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AG-Focused Film Nears Release

"Breakthrough," the story of resurrected John Smith, is in theaters April 17.

The film adaptation of the miraculous real-life account of an Assemblies of God youth who resurrected without brain damage despite being dead for more than an hour after drowning, will open in theaters April 17.

Breakthrough is based on a book co-authored by Ginger Kolbaba, a regular freelance writer for AG News.

Much of the action and detail in the 250-page book has been condensed for the two-hour feature film that comes out just before Easter. Assemblies of God pastor Samuel Rodriguez is executive producer.

The motion picture is being marketed heavily to church groups. The movie’s trailer has been viewed 110 million times, a high total for a faith-based film. Backers are hoping for a huge audience turnout. In addition to the compelling storyline, Breakthrough is produced by a major studio, 20th Century Fox, and has marquee stars in key roles: Chrissy Metz as Joyce Smith, mother of 14-year-old drowning victim John Smith of suburban St. Louis; Josh Lucas as Joyce’s husband, Brian; Topher Grace as Assemblies of God pastor Jason Noble; and Dennis Haysbert as Dr. Jeremy Garrett, an international hypothermia and drowning expert who guided John’s recovery.

AG News reported the miracle soon after the Jan. 19, 2015, event happened. For 15 minutes, John’s lungs had filled with raw lake water, his heart had stopped beating, and he lay motionless at the bottom of Lake Sainte Louise.

Smith and his parents attended First Assembly Church in St. Peters, Missouri. John had been dead for over an hour by the time Joyce cried out to God in the emergency room.

“I believe in a God who can do miracles!” Joyce declared. “Holy Spirit, I need You right now to come and breathe life back into my son!”

Moments later, John’s heartbeat restarted.

Seven days later, physicians removed John’s ventilator and moved him out of intensive care. A week after that, he went home, with no neurological damage — despite no one ever surviving such a catastrophic medical failure before. Jason Noble, who had been pastor at the church only three months, stayed by John’s bedside for nearly the entire ordeal.

Kolbaba wrote a follow-up article for AG News in 2017. The published piece came out simultaneously with the book, originally titled The Impossible.

The book and the movie to a large degree focus on one woman’s faith in the midst of naysayers around her. Kolbaba says Smith’s walk with the Lord prepared her for the tragedy.

“She had spent time with God regularly, praying, studying the Bible, and getting to know God’s character,” Kolbaba says. “So when that unexpected moment came, everything she needed was already in place. She was not an outsider grasping in a desperate plea to an unknowable God.”

Although John came back to life, many on the medical team, as well as some of the boy’s friends and relatives, thought the resurrection would be a short one. But Joyce didn’t waver; she didn’t believe her son would die a second death.

“When she saw the pulse and the heartbeat, everything else in her mind was a done deal,” Kolbaba says. “God had brought John back to life; his body just needed to catch up.”

The book came about through a set of divine circumstances. Samuel Rodriguez, lead pastor of New Season Christian Worship Center in Sacramento, California, and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, interviewed Joyce Smith on his Trinity Broadcasting Network television show.

Providentially, Hollywood producer DeVon Franklin (Heaven Is for Real, Miracles from Heaven) appeared on the same program. Enraptured by the account, Franklin immediately wanted to make a movie — to be based on a yet-to-be-written book. Joyce, assisted by Noble, looked for an experienced writer to do the heavy lifting.

Chicagoland resident Kolbaba, who has been sole author or collaborator on three dozen books, stepped in with a deadline less than two months away. Her task included interviewing a parade of medical personnel and researching physiological aspects of dying.

“The process of death and resurrection is fascinating, medically and spiritually,” says Kolbaba, 51. “God breathed life back into tissues and organs.”

The author clicked immediately with Smith and Noble.

“Joyce is one of my favorite people,” Kolbaba says. “I’ve grown in my faith watching her. Any time I wrote about Joyce, I have felt God’s Spirit so strongly.”

“Ginger was a godsend for us,” Noble says. “We felt an instant rapport. She is an incredibly Holy Spirit-led person.”

The renamed page-turner, with a full title of Breakthrough: The Miraculous True Story of a Mother’s Faith and Her Child’s Resurrection, released on March 19. Kolbaba hopes filmgoers who want the fuller story will read the book, which is saturated with Scripture.

The movie follows the book closely, although there are a few noticeable differences. For instance, 38-year-old actress Chrissy Metz plays 68-year-old Joyce Smith. And the tension displayed between Smith and newbie pastor Jason Noble is embellished.

“I would never rip a schedule off the door of a women’s Bible study,” says Noble, referring to an early scene in the picture. “I’ve never even had an argument with Joyce.”


Although the movie contains seven scenes showing prayer, it doesn’t fall into the trap of over-the-top evangelism like many faith-based films.

“The movie is appealing in that it’s not a sermon,” says Noble, who served as national children’s ministry director for the Assemblies of God before becoming pastor at First Assembly Church. “It’s designed to reach people who are far from God.”

Noble, 44, pastored First Assembly for 3½ years then moved to Medford, Oregon. He now is working full time to promote the movie to churchgoers. The marketing strategy includes making a five-sermon series available to pastors in conjunction with Breakthrough. He also has been appearing with John and Joyce at various speaking events. And Noble has authored his own just-released book, Breakthrough to Your Miracle, as an evangelistic and disciple-making companion resource.

“I hope and pray people will go deeper and find their own breakthrough,” Noble says. The book deals with questions such as, What happens when we pray and Why do bad things happen to good people?

Noble expects to move to Los Angeles and plant an AG church after the movie glare is over. His father, Dennis Noble, is senior associate pastor at Redemption Church, an AG congregation in Medical Lake, Washington.

John Smith, adopted as a Guatemalan baby by Brian and Joyce, also appeared at the National Youth Ministries Fine Arts festival last August. Rodriguez preached a message, incorporating Smith as a sermon illustration.

Joyce and Brian Smith now attend Faith Chapel, an AG church in O’Fallon, Missouri. John will be attending North Central University in Minneapolis this fall.

Top Photo:  Josh Lucas (from left), Chrissy Metz, and Marcel Ruiz appear as the Smith family in the film.

Bottom Photo: Bottom cutline: Ginger Kolbaba (from left), Jason Noble, and Joyce Smith worked on the book that became the movie

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.