NISSWA -- A journey of prayer, the past and people highlighted the fifth annual Lakes Area Mayors Prayer Breakfast.

This year’s keynote speaker was director and documentary filmmaker Tim Mahoney.

Tim Mahoney said it was the first time he’d spoken at a prayer breakfast and it took him awhile to decide if he was capable of doing it. Mahoney said he is more comfortable talking to a large group than a small one, which is odd. But he drew laughs from the crowd of nearly 400 people gathered at Grand View Lodge’s Gull Lake Center when he said he was odd and that was what he was going to be talking about today.

“What you might not know is, it took 12 years to make the first film and it wasn’t easy,” Mahoney said, his voice breaking. “It’s a journey of prayer.”

Mahoney said he had to battle a lot of doubt in going into places like the Middle East after 9/11.

“It wasn’t very crowded with Americans, I can tell you that,” he said. “It was a very difficult place to go.”

Mahoney said this was something God called him to do. It was difficult and dangerous situation, he said, noting a murder at his hotel. Mahoney said he was fine with staying in the Midwest but he was called to go to places he never wanted to go.

“But you know what, God gave me a love for it,” he said. Mahoney, born in 1957, wanted to be a filmmaker at an early age. His father was a decorated Korean War veteran, a Minneapolis Police Officer who later became a Minnesota State Trooper. His mother was a music teacher. They met at North Central Bible College.

At a young age Mahoney said he also knew he needed Jesus in his life.

Mahoney went on a 12-year journey for his 2014 film “Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus” with a subtitle of “You never know where a crisis of faith will lead you.” The work, with a film narrated by Minnesota’s own actor Kevin Sorbo, looked to match events and places recorded in the Bible.

Mahoney worked on television commercials and documentaries and produced educational and online curriculum. On his website, he stated it was interviewing Bible scholars from a variety of viewpoints for curriculum development that his interest in the Bible grew.

Mahoney spoke of prayer as a conversation with God and one where a person is listening and listening for information.

“I needed to know what in the world to do,” Mahoney said, noting he didn’t have any scholarly degrees but he was assured all he needed were the questions. He decided he was going to tell his own story along with God’s story.

“We’re in the middle of God’s story,” he said.

Mahoney traveled to Egypt in 2002 to make a documentary film on the route Moses would have taken during the Israelites delivery from slavery during the Exodus. He noted when he found scholars who had found no evidence of that Exodus, he had a crisis of faith. In response he went on a journey to take an objective look for evidence and to investigate Moses.

Mahoney has done two films in the series and is now working on a third. In 2014, he created a company called Thinking Man Films and Media, which has the films, books and curriculum.

Mahoney said when he first started this investigation, which he called a Moses controversy with some people not believing Moses ever existed, it had its own tie-in to the present. He said some people asked why care about the Old Testament, but Mahoney said if you don’t believe Moses didn’t exist, then what does that mean for Jesus.

“You see it is all built upon this,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney intertwined stories of his investigation, clips of his film and stories of his own childhood. Mahoney said his father, who could also be the nicest guy in the world could also be quick to anger. When in a rage, Mahoney said his father threw him across the room into a wall. He also remembered his mother praying for him as he slept in a small sewing room away from the rest of the family.

“That was the most real prayer that I ever remember praying with my mother and that started a relationship of praying,” Mahoney said. Eventually, his father continued to struggle and his life was falling apart. Mahoney said his father told his mother he was going to kill the family. She sought help from a family member and they hid and while they were gone his father took an ax to the house, chopping it to pieces.

“Our family was never the same again,” Mahoney said. “We ended up being on welfare. … My mother was a praying person. I want to say one thing. Prayers -- there are things that are happening today that someone prayed years ago, but they just haven’t happened yet. … I know that the prayers of my grandmother, the prayers of my mother are probably the reason why I am here today. And your prayers are the same. You might not see an answer to it right now but it’s coming.”

Mahoney said they would pray for things like shoes. When his mother would find shoes at garage sales that were too large for his feet that he had to stick tissue in the toe to make them fit, he asked if the next time they prayed for shoes they couldn’t fit the size in there, too.

Mahoney left film school to return to a job painting cars at a body shop, after starting his own family. But he felt God had a calling for him. It didn’t mean his life or the journey wasn’t without doubt. Making videos led him to a job at an advertising agency. From there he started Mahoney Media Group and worked with corporations.

“There might be some of you that the Lord told you about some time ago but you put it off,” Mahoney said, adding if you are trying to figure out what God is saying that is what prayer is all about. He decided to start a distribution company and that introduced him to the story of the Exodus and that led to an interview with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister.

After the morning event, Andy Anderson said he was glad he made the trip to hear Mahoney.

“It’s great,” said Andy Anderson, who lives just south of Emily. “I saw this video about three years ago. It’s an awesome video. … It’s very enlightening.”

Anderson has attended every Mayors Prayer Breakfast since they began in 2015. He said he looks forward to the them.

His wife, Dottie Anderson, said she was anxious to see the film.

The Andersons were among a crowd of about 380 people who gathered for the 6:30 a.m. Mayors Breakfast at Grand View Lodge’s Gull Lake Center in Nisswa.

The event includes an introduction and prayer for mayors and government leaders along with a keynote speaker.

Event history

The nonprofit event was organized by the Mayors Prayer Breakfast Committee and local Christian Business Men's Connection. It took its cue from similar events hosted across the country, some for more than 40 years.

In 2015, Mark Whitacre was the speaker at the first Mayors Prayer Breakfast. Whitacre was played by Matt Damon in a movie about events in his life in "The Informant." At 32, he was president of the bio-products division at Archer Daniels Midland. He was also involved along with the top executives at his company and others in a massive price fixing scheme, served as an FBI informant and spent more than eight years in prison. He credits God with changing his life, saving his marriage and filling a void. He told the group, everyone struggles with adversity, but there is a choice involved in how it shapes a life either in bitterness or to make it better.

In 2016, Jerry Molnar, was the keynote speaker. He recalled a bright fall day when he overslept and thought he’d be late getting to his office in the World Trade Center. All the people he worked with were killed when the plane hit his office on Sept. 11. It wasn’t his only brush with loss.

Members in the audience were moved to tears during Molnar's presentation titled, "The Accidental Survivor: Loss, leadership and life after Sept. 11."

At the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, Molnar said his message was simple.

"The message is this. (God) loves you. He cares about you. That's why you are here."

In 2017, Dwight L. Johnson, author of "The Transparent Leader," who has written a series of books looking at the spiritual secrets of successful men and chronicling those who lived lives of character, morals and ethics, was the keynote speaker.

Johnson "discovered the need for business leaders to become transparent first to the gospel, then to their coworkers" and has spent more than 20 years encouraging men to "seek lives of significance through being transparent in their work, families and faith."

Johnson, through personal relationships, was able to chronicle personal stories and leadership lessons of such notables as President George W. Bush, football great Rosey Grier and legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry.

In 2018, Charlie Duke, one of 12 men to walk on the surface of the moon, was the keynote at the fourth annual Lakes Area Mayors Prayer Breakfast. Duke was one of the 19 astronauts selected by NASA in April 1966. Duke served as a member of the astronaut support crew for the Apollo 10 flight, NASA reported, adding Duke was a liaison between the in-space crew and mission control for Apollo 11, the first landing on the moon, and he served as backup lunar module pilot on Apollo 13. Duke also said he has no peace in his life but credits Scripture in making a major change in his life and rebuilding his family relationships. Prayer works," Duke said. "God is listening to our prayers."

A film screening and director Q&A

A screening of “Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus” is free and open to the public and is planned 5-8 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 27, at Tornstrom Auditorium, 804 Oak St. Brainerd.

Documentary filmmaker Tim Mahoney will screen his movie looking at the validity of history in the Bible and look at evidence regarding the Old Testament story of the Exodus out of Egypt.