I have the absolute BLESSING of getting to work as a Youth Ministry Intern at EPIC Youth Orlando, and one of the events that we have every summer is movie nights. But they come with a bit of a twist. After every movie that we watch, the students get into groups of about 5-10 people and go over what they got out of it; we challenge them to look for the deeper meaning and see God.
Personally, I am a huge lover of Moana (and all things Disney) so I had absolutely no problem thinking of and writing out some questions for them to go over. Here’s what I came up with, and if you’ve seen this movie before, I urge you to take some time to think them over and come up with your own answers!
1. What role did Moana’s grandmother play in her journey? Do you think it would have gone the same without her?
2. What part of Moana’s journey did you resonate with most? Why?
3. How do you think Moana received peace in the moment to give Te Fiti her heart?
4. How do you think, in return, Te Fiti immediately went to it?
5. How did you see God in this movie?
I’ve got to be honest. Since I started working here, this was the first event that I had to lead, and trying to guide 80 students (both middle school and high school) in a spiritual discussion made me incredibly nervous. So throughout the movie, I jotted down answers to my own questions and ways to guide the conversation if it got stuck.
Maybe the biggest reason that I love this job is because time after time, these students never cease to amaze me. One after another, hands kept shooting up and they all kept building off of each other’s answers, blowing me away in the process. As I’m writing this, I actually can’t take too much credit, because it was all them. They made incredible connections, each individualistic and specific to where their journey with God is at in this moment. They impacted each other, agreed with each other and realized great points in what they were sharing.
Possibly the biggest theme that they all seemed to have in common is learning when to stop going with the flow of their surroundings and learning when to embrace God’s journey for them. One of the biggest challenges that they recognized was the difficulty that Moana faced leaving and actually doing something, that until the very end, she still wasn't 100% convinced that she was truly called to do. They recognized that, from birth, she had always felt the call, but the only assurance that she should follow it came from her grandmother, and later that “the ocean chose her.”
If you haven't quite gathered it yet, the ocean plays the God figure throughout the movie - the one who appointed Moana to embrace her journey and stop following perceptions that other people had placed for her. It chose her at the time she was born to restore the heart of an island that gave her people life, and it helped guide her in subtle ways throughout the movie. It also seemed absent throughout moments in the movie, which was another giant theme that the students recognized. But has anyone caught the irony in that? Everyone agreed that there were parts where the ocean was completely silent and not helpful at all, but at the same time, there was never a point in her journey where Moana wasn't surrounded by the ocean. And I like to think that the same goes for us. On our journey, when we’re bold enough to face it, we might not hear Him or even notice Him, but there will never ever be a point where God isn't completely surrounding us, guiding us like the tide guided her.
Toward the end of the movie, I noticed something pretty incredible, and the students noticed it too: Moana emerged as a Christ figure. Moana realized that Te Fiti, the beautiful island that once nourished everything and gave it life, suddenly turned into Te Ka, the lava monster that suffered in isolation and tried with every effort not to let anyone to the core of who it was. In a pivotal moment, however, Moana showed Te Ka its heart. The raging turmoil ceased and Moana was calm in the face of the monster that everyone once feared. The monster was calm and still, transfixed on her heart. One of the students said it best. She was completely calm because she couldn't believe that someone had come so far and crossed the length of the ocean to restore her heart. Moana came to restore who she was, and she let Te Ka walk right up to her and assured her that she knew who she truly was.
Can you see it now?
The Christ figure - the one who crosses oceans, fights off monsters, learns how to be bold in the moment and teach others along the way. The one who, when he finds us, tells us that he knows our name. That he’s known us all along. He shows us our heart, where all we have to do is go to him to receive it.
These students picked up on all of that on their own. They guided this whole conversation. The beautiful part, and possibly the part that I love about ministry the most, is that they see this in something so typical as a Disney movie. And when they talk about it with each other, they bring out the best and keep going deeper. They bring out God in everything. All we do is let it happen.
Tori is 19 years old and is about to enter her sophomore year of college. She started blogging in her senior year of high school, and her passion for it has only grown since then! Her Myers Briggs personality is ENFJ, which basically means that she's loud with a desire to show love. She’s excited to dive into her summer as a Youth Ministry intern at EPIC; she absolutely loves getting to lead students in their journey and see their incredible hearts. She tries to look for God in everything, especially details, but sees Him the most in people and hears Him in stories, which moves her to keep writing more and more!