What does it really mean to have “influence”? Read this week’s INNER VIEW as Flo Oramasionwu unpacks both the privilege and responsibility of having influence, and how she lives as an “encourager” of others everywhere she goes.
If you were searching for a soulful pop singer with a huge, heart-stopping voice, the Canadian Prairies is likely not the first place you’d start looking. But that’s exactly where Flo got her start. Flo is a multiple award-winning soul/pop artist who captivates with undeniable stage presence in every type of venue from intimate clubs to arenas. She represents encouragement, personal strength, passion, and positivity. Her enduring message of faith and self-empowerment reflects her resolve: to overcome all obstacles and continue to live out her dreams, “I believe this dream is bigger than I am.” Luckily her voice is bigger than her dreams. She is passion in living form and travels into realms of soul that some artists never tap into, and this is only the beginning.
“And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” – Marianne Williamson
Kathleen Cooke: As an award-winning musical artist in Hollywood, what lessons has God recently taught you about who He is?
Flo Oramasionwu: God has taught me that He is personal, present, and REAL! Not just a distant God that our parents, grandparents, and friends teach us about. Not a fictional or past character that was just active in the historical Old/New Testament times. JEHOVAH JIREH has come through for me in so many miraculous ways throughout my journey in LA that my mind is blown! He is not only faithful, but He is also so loving. He does miraculous things through people (even absolute strangers) and circumstances.
He moves and creates the resources to bless, encourage, and keep you going on your journey to ensure that you are on the right path. He’s got your back. He KNOWS you so well. He not only supplies your needs but also provides for your desires and the things that sometimes you think are unnecessary or may feel frivolous. He wants to give you the things that make your heart jump and smile. He truly is our provider. And, when God does it, He does it in beautiful ways.
Kathleen: The music industry is a constant struggle to create more music and get yourself seen. It takes enormous grit and endless determination. What have you learned about setting aside your ambitions and choosing God’s perfect plan for your life and work?
Flo: God has patiently taught me the importance of surrender and not to obsessively strive so much that there’s no room left for Him to drive. In other words, He’s been showing me the beauty of letting Him take hold of the “steering wheel” while I rest in Him and enjoy the beautiful view from the passenger seat.
Ambitious striving to accomplish specific dreams and goals can turn into an idol. It requires trust and faith to let go and leave it in God’s hands. He not only knows best, but His way is so much better than what we could ever try to do on our own. He is so much more efficient than our timing and far more effective than our efforts could ever be.
I personally don’t believe there is anything wrong with aiming for excellence (Daniel and Joseph were men of excellence), or having a vision (David had a vision for building God’s temple and left the blueprints to execute them with his son Solomon) and working towards it. But I do think God wants to eliminate the fear of needing to do everything on our own or else it won’t be completed or get done well. God knows and places the desires we have in our hearts for a reason and a purpose. He created us with gifts and abilities “for such a time as this” (as Mordecai told Esther) in history. He will fulfill the things He has planned for us. There is no need to spin our wheels and strive. God’s got this, and He’s got us!
Kathleen: It takes great faith to set aside yourself and your way for God’s way and choose to trust Him. You make yourself vulnerable and exposed in a world that thrives on self-assurance. What has God taught you about choosing Godly choices? (more…)
I moved to Los Angeles in 1991 to work in the Hollywood film and media industry. The community of believers working in the industry was hidden and suffering from an onslaught of protests done by well-meaning Christians who felt that the programs and content produced in Hollywood in movies and on TV were immoral and evil.
However, there was a remnant of dedicated Christians working in Hollywood. We felt a calling to be here and work within the secular industry and do so with love, care, and excellence even if we had to work in the shadows. God has always left a remnant of His believers to bring light and hope in dark places when others have chosen to run away. As Hollywood industry Christians worked on the many challenging stages, production studios and in offices, things began to change. Relationships were established and rebuilt on the foundations of love and care. Nonbelievers saw Christians as talented, hard-working professionals willing to go the extra mile. They didn’t fall apart when disruptions and challenges happened but instead loved and cared about them personally. The walls of mistrust fell as caring relationships were built. Many began to see God for who He was – a God of love, peace, kindness, and accepted Him into their lives as “The Author and Finisher of their faith” (Hebrews 12:2). There are now Bible study and prayer groups firmly established on studio and production lots and communities of Christian industry leaders who are changing the landscape within Hollywood.
Christian industry professionals began by choosing to pray. Over the years, their numbers grew into multiple groups of writers, musical artists, students and women’s groups who came together to learn to be leaders of God’s love. Most importantly, these groups allied together and stayed connected to the larger community through events like the National Day of Prayer, the Biola Media Conference and other significant community events.
We saw our individual job placements in the industry as more than just a paycheck. We saw ourselves as God’s lanterns of light and His salt of the earth. We labored to rebuild the walls of love, hope, and friendship. Through the efforts of many groups like the Hollywood Prayer Network, Master Media, The Influence Lab, and many others, Christians in Hollywood have become a large, vibrant and active community that is respected and trusted to intelligently and gracefully engage on moral and cultural questions without condemnation.
It was how Nehemiah led.
Nehemiah prayed and then rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days when others had failed. The walls he built were for protection, but they were also necessary to create a united faith community. Nehemiah understood he was an enslaved person within a foreign culture (Hollywood’s culture is often alien and not agreeable with Christian values, morals and beliefs). Yet, he became a trusted and mindful leader. His account of the journey of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem is a book to be studied for all Christians wanting to rebuild their communities where God has placed them. His leadership is a lesson on how today’s Church – the body of Christ needs to lead in a world that disdains the word “Christian” because of its history and past poor leadership practices. Just as Nehemiah did, Christians working in the Hollywood industry recognized that it must start with prayer and personal engagement with God and those they work for and with. It begins with building individual relationships at their places of work and learning to be compassionate, mindful leaders.
How do we lead today in Hollywood and the world?
We continue to love, care and live authentic lives. I love what U.K. evangelist Canon J. John says, “None of us have it together, but together we have it.” First and foremost, it’s about how much we care, because people don’t care how much we know or what we believe until they understand how much we care. “
Each person in Jerusalem rebuilt their personal wall first. They accepted their leadership role and rebuilt their relationship with God one stone at a time. Then, they physically rebuilt the walls, not outside of their neighborhoods or places of work, but at their own home. They weren’t trained construction workers but were priests, merchants, jewelers, masons, craftsmen, artisans, and women who cared. The words “next to him” were used 20 times in the 3rd chapter of Nehemiah. It takes the whole body of Christ to rebuild the walls of our culture. There are lists of responsible leaders who worked on the walls and repaired the gates written in the book of Nehemiah.
Today each person in the Church is indispensable. Each must share the responsibility to repair the walls around them. Covid has changed and disrupted the physical places we are living and the places we work in many ways. Atlanta is now the new “Hollywood South,” and new media and entertainment hubs are in Austin, Dallas, Nashville, Vancouver, and Canada with lots of production still happening in New York, England, Germany, Australia and India. God is enlarging the tent of Christians working in media and entertainment. We each have our place to build the walls of unity and love as never before, and those places are people who are sitting across the desk from you or standing next to you on a production lot.
It takes one person at a time. It takes you!
Kathleen Cooke: Your childhood and teen years were tumultuous, but God had His eyes of love and care on you. What would you tell a young person today who is living in a challenging or chaotic situation?
Gianna Simone: God has recently been teaching me that He is my provider, protector, and source of ultimate love. That He is enough, and in Him, I am never alone. People will love us but also let us down, which really hurts. Yet, He will NEVER let us down, disappoint us or abandon us. He keeps His promises – always has and always will. We will never be more loved than we are right now. He is truly for us and loves us more profoundly than we know or could understand.
Kathleen: Your life was one of constant uncertainty, and the media and entertainment industry is always rocky and challenging. Many might have given up, but you pushed forward. How do you decipher the ambitions you want from the perfect place God wants you to be in?
Gianna: Such a great question! Many years ago, I had an epiphany about this concept. I know God loves me and wants the best for me; therefore, I want what God wants for me. So, I asked God to help me see and desire the very best for my life and make my desires His desires, and vice versa. I want my will to be aligned with His will. If I feel a strong urge toward something that appears to be a good thing, I know to pursue it and act on it. It always seems to work out.
Oh… I still make mistakes. I am still human. There have been times when I have misread a situation and have had to re-assess and re-route and learn something from God that I didn’t see before. It’s all part of learning, growing, healing, and drawing closer to Jesus. I have seen and experienced lots of things in my life that I know I don’t want, which has shown me more of what I do want in my life—empowering me to move in a positive direction with confidence.
Kathleen: Fear is the word, isn’t it? How do you deal with the constant fear?
Gianna: Jesus tells us in Matthew 21:22, “Whatever you ask for in prayer BELIEVE you have received it and it WILL be given to you” Belief is so powerful, and fear can hold us back from accomplishing our mission(s). “Perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) Every single time I have chosen faith/love/belief over fear, it has changed my life for the better. Whether it is speaking at the United Nations (my first ever public speaking event) or jumping out of an airplane (when it was the first time for me ever to have flown in one) or standing on a cliff and bungee jumping off it (my most recent challenge), I love breaking through and overcoming fear. It builds character and strength. The mind is so powerful, and so much of what we want is right on the other side of fear.
Kathleen: Often, we never know how God uses others to influence our lives. Can you tell us about an instance when someone influenced your life and how God used that person to change the direction of your life?
Gianna: When I was in foster care, I had tried taking my life and ended up in a hospital for young girls who had tried taking their own lives, too. I shared a room with another girl around the same age as me – about 15 years old. One night before bed, we were up talking, and I told her about Jesus. I had been attending church, and the messages were starting to make a lot of sense to me, but I hadn’t asked Jesus to come into my heart yet. The next morning, we were in a group setting, all sitting in a circle sharing our feelings and thoughts. She began sharing and started telling the counselor that she had given her life to Jesus the night before, and she no longer felt sad or suicidal any longer. I was in a bit of a shock that my thoughts had influenced her. God used my mustard seed sprouts for her belief.
It delighted me knowing that it had positively made a change in her life, but more profoundly, it impacted my own belief in God and His redemptive power. I soon got out of the hospital, kept attending church, and eventually asked Jesus to come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior. Very soon after I was saved, God blessed me with my modeling and acting career, which have all led me closer to Him and profoundly changed my life. I can attest that once you give your life over to the Lord, He sets you on the most incredibly fulfilling trajectory and mission in life.
Gianna Simone is an actress, model, and producer. Her film credits include, Star Trek: Into the Darkness, Mother’s Day, I Can Only Imagine, Unbroken: Path to Redemption, and God Bless the Broken Road. She has appeared in several national TV shows and on the covers of numerous national publications. She presently hosts Love, Gianna, which focuses on plant nutrition with top doctors and athletes. She serves as a board member for The Plantrician Project and identifies as a Christian vegan.
Originally born and raised in Boston, she was abused and placed in foster care at 13 years of age. Her story is focused on overcoming obstacles in life. She founded The Gianna Simone Foundation, which focuses on bringing hope and positive change to individuals who have been neglected and abused. She worked directly with Kigali University providing scholarships to survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She was honored to present her work, on behalf of her foundation, at the United Nations. She works tirelessly with numerous organizations that assist foster care youth, sex trafficked victims, and animal rescue agencies.
Visit Gianna’s website here.
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Heidi Rasmussen is the co-founder and COO of Freshbenies – a fresh approach to benefits. She is a communicator, strategic planner, customer service advocate, builder, mentor, defender and coffee addict. Mostly, she says she’s a “gettin’ stuff done and make it happen” gal. She worked for over 27 years in the retail industry having started at JCPenney where she worked her way up the ladder to the Divisional VP at Corporate and led the largest brand launch in JCPenney history.
Seeing the need to make company benefits used wisely, she launched Freshbenies to give employers and employees practical tools to control their dime, time and peace of mind. Freshbenies has been named to the INC. 5000 list as one of the fastest growing companies in America for the past four years and the top 100 companies for two years in a row in Dallas, Texas, as well as receiving two Health Value Awards for their innovation and for providing value-based healthcare. She is a passionate believer that people matter and is an advocate for making life simplified so that they can succeed in all God’s called them to be and do. She serves on the board for, 4WordWomen, where she mentors and encourages women in the corporate business space to live out their faith to the fullest.
Kathleen Cooke – Heidi, I love that you call yourself a communicator. We live in a polarized culture today in which just chatting with someone can be challenging. What has God taught you about how to communicate effectively?
Heidi Rasmussen – So far, 2021 has been another crazy year! With all the racial injustice and political discord, the Lord is showing me how to live out His command to “love one another as I have loved you.” The Holy Spirit is working in me to change my thinking which is changing my actions. Specifically, when I’m speaking about someone on the “other side of the aisle,” I no longer use certain words or phrases (like “What an idiot!”) in casual conversation. He reminds me that He loves that person just as much as He loves me, no matter what their background and, He wants to love that person through me. It’s the main reason I’m on this earth – to love Him, love His people and bring glory to Him.
Kathleen – I have found that having great conversation starts with a relationship foundation. Talk to us about why relationship is at the heart of candid conversations and how it affects good leadership.
Heidi – To build strong relationships, I’ve had to learn to have candid conversations. At the core, candid conversations are about love. If we love someone, we’ll have a hard, truthful conversation because it’s a lot easier to avoid those kinds of talks! When I was a young manager, I was very capable and would just come behind those who weren’t doing their job and fix everything. As I grew in my career, I didn’t have the time to do that, so I had to get good at setting clear expectations and having tough conversations when expectations weren’t met. It is harder and takes more courage to tell someone they aren’t meeting expectations and need to improve their performance. As soon as I realized this and started to master the principles around conflict, I experienced more peace in my life.
Kathleen – Business decisions are often places of uncertainty and risk. What has God taught you about how to trust Him and about taking a posture of obedience in challenging situations?
Heidi – You know that saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle?” It’s nowhere in the Bible and it’s not true. How am I, in my own strength, supposed to love another person as Jesus loves me? That is impossible. In Matthew 19, Jesus says, “…with God all things are possible.” I spent many years working hard for God and asking, What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)? Then, I learned the necessity of working with God and asking, What Will Jesus Do” through me? He’s in me and His Spirit is working through me all day every day. I just need to be available and let Him use me to do His work. I ask Him to help and guide me every step of the way. That includes when I don’t feel Him nearby. I often pray, “Lord, please help me to feel Your presence.” When I’m in a bad mood, I pray, “Lord, please lift me from this funk.” And, when I’m mad at Him, I pray, “Lord, please change me.” I can ask Him anything and be confident that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).
Kathleen – How do you view influence in a culture where many strive endlessly today to be influencers?
Heidi – At the risk of sounding like a broken record (if you remember what one of those is), I’ve learned that influence is about loving people and letting Christ work through me. People are influenced positively by other people they love or like on some level. I’ve learned that if I want to influence the world, I have to be salt and light to others and loving (and lovable) in all circumstances. To do that, I have to ask Christ to do it through me and be available to let him shine through me to others.
Find out more about Freshbenies here or connect with Heidi on LinkedIn here.