role as Mike Seaver on the television series Growing Pains and as Caleb Holt in the film Fireproof, brought his boyish charm as guest speaker at Hannibal La-Grange University's 69th Annual Booster Banquet Nov. 19.
God "found" Cameron while he worked on Growing Pains, the actor explained. Calling the show "an epic chapter" in his life, two significant things happened -- he met his wife, who played his girlfriend on the show, and he became a Christian.
Although his mother was a believer, his father was not, and the family did not attend church as Cameron grew up. He considered himself an atheist from a young age, but as a teenager he began to ask questions about the meaning and purpose of life.
"I was a math guy, a science guy," he said. He didn't believe in God, but saw Jesus as "part of a trinity" -- Santa Claus, the Easter bunny and Jesus.
Another girl on the series' set invited Cameron to spend a weekend with her and her parents, who were churchgoers. He attended worship services with them. "The pastor was intelligent and articulate," he said. "I didn't think a Christian could be intelligent and articulate."
Because the paradigm fascinated him, he read Josh McDowell's book More Than a Carpenter that the girl's parents gave him. And he began to read and understand the Bible someone else had given him.
"I understood the gospel over time," he said. Pulling his sports car to the side of a road in Los Angeles one day, "I came to the conclusion that 10 out of 10 people die," he added.
Cameron realized that if God had created him, "I had never said thank you but I had given God my back and spit in his face." He also realized he would deserve any punishment the Lord wanted to give.
Although he had made a name for himself as an actor, the money and prestige didn't matter. "I realized I would go down in the history of eternity as just another fool," he said. "I turned my heart to God...and requested him to save me."
He pointed out that a co-star on the show had committed suicide and others had turned to drugs. "I'm just so grateful to God.... No one compares to knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior," he said.
Cameron told his audience he also is grateful for the movie Fireproof, which garnered top honors among independent films in 2008, because it taught him three principles to strengthen his own marriage.
First, he said, "The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart." People often have an inflated view of their own virtue and cannot see their own sin. "You can learn all the tips and techniques [for building a marriage], but if your problem is a heart problem..., you must see the only heart doctor," he said.
Second, he reminded listeners that the only person each of them can change is themselves. "There is only one person on the planet I can change...myself.... And I can't even do that without the help of the Holy Spirit," he said.
As the character Caleb Holt learned in the film, God loved people who rejected him, so much so that he gave Jesus as a sacrifice. "When you understand the gospel, you are empowered to love your spouse the way you ought to," Cameron said.
Third, believers must "plan a successful war strategy against sin," he added. "Burn bridges and build altars" to break the bonds of sin and "pour your energy, resources, love and desire into God."
The actor also shared information about his latest film project, Monumental, about the founding of the United States. The documentary traces the Pilgrims journey from England to Holland and then to Plymouth, Mass.
Turning 40 years old this year caused Cameron to consider how quickly life passes. He has chosen to concentrate his energy on his six children, and is concerned about the state of the country.
"There is something sick in the soul of this nation," he said, citing debt, immorality, loss of spirituality and the decline of the family through divorce.
Rather than resorting to a "blame game" among political parties and other factions, Cameron suggested Americans might find the answer in a simple question: "Have we forgotten who we are and where we came from?"
That question led him to follow the Pilgrims' story. "I went on the journey as a dad," he said, learning as much about them as he could. "It's the polar opposite of what children are being taught in classrooms today."
He is hoping to inspire his children's generation and those that follow, and he encouraged listeners to sign up for e-mail updates on the project's progress at monumentalmovie.com.
The audience honored him with a standing ovation when he finished.
In addition to his acting, Cameron produces and co-hosts a spiritually based, reality television program, The Way of the Master, that empowers viewers to share the gospel. It garnered the National Religious Broadcasters' Best Program of the Year honors in 2005 and 2006, and recently has been developed into a daily radio talk show.
Proceeds from this year's Booster Banquet will be used for construction of the Roland Library. The new structure will be named for 1941 graduate Earl Roland, who gave the lead gift for the building.
Built in 1965, the current library was designed to serve 400 students and has outgrown the 1,200 students who currently use it.
Cost for the new library is estimated at $2.5 million. HLGU has through April 2011 to meet a $450,000 Mabee Foundation challenge grant.