Nancy Stafford has made a name for herself in Hollywood, starring in many movies and television series, including "Matlock" and Hallmark and Lifetime movies. She also carries a deep desire to minister to women, both in Hollywood and around the world, and is part of an amazing organization impacting the lives of Christians living in the Middle East. She shares with us today why she wants to help women find their true identity in Christ and how women in the U.S. can support women in the Middle East.
4word: Tell our readers a little about yourself!
Nancy: Well, I’ve been an actress for 150 years...just kidding, but it feels like that long! I’m an actress, author, speaker, and film and television producer. I’ve been a series regular on six TV shows, including "Matlock." I’ve guest-starred on countless shows like "Scandal," "The Mentalist," "ER," and "Frasier," among many others. I’m constantly working; God doesn’t seem to want me to leave this industry!
In addition to working on sets, I’ve also been involved for years with a number of ministries to the entertainment community, specifically geared toward Christians in the arts. The focus of each group varies, but each has an important impact helping build up and edify the body of believers that feels called to this marketplace. All of these gatherings are so important to women, especially. Hollywood can be a very lonely and isolated place if you hold a worldview in direct contrast to what Hollywood holds. You need a lot of courage to stand for what you believe in and you need a lot of people to surround yourself with accountability to stay your course.
4word: How did you get started in Hollywood? What is it like, being a Christian woman in the entertainment industry?
Nancy: I first came to Los Angeles to do a show called “St. Elsewhere,” after doing soap operas in New York. When that show ended, I got another show called “Sidekicks.” On that show, I only had one week off the entire first season. That one week that I was off, I happened to be offered a role on “Matlock” as a guest star. That had never happened to me! I always had to audition, so to have something offered to me was pretty cool.
When I read the script and saw what the part entailed, I was crestfallen. I had just recently come back to the Lord after being a prodigal for fifteen years. When I came back to faith I had told God, “I only want to do work that I can be proud of and that will honor You, Lord.” The “Matlock” character being offered to me was a high-class call girl who perjures herself on the witness stand and frames someone for murder. Clearly a flawed character!
I had no idea what to do. I was heartbroken. I called my prayer posse together, including my pastor and women in my church with whom I had created a community. We all came together and prayed about what I should do with this offer. It turned out that it was very clear to everyone that I was to take this role, because I had the opportunity to play the character in a way that would show her brokenness and her struggle without glorifying her profession.
So I did the role, and then a year later “Sidekicks” was canceled and I was offered a series regular role on “Matlock,” purely based on my performance the year before. Had I just dismissed the role without the counsel of these women in my life, my life would have been so different. As women, we really do need each other to navigate the challenging circumstances and difficulties that we face.
4word: You have a passion to influence the lives of other women. Where did this drive come from?
Nancy: My heartbeat is for women. I love speaking to them and writing books for them. I want women to understand their identity in Christ, because I personally struggled with this. Even though I had wonderful, affirming parents, I grew up very insecure. I was the geek, the dork, the nerd, the object of every ridicule, taunt, and tease of my school. I was such a sensitive child, so all of this went straight to my heart. At an early age, I adopted a very warped self-perception that I was inadequate and unworthy, no one wanted me, and I wasn’t valued. Even when I went off to college, became Miss Florida in the Miss America pageant, and modeled with Ford Models in New York, I still carried this view of myself. I buried it deep beneath my perfectly painted on smile.
Many years later, after I came to Christ, He began to heal that little girl inside of me that still felt like she had no value or worth. Women everywhere, especially in the workplace, adopt all kinds of behaviors when they carry this damaged view of themselves. My biggest “defense mechanism” was being performance-oriented, a “people pleaser.” You tell yourself that if you work hard enough, you’ll earn people’s acceptance and approval. What an exhausting way to live!
I still struggle a lot with perfectionism and am still learning to understand the difference between the pursuit of excellence and flat out perfectionism. God has been patiently working with me and telling me over the years that I don’t need the world’s affection and approval, that I am enough--in Him. The deeper I went into the word of God, the more I changed inside.
This transformation inspired me to minister to other women. I realized how many other women who look very successful on the outside, with beautiful smiling faces, are actually broken on the inside. My vision for my ministry is to see others set free. Our culture bombards us with images women feel they have to live up to. But God tells us that really living is to know Him, draw close to Him, and find our identity in Him. When we finally realize that we already have everything we strive so hard to acquire, it’s such a liberating revelation.
I write books about my own struggles. I figure if what God shows me leads to my own healing and transformation, then it might well benefit someone else. My first book, Beauty by the Book: Seeing Yourself as God Sees You, is much more than what the title might suggest; it’s actually a deep inner healing book under the ‘guise’ of a beauty book! So many women use it for their women’s small groups, college and high school girls, or just their own deeper study. So I wrote a companion Study Guide for the book and it’s free to download from my website. It’s been pretty overwhelming to see how this book and study have helped set women free in their identity in Christ.
4word: Tell us about how you became involved with SAT-7, and the work they are doing for women in the Middle East.
Nancy: As women in the West, we struggle with our identity, but the more I’ve learned about the suppression and abuse women all over the world face, the more my heart breaks.
I admittedly didn’t know much about what women in the Middle East face. I had been to Israel many times and had seen the wonderful Biblical sites of the Middle East, but I didn’t really know much about our Arab or Iranian brothers and sisters. I didn’t know about the vibrant yet largely unknown population of Christians living in that area of the world.
My involvement with SAT-7 ministry started one weekend when a dear friend asked if I would be the emcee for a SAT-7 donor weekend event. I agreed, and let me tell you, I was the worst host ever because all I did was weep! I was blown away. By choice and necessity they deliberately keep a low profile, but why had I never heard of SAT-7? It’s truly one of the most strategic yet least known ministries in the world, broadcasting Christian satellite television into the Middle East, North Africa, and all of Europe. They have six channels in three different languages that broadcast directly into homes ministering to Christians in predominantly Muslim regions.
All of the content is produced by those living in the region. So programming is culturally relevant and in native languages. They don’t import well-known preachers from the West and ‘dub’ them into Arabic or Farsi. Their programming includes ministry shows, comedies, dramas, a children’s channel, current events, and a remarkable amount of women’s programming, including marriage programs. In that part of the world, where women are viewed as property with zero rights, women in the Middle East have access to uncensored content sharing with them the love of Jesus, how He sees them, and their dignity in Christ.
The coolest part, to me, is that the person who oversees all of the programming for all of the channels is a WOMAN! Unheard of! She started as an on-air presenter on the children’s programs and has risen the ranks to now run all of the television programs. Only God could elevate a woman in that part of the world to the level of influence that she has. What an amazing expression to people in the Middle East--and everywhere in the world--of how God views women!
4word: How can 4word women help support this amazing effort in the Middle East?
Nancy: The Executive Director of SAT-7 Women for Middle East Hope, Debbie Brink, and I share a heart for women and brainstormed a couple of years ago what we could do to support the already amazing women’s programming SAT-7 was broadcasting. We knew that women in the West love to come alongside each other, link arms, and help make things happen, even a world away. So we created Women for Middle East Hope, as well as a Study Guide that shares what is really going on with women in the Middle East and what they face. We also created a wonderful cookbook featuring easy to make recipes from viewers.
With the Study Guide and the cookbook, women in the West can really identify with the women in the Middle East. We can immerse ourselves in their culture through these books and develop a love and heart for our sisters in Christ. Women around the country are gathering together in small groups and going through the Study Guide while eating some of the delicious meals featured in the cookbook. Through these gatherings, women are coming up with their own creative ways to help SAT-7 raise more awareness as well as funds for even more women’s programming.
We also have vision trips your readers can sign up to go on (we can only take five to ten people, so spaces fill up fast). We hope to go to places like Algeria and Tunisia to meet these women and sit with them and get to know them. These trips give us a chance to offer support and encouragement to these women in the Middle East, to let them know they have sisters in the West who care, stand with them, and are and praying for them.
I’d love to invite your 4word Local Groups to consider taking maybe a month to go through our Study Guide and cook some of the meals in our cookbook. Get to know your sisters in Christ in the Middle East and pray about how you can, as a group, have an impact in their lives. As creative as your groups are, I know that some really amazing initiatives might come out of meetings like this!
4word: Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Nancy: I just wanted to say how impressed I am with 4word. As I’ve gotten to know you all, I’m excited and impressed with the fact that you’re women who want to come alongside each other. It so resonates with my heartbeat for women. We need to be different from the culture. As Christian women, we have an opportunity to show women in the world what real sisterhood is about. As much as people talk about how important women’s rights are, especially in the workplace, I don’t see a lot of women reaching down and pulling their sisters up to the next level. In the corporate world especially, women can be rather ruthless and don’t seem to help each other.
I love that we in the Church can be different. The Holy Spirit has given us a heart and desire to see others flourish. I love pulling people together for the better, and that’s part of what is so exciting to me about 4word.
If you’re interested in learning more about SAT-7 Women for Middle East Hope, please visit their website for more information! We’d love to hear from any Local Group that would like to go through the Study Guide and grow their heart for women in the Middle East.
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