I Am Second is Preaching Jesus, Reaching Millions (Diane Smith, Ft. Worth Star Telegram)

April 23, 2010

Author Anne Rice starts her testimony while sitting, hands folded, in a white chair.

Rice talks directly into the camera. She is a former atheist and well-known novelist who wrote Interview With the Vampire and other vampire-themed books. She explains how the vampire fantasy explores loss of faith and the struggle between good and evil and how people cope when cut off from God — all once aspects of her life.

Rice has reconnected with Jesus Christ and recently began sharing her story through the increasingly popular I Am Second campaign.

“I was a Christ-haunted person,” she said. “I was a Christ-haunted atheist.”

The Christianity-based campaign marries old-school media — billboards, radio commercials and bus stop kiosks — with the Internet. A Web site gives users access to short video testimonials from everyday people struggling with problems but also features athletes and celebrities such as Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton and actor Stephen Baldwin. Online maps show people where to connect with others. Downloadable materials are available that people can use to spread the need to put Jesus first.

“We live in this world where we are all trying to be first,” said Nathan Sheets, vice president of partnership development for the Plano-based e3 Partners Ministry, which is behind the 17-month-old campaign. “Everything is about me being No. 1.”

Sheets and Norm Miller, CEO of Interstate Batteries, wanted people to ask themselves whether God comes first in their lives and to say, “I am second because Christ is first in my life.”

To reach people, e3 needed a media campaign, Sheets said. “We just need to make Jesus as famous as Tony Romo in Dallas,” he said.

Sheets said e3 launched the I Am Second Web site Dec. 2, 2008. The Dallas-Fort Worth campaign also included 30 billboards, 3,000 television commercials, 3,000 radio commercials and 45 kiosks.

“It just exploded,” Sheets said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 2,239,318 viewers from 211 countries had checked out the Web site, Sheets said. He said businesspeople and ministries in Russia, the United Kingdom, South Africa and France have discussed bringing the movement to their communities.

Fundraising is taking place to spread the campaign to cities such as Orlando, Fla., Atlanta and Nashville. Testimonials are typically filmed by willing participants who have heard about the movement from fellow Christians.

Bret Wurzbach, a senior at Hebron High School in Carrollton, said a testimonial from the Rangers’ Hamilton drew him to the movement. He was prompted to get involved and started a group at his school to help spread the word.

“It’s pretty relaxed,” he said. “It’s pretty chill. It’s not like beating at you over your head.”

Taylor Fritz, a junior at Hebron, said the movement helped spur a stronger Christian fellowship youth group at her school. The group, which meets at the football field house Fridays before classes, has grown to close to 100.

Fritz said students are drawn to the movement when their curiosity is stirred by the words “I Am Second.”

Testimonials by beauty pageant contestant Ashley Rawls, who coped with an eating disorder, and former Texas Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy are popular with teens, Fritz said. But Hebron High teens are also getting inspired from testimonial videos they make and post on their own Facebook group page.

“It’s people who we know and people we go to school with every day,” Fritz said.

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