This professional boxer and his wife served a 25 year Latter-day Saint mission. Their story will be on the big screen in east Idaho this weekend.
IDAHO FALLS — It was the spring of 1915 when newlywed couple Willard and Rebecca Bean moved to Palmyra, New York to serve as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It had been 84 years since church members were driven out by mobs and the Beans were not welcome.
Willard had made a name for himself as a professional boxer. About 10 years earlier, he won the title in the national middle weight boxing championship. His fame only added to the persecution he and his wife received.
“Few if any would speak to them,” Willard’s granddaughter Vicki Zimmerman wrote in a recent article. “Clerks refused to wait on them in stores, people walking their dogs crossed to the other side of the street to avoid them. For two years they had to drive their horse and buggy to neighboring towns just to buy groceries.”
They had lived there only a short time when a group of men came to their door.
“We are a committee that’s been sent out here to tell you people we want you to leave Palmyra. We don’t want any Mormons here,” one of the men said, according to Zimmerman.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Willard replied. “We had hoped to come out here and fit in with you people and be an asset to this community. But I’m telling you we’re here to stay if we have to fight our way. I’ll take you on one at a time or three at a time. We’re here to stay.”
The Beans faced an entourage of public ridicule and attacks on their faith for 25 years, but their determination to fulfill their mission changed their lives and the hearts of those they served. And it would become the longest-serving mission in the church’s history.
“It’s the greatest church history story that nobody knows,” says T.C. Christensen, the writer and director of a new movie depicting the Bean’s story entitled “The Fighting Preacher.”
The film makes its theatrical debut in eastern Idaho this weekend after opening to sold-out theaters throughout Utah last month.
“The film opened as the No. 1 film in the faith genre, debuted among the top 20 films in the country and No. 3 in average attendance per-screen,” Brandon Purdie, president of the film’s distribution company, says in a news release. “Those are accomplishments unrivaled by other films created primarily for LDS audiences.”
“The Fighting Preacher” is the latest in a long line of movies targeted for Latter-day Saint audiences. The independently released film features a cast of unknown actors. Many of the people involved in the film’s production are descendants of the Bean family.
“It changes the whole spirit of the set when they realize these are real people we’re making this movie about and the extras come as descendants to pay homage to their ancestors,” Christensen says.
Christensen is the most prominent person involved in the production. His previous projects include titles like “17 Miracles” and “The Cokeville Miracle.” “The Fighting Preacher” is his favorite project to date.
“It was a joy from start to finish. The Bean family has been terrific to me,” he says. “It’s such a good story that isn’t a heavy-handed or pound-you-over-the-head kind of movie. It just shows an example of being good to people and the effect that can have.”
Christensen felt inspired to bring the Bean’s story to the big screen after reading a book about their life entitled “A Lion and a Lamb” written by the Bean’s grandson Rand Packer. The film was two years in the making and Christensen is excited for people to see it.
“It’s a fun, entertaining movie,” Christensen says. “There’s a lot of action and conflict and heartwarming moments that make a good movie, and I think people will walk away saying ‘I liked it.'”
“The Fighting Preacher” stars David McConnell and Cassidy Hubert as Willard and Rebecca Bean. It’s rated PG and opens this Friday in Rexburg, Idaho Falls and Blackfoot.
You can watch the official trailer below. Listen to our conversation with Christensen in the video player above.