Divine Design? Roma Downey's New TLC Series Delivers Faith, Hope and 'Answered Prayers'
Have you ever been touched by an angel? Or by the mighty hand of God? Roma Downey is host and executive producer of Answered Prayers, a new TLC series coming Sunday, July 26 (10/9c), that chronicles the real-life stories of people who believe their lives were saved by divine intervention. Co-executive produced by Downey’s husband, Mark Burnett (Survivor), the six-episode program presents two power-of-prayer sagas each week, with subjects ranging from a young boy buried for hours under 11 feet of sand to a pastor stabbed 37 times to a family of five who survived a tornado that sent their home flying hundreds of feet into the air. But what’s in it for nonbelievers? Plenty, says Downey, who gave us an inspiring preview of miracles to come.
How did you go about finding these wild stories?
Mark and I contacted some of our buddies—Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and other religious leaders we worked closely with on The Bible series we did for History channel. We got incredible stories from them. We also reached out to the public via social media. Each story in the series is more profoundly moving than the last. You don’t just watch this show, you feel it. We take you into some of the most intense and vulnerable situations where people were fearing for their lives, or the lives of their family members, and experienced the hand of God. These people reached out and prayed for help and then—through God’s grace—help showed up exactly when it is needed.
Some might call this sort of thing coincidence.
Yes, you can call it coincidence. But many of the people who would call it that would also admit they’ve had similar experiences but perhaps on a less epic scale. We all have those little moments where you’re in the car and suddenly you’re compelled to turn left instead of right, and because you went in that unexpected direction, or you made that phone call you were suddenly inspired to make, life has unfolded in an amazing and miraculous way. In one of our episodes, there’s a story of a dad and his three kids who skid off the road in icy conditions and their car is upside down and sinking in a freezing river. The water is filling the car and everyone is about to drown and the dad can’t undo his seat belt so he’s praying, “God, help us! Please!”
Somehow he is finally able to get out of the seat belt and gets to the surface just for a moment to gasp some air before he goes back down to try to reach his kids. And just in that quick moment on the surface, he is spotted by a number of people who have stopped their cars. One of them is a diver and another is a medic whose specialty is CPR. Exactly the angel army that was needed to save that family! When we spoke to one of the rescuers, he said, “I don’t know what made me drive down this way. I never go in this direction. But something spoke to me.” And that’s where we can all relate to this series. We all, to a greater or lesser degree, have heard that voice from our inner guide. And we all know the moments when we didn’t listen to that voice and, as a result, something unfortunate happened. There probably isn’t a person out there, regardless of their faith or journey, who hasn’t in a moment of crisis just cried out, “God, help me!” or “God, help them!” I do it every time I hear an ambulance go by.
Is there anything in this series for those who don’t believe that God intervenes in our lives?
Absolutely. The circumstances of these stories are true. They happened, no matter how you wish to explain them, and they have great emotional impact. They are filled with excitement and danger and conflict, and always with a positive and powerful resolution. It’s such a compelling little summer show. You can curl up on the couch with everyone in your family—from the grandparents to the kids—and not have your finger poised nervously on the remote control. It’s a program you can trust. I believe that the hand of God is all over these stories. I understand and respect that some people won’t believe that, but you certainly can’t deny that there’s something extraordinary going on here. These stories defy logical explanation.
How do respond to those who say, “I was in dire circumstances and prayed to God, but I didn’t get my miracle”?
We can’t know the mind and the heart of God, but I do know that he hears us. I have put prayers out there and it seemed as if there was no answer. Then, much later, I realized that the answer had come in a very different form than what I had hoped for or expected. Sometimes the greatest hurts are the ones that yield the greatest blessings.
Can you give us an example of that from your own life?
Many, many years ago, when I was a little girl, my mother died. Iwas just 10 years of age and all through my adolescence I missed her deeply. Indeed, I’ve missed her every day since, but it was especially difficult in those first many years. I used to pray than someone would mother me, that I would meet someone who would have the nurturing, comforting embrace of a mother figure. I longed for it. And it took 20 years for my prayer to be answered! When I turned up on my very first day of work on Touched by an Angel and was introduced to my costar, Della Reese, I put out my hand to shake hers but she wasn’t interested in that at all. Instead, she took me in her arms, and she held me like a baby and rocked me. She rocked me! And I just started crying. I knew right then and there that she was the answer to my years of prayer. To this day, she continues to be a great gift to me.
Is it ever difficult being devoted to feel-good, faith-based TV in an industry that wants bolder and edgier programs?
Not when there are so many awful things happening on the planet. That’s what drives me. Mark likes to turn on the news at the end of the day and I just can’t stand it! I get so upset at the things that go on in this world and that the news is so fear-driven. It’s so upsetting, I can’t go to sleep. I have often said to Mark, “I wish we had a good-news channel, a place we can go to be reminded of all the positive, wonderful things that happen in our world.” And they do happen! But the news programs see no value in that. So that was the genesis of Answered Prayers. I am only interested in hope. It’s the thing that is woven throughout the body of work I have done—from all those years on Touched by an Angel to The Bible and Son of God and A.D. to our upcoming feature film, Ben-Hur. Different projects, different stories, different styles, different budgets, but within them all beats a heart that’s full of hope and the possibility of something better. We never tire of hope and we need it now more than ever.
Speaking of hope, what’s yours for this six-week run? That Answered Prayers will become an ongoing series?
Absolutely. We have so many more stories to tell. But I am also hoping that this show will remind people of the value and power of prayer in their own lives. Prayer can be your steering wheel or your spare tire. It keeps you moving forward. Here we all are in 2015 with so much information bombarding us at every moment that we are completely over-stimulated all the time. The value of taking some time in prayer and reflection, allowing your heart to feel, is what brings us the rest and peace that gets us through these difficult times. Prayer is the answer to so much. [Laughs] And, on top of that, it’s absolutely free! How about that?