Here's the thing about potatoes. You plant them, and cover them with dirt, then pray like mad for rain. With most crops, you can see what you're going to eat—the fruit of your labors, so to speak. But potatoes incubate in the ground, silent and mostly unseen, while you hope for harvest. Only a farmer-turned-evangelist would know how apt a metaphor potatoes are for a life of faith in Christ Jesus, making Faith Like Potatoes the perfect title for a biopic based on the true story of Angus Buchan.
Angus (Frank Rautenbach), a Scotsman born in Africa, leaves his farm in Zambia due to poor yield and escalating violence. His fiery temper ensures that he burns bridges, thanks to his penchant for escalating petty disputes into full-fledged fistfights. With three children and pregnant wife Jill (Jeanne Wilhelm), Angus buys a plot of land in South Africa and builds a life out of nothing.
"God will give us a farm," says Jill, as she sets up house in the one-room trailer she names Shalom. Angus just snorts. He doesn't believe in anything but the toil of his own hands, as he wrests crops from the earth and slathers mud on the walls of the shack his large family will soon call home. Angus was born to work, but that work is driving him to an early grave.
As Angus's farm grows, so does his workload—and so does his anger. He flies off the handle at a moment's notice. Jill suggests anxiety medication, but deep down Angus knows that his rage is a spiritual, not biochemical, problem. When Jill manages to drag Angus kicking and screaming to church, he receives the shock of his life when the sermon leads him to give himself and his family to Christ.
Angus's pastor challenges him to tell three people what he's done, and in doing so Angus discovers in himself a boldness and passion for evangelism. He wants other men like himself—hardworking, exhausted men—to know that work alone will not save them. When a chance fire threatens to spread to a nearby farm, Angus challenges his Zulu farmhand Simeon Bhengu (Hamilton Dlamini) to pray with him for rain. Simeon scoffs, because it's not yet the rainy season—until the clouds gather, and the raindrops fall, and the fire is utterly extinguished. Out of the ashes Angus hatches a plan to launch a revival for farmers, black and white, to take place in South Africa's biggest stadium.
Shot on crisp, vibrant HD, Faith Like Potatoes has an intensity and immediacy that keeps it from seeming too preachy. It's a good thing that it's based on a true story (as found in the book of the same name), because Angus's experiences would be hard to swallow in a fiction film. Angus tells his wife that he's been called to be foolish for Christ, and every seemingly ridiculous choice he makes yields a miracle pointing back to the glory of God.
Not that Angus's life post-conversion is without trials and tragedies. It's here that the movie falters some. Angus's story would've been better served by a few more scenes where he wrestles with his faith in light of a heartbreakingly unanswered prayer. The film alludes to this struggle, but a lot more could've been said. It is clear from the film that Angus experienced a crisis of faith, but in holding firm led his family into great spiritual growth. Unfortunately, these scenes play out off screen for the most part. Often, it's the wrestling, more than the miracles, that offers the most powerful testimony in a believer's life, so it's too bad that the movie misses this opportunity.
Faith Like Potatoes would've also been enhanced by more information on the culture and politics of present-day South Africa. When Angus pitches his rally to the stadium head, he repeatedly mentions "the current violence," which presumably is racial in nature, but, again, none of this appears onscreen. Not that the film needs to be Hotel Rwanda, but it should at least offer more than just a half a line of dialogue on the subject. Without specifics, the film's message of racial reconciliation lacks teeth—it's just Angus in a kilt talking about how he's as African as is Simeon.
Despite these regrettable omissions, Faith Like Potatoes is a compelling film that presents a moving portrait of a life sold out for Christ. Under Regardt van den Bergh's skillful direction, Rautenbach turns in a masculine performance that pulls no punches. The thick South African accents require a little effort on the viewer's part at the outset (on DVD, the subtitle mode will be helpful), but Angus's story is well worth it.
Unlike Jonah, Angus never looked back once God put a call on his life. Like Paul, he launched himself headlong into his new life as a preacher of the gospel, and God gifted him with the ability to speak the truth into the hearts of farmers just like him. Angus Buchan planted seeds wherever he trod, trusting that God would raise up a harvest of good men unafraid to plunge their hands back in the dirt to keep planting, season upon season.Discussion starters
- God calls Angus to become a fool for him. What's the most foolish thing you've done in service of the gospel? What were the results? (1 Cor. 4:10)
- God answers Angus's prayers in miraculous ways, with one notable exception. How can God's silence speak as powerfully as a direct action?
- Angus's work consumes him, and as long as he's toiling for himself he's angry, stressed out, and unhappy. Yet toiling for Christ brings him joy and freedom. How can you turn your labors into labors of love that glorify God?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Faith Like Potatoes is rated PG for some thematic material, an accident scene, mild language, and brief smoking. The accident scene may be too intense for younger children. There is some consumption of alcohol and cigarettes are smoked.
Photos © Copyright Affirm Films/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
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