NEW YORK – Former Cover Girl and actress Jennifer O'Neill of the newly released film "I'm Not Ashamed," says American Christians might not all face death for their faith but they are still facing a form of martyrdom.
"I'm Not Ashamed" is about the first student killed at Columbine High School, Rachel Joy Scott, who was targeted because of her Christian faith. Scott was the first of 12 students and one teacher who were gunned down at Columbine on April 20, 1999, and the film is based on her journals, which are said to be honest and heartfelt accounts of her life and faith.
O'Neill, an accomplished author, actress and activist, is widely known for modelling for CoverGirl cosmetics, but she is now using her voice to encourage other Christians, starting with an appearance in this faith-based film. The actress says she really enjoyed being a part of "I Am Not Ashamed" because of its message.
"What I liked about the script, which they held too pretty well, is that she was a real girl, a struggling teenager that was dealing with issues and when she found her foundation in Christ and had that stability in her life she became a billboard for the truth," O'Neill told The Christian Post.
O'Neill says Scott, being a young girl who came to faith and started to live out that faith, had a genuinely noticeable conversion.
"She didn't just gamer about it, she actually walked the talk. She really dealt with the forgiveness issue and I thought the young lady who played her was magical and lovely," O'Neill added.
The actress maintained this film needs to be seen by everyone and her involvement in it was "of course to lift up Jesus Christ."
She continued, "It's an interesting piece because she finds her faith and she's martyred for it in a way. So it's imperative that especially young people who are all over the map and dealing with things that she was dealing with, from partying, smoking and drinking and all of that to find that foundation. Hopefully now all of these years later her story will resonate."
The title "I'm Not Ashamed" is taken directly from Scott's writings.
O'Neill in a way has a similar story to Scott where in they both started off as unbelievers who converted and then took a stand for what they believe in.
"I think everything happens for a reason and Romans 8:28, God turns everything around and He used my insane life before I found the Lover of My Soul to give me a platform for my work and deal with tough issues, [such as] abortion and sexual abuse," the Brazilian-born former model explained.
O'Neill works for several charitable causes including her role as the international spokesperson for the Pro-Life organization "Silent No More Awareness Campaign."
"Every part of my fabric would have like to know what she knew at her age. I was thirty-eight when I came to my faith so I don't even know how I survived all of that. The impact this young lady is going to make is going to be profound and I do see a parallel even though everything is different, but in God's economy He uses all of this for his purposes."
The former Cover Girl says she met Scott's mother, Beth Nimmo, while on the set shooting the film and she knows that Mrs. Nimmo and the creators of the film wanted to be faithful to the young girl's story.
Right before her death, Scott was asked about her faith and the killers deliberately inquired about her Christian beliefs. Columbine killers students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold knew about 17-year-old Scott's overt Christian faith and moments before her death, they questioned her asking if she still believed in God, to which she replied yes. It was her response that many believe led to her ultimate death.
O'Neill, an activist herself and one who takes a stand for Christian principles, had some advice for other Christians in this day and age on standing up for their beliefs.
"Standing up for your faith is normally going to cause you to be martyred. It happens in different flavors all around the world," O'Neill maintained. "What I think is coming to this country at such a time as this, I have to say this, is if we don't get out and stand up for the principles of God all the way down to our government if we don't [stand up] it's going to be really really bad."
She added, "It's time for we who say that we know the love of Jesus Christ, that we read the word of God, that we be obedient to His words."
She went on to say that standing up for one's faith in America might not look the same as in the Middle East but action is still required.
"We might not be shot or decapitated but you might lose your job because you stand up for your faith. There are lots of ways that the enemy is going to come around and try to erode the foundation of the church," O'Neill emphasized.
"There are so many of us that might be saved, but not everyone is called to be a disciple. Rachel was called to be a disciple. What I liked about the movie is that it doesn't get into technicalities she just lived her faith through who she was," she noted.
O'Neill revealed that in the first script of the film the name of Jesus was not initially mentioned and she took it upon herself to share her concerns with the producers, telling them that if Jesus was not mentioned, she was not interested in being involved because, "He's the key."
The final product however does feature the name of Jesus quite often and although O'Neill doesn't think it was because of her statement, she is happy with the final version.
"I just hope that people support it because it's a true story. It's not just someone's fantasy. Everyone needs to see it, not just our young people. [It's for] everyone who's going to have the willingness to stand up for their faith," the 68-year-old actress concluded.
In closing, O'Neill shared a story about her son whom she says she was pregnant with when she first came to Christ. He is now studying Ministry at Hillsong Australia and she recalled always praying over him that God would use him in a mighty way. She believes that it was her bold prayers that steered her son on the right path, comparing it to Scott's bold prayers and writings in her journals.
Scott believed that she would reach the world with her story, not knowing that in 2016 she would in fact be reaching the masses with a film about her inspirational life.
"I'm Not Ashamed" was filmed in and around Nashville, Tennessee. The cast includes newcomer Masey McLain as Rachel, Ben Davies ("Courageous"), O'Neill ("Summer of '42") and Jaci Velasquez ("Let The Lion Roar").
"I'm Not Ashamed" is now in theaters. For more information, visit ImNotAshamedFilm.com.