DALLAS —It was a bitterly cold day in January 2015 when 14-year-old John Smith fell through the frozen surface of a lake in St. Charles, Mo., and remained submerged for 15 minutes. He had no pulse when emergency workers pulled him from the freezing water, or for nearly 45 minutes after. His body was a mere 88 degrees.
But his story wasn't over.
After audible prayers by his mother, Joyce, John's heart finally started up again, astounding the nurses and doctors around him. Over the next several days, John's community rallied around him, lifting the young man up in prayer. Less than three weeks after the accident, John made a full, seemingly impossible recovery – and walked out of the hospital.
John's story is the subject of a new faith-based film, "Breakthrough," from "Miracles from Heaven" producer DeVon Franklin. Starring Chrissy Metz, Topher Grace, and Marcel Ruiz, the film highlights the power of prayer and proves that miracles still exist today.
During a sit-down interview in Dallas, TX, John, now 18, told The Gospel Herald that his story has changed lives in ways he never could've imagined.
"I've had people come up to me and say, 'My dad was an atheist for 20 years, but your story sparked curiosity in him again," he shared. "People have told me, 'my family was falling apart, but what happened to you changed our family and brought them back to God.'"
(Photo : Leah Klett)
John Smith speaks with The Gospel Herald in Dallas, Texas.
Hitting theaters just in time for Easter, "Breakthrough" is based on Joyce's 2017 book "The Impossible." In it, she recounts the desperate moment she prayed, "Holy Spirit, please come and give me back my son!"
John told GH it was "surreal" seeing that real-life event play out on the big screen.
"It was interesting; the first time I saw myself fall through the ice, it wasn't about me," he shared. "I was more intrigued by my mom and my pastor because I never actually saw them – I only heard about what happened. Seeing their reactions hit me harder than what actually happened to me."
"Seeing my mom and how she interacted with me, it brings people closer to God than they ever were before," he added.
"Breakthrough" is a testament to God's sovereignty and power – but acknowledges the reality that suffering is real and life doesn't always make sense. After returning to school, John wrestles with the fact that he was spared from death while many others aren't.
"Life is hard," John admitted, "and there's no sugarcoating it. Life is very hard. I think my generation is so easy to look at the wrong thing; they're very into the supernatural, but not the right supernatural. But they're hungry for answers. Let's feed them with the Holy Spirit instead of these horror films. If we feed them the right thing, we're going to change the world."
(Photo : Leah Klett)
Chrissy Metz and John Smith appear at the red carpet premiere of
A Guatemala-born teenager adopted by white evangelicals in the suburbs of St. Louis, John also struggles with his identity in the film. He told GH that he's come to embrace his identity in Christ – and prays his peers will do the same in a social media-saturated age.
"Let's put down our cell phones, let's put down Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and instead, let's serve the Lord because He's the one that loves us more than anyone," he exhorted his peers. "We're not defined by the likes of many. We are defined by the likes of One, and that's what I really believe."
Four years after his accident, John says he has one mission: To bring more souls to Jesus Christ. God, he said, kept him here on earth for a reason.
"I really want to be the spark of this generation, I want to help lead it, I want to bring this generation back to God because it is the farthest thing from God right now," he told GH. "That's my main goal. As my Pastor Jason Noble says, 'I only have a short time on this earth, but I want to see how many I can take to Heaven with me.'"
"Breakthrough" is rated PG and is directed by Roxann Dawson. The film also stars Josh Lucas, Dennis Haysbert, Sam Trammell, Rebecca Staab, Mike Colter, Ali Skovbye, Victor Zinck Jr., and Lisa Disrupt.