Review: Mully

Distributor: Fathom Events

Director: Scott Haze

Writer: Scott Haze

Starring: Charles Mully, Esther Mully, Lucky Hassan, Jennifer Ndunge Mukwata

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

“Faith as small as a mustard seed.” I remember that line being repeated ad nauseum as a kid in church. We were constantly reminded that even a little bit of faith will produce gargantuan results if held onto. It was easy to see how this bled into the heretical “prosperity gospel” that has become so infamous in my circle of friends, but the basic principle should not be discredited. Faith is very powerful and effective, so long as it is put in the right place. I hope Mully knows what that right place is…

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Some depictions of domestic violence are unsettling but not graphic.

Language/Crude Humor: None

Sexual Content: None

Drug/Alcohol Use: Mentions and depictions of alcoholism.

Spiritual Content: Talk about faith in God as a means for provision and guidance is central to the film.

Other Negative Themes: Possible tinge of hero worship is to be found here.

Positive Content: Much emphasis is placed on the importance of family and the centrality of faith in God’s provision. The whole film is a dramatic telling of a man’s rags-to-riches campaign as well as his rescuing the disenfranchised from oppression, poverty, and hopelessness. A heart for the “least of my people” is clear in this feature.

Review

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but whenever I come across easily quotable teachings from Our Lord, I struggle to take it to heart. Until the teaching is fulfilled in some concrete manner, it usually just rings as little more than an empty motto. It’s quite understandable why the parable has been such a staple of Middle Eastern culture for so long, as the story is so much more approachable to the learning mind than mere talking points divorced from any context. An example is one of the most effective teachers we have, and stories – real and fictional alike – are excellent at exemplifying abstract principles of this sort.

In my youth, one of the most repeated teachings in church was on the subject of faith. Particularly, on how faith in God as a means of provision for our basic needs and goals. I always held a strong token of skepticism for this manner of homily. It wasn’t so much that the idea in and of itself was dubious. “Ask and ye shall receive” was always quite clear in its meaning, and I never found that hard to accept. The difficulty was in how the principle of “receiving that for which we ask” has been extrapolated to corrupt levels of exploitation in so many rungs of American Christendom. This decontextualized passage has been used as fuel to the twisted fire of the oft-derided “prosperity gospel” that has been making the rounds in many a megachurch complex. The heretical idea in these circles has been soundly countered and fiercely condemned, but one is quite right in wondering if the countering and condemnation might present and equal-but-opposite error – one in which any and all attempts at receiving gifts and provisions through prayer and faith are regarded as futile at best and unduly selfish at worst. God is certainly not to be regarded as a celestial vending machine that takes prayers as payment tokens, but neither is He to be regarded as one who has no interest in servicing our needs or desires. Both extremes are equally erroneous in their failure to grasp God’s nature as both Lord and ultimate provider.

In the humbly produced and distributed documentary film Mully, I was given a clear and true-to-life illustration of faith playing a role in servicing the basic good of our needs without the practical matters of prudent diligence being neglected. We are introduced to Charles Mully, a man from the slums of Kenya who was a regular witness to domestic violence meted out by his alcoholic father as a young boy. Suddenly, one day at the tender and vulnerable age of six, Charles found himself completely abandoned by his entire family, alone and hungry in his home shack. He was even rejected by his uncle, who was also known for being cruel and violent.

Charles then becomes a street hoodlum for the next ten years, begging, stealing, and fighting for survival – all the while becoming a very hateful and violent youth with little to no touch of compassion or remorse about him. This changes when he receives a small act of kindness from an Indian woman living near a major city with her entrepreneur husband – an act that initiates Charles’ journey to affluence. At this point, I was reminded of another famous line from the church days of my youth. The line from Our Lord about having faith “as small a mustard seed” that could “move mountains” also left me in murky seas of obscurity for long stretches of my thought life. In Mully, I was finally given the tangible illustration that I needed.

Repeatedly we see in the life story of Mully examples of the tiniest act of virtue blossoming into some world-changing wonder on various scales. A small act of courage results in a lovely and large family. A small act of special service grows into an incredibly lucrative business that leaves the family practically set for life. A small act of selfless provision devolves into a period of homegrown pandemonium. A small act of faith directed towards finding water in a drought-stricken wasteland grows into a lush and self-sustaining microclimate providing untold numbers of impoverished people with food and water. Again and again, these small acts of faith have magnificent ramifications that no one could have predicted at the beginning. In fact, Charles himself was constantly facing doubts and opposition to his decisions – both from others and from himself. They seem absolutely ludicrous at first to all, but once the small sign of progress shows itself, everyone slowly but surely comes on board.

I cannot say that the whole idea of relying on faith in place of or in tandem with strict rationality for provision was a concept entirely foreign to me before seeing Mully. I was as familiar with the tales of George Müller as much as any other American Christian child.  Having said that, I found Charles Mully’s situation to be far more persuasive and engaging on a personal level. Perhaps it’s because the slums and wilderness of Kenya carry a far more palpable aura of impoverishment and desperation than the streets of London. Perhaps it’s because seeing Charles give up his life of living large to do right by the children that Kenya has rejected delivered a stronger kick to the gut than a mere fact-based recollection on the life of George Müller. Perhaps the secondary line of Charles’ parents reconciling after years of drunken abuse made the whole drama that much more winsome. Perhaps it’s because his story is more recent and still ongoing (the film ends after the credits with a personal invite from Charles Mully himself to get involved with his ambition to rescue more children from the bonds of poverty and negligence). Perhaps it’s all of the above and then some.

With all that established, there was a significant point of concern that I carried with me after leaving the showing of Mully – one that could undo its whole agenda if taken in the wrong light. While Charles’ faith is certainly made central to his life and accomplishments, it does seem somewhat fleeting in the entirety of the presentation. Talk of forgiveness and reconciliation was certainly present and welcome, but one of the many elements of the Christian faith, in particular, that makes it so much more viable an option than other religious faiths to my mind is that it brings its adherents firstly and lastly to a person rather than a mere fetish, ordinance, or teaching. The person of Jesus is the founding rock of the faith and the central focus and ultimate goal of the movement. Not the Bible, the Church, nor the demand of virtue itself are ever in equal importance to Our Lord.

Because of this, I found myself a little unsettled when the thousands of children who come under the care of the Mully Children’s Family (MCF) group more often than not give their thanks and adoration to Charles Mully rather than Jesus Christ. At least, that’s how it seemed from the presentation of the documentary. There is nothing wrong with the rescued children regarding Charles as their new adoptive father, but from the way they seem to hold Mr. Mully as central to their “salvation” from desolation and oppression, a correction in reverential priorities seemed to be in order. Unless my suspicions are wrong (and I genuinely hope and pray with all that I am that they are wrong), it would not be inappropriate to fear these children’s state of desperation and squalor coming back in full strength once Mr. Mully is gone. But this, I admit, is largely guesswork on my part.

With all things considered, I did not expect a documentary film as limited in release and budget as Mully to be as fascinating as it was.  The heartbreaking tales of children subjected to abuse and mistreatment of every imaginable shape and form were as emotionally wounding as one should rightly expect, and seeing them being given ample hopes of a better tomorrow was certainly satisfying. My only admonition is to ensure that these hopes are set in the Father everlasting rather in another transient man who I genuinely find to be one of His good and faithful servants.

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Positives

+ Emotionally gripping + Good entry point to the viewers + Healthy display of faith

Negatives

- Largely weak and unimpressive production - Possible error in the priorities of faith

The Bottom Line

A humbly made documentary with a great message about what can be done in the face of overwhelming desperation without losing one’s humanity.

 

7.6

Tyrone Barnes

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