The Little Mermaid Began Her Marriage Grounded in Love
In a business where being a Christian is not popular, Jodi Benson boldly declares faith in Jesus.
by Phillip Harold Barnhart
"Dodads and thingamajigs galore. You want whatchamacallits? I got plenty of them," sings Ariel in The Little Mermaid movie.
||Jodi Benson, voice-over for Little Mermaid
That's not all the Little Mermaid has. Rather, not all Jodi Benson has, the movie voice-over for Ariel. Jodi, my friend for fourteen years, has a deep love for Jesus Christ and a joyful way of letting people know that.
Three years ago, Jodi and her husband Ray spent a summer with us at Chapel on the Hill in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, ministering at our Christian Arts Centre. While there, they invited our oldest grandson, Joshua, to hang out with them. He's crazy about the Little Mermaid, not to mention an obvious crush on Jodi. But beyond herself and the character she portrays, Jodi points our grandson to Jesus Christ. When he is with Jodi and Ray he returns to us closer to the Lord. The two winsome young adults hold Jesus close to their hearts and take responsibility for sharing him with others. When Jodi autographed Mermaid pictures for kids in our church, she always put in a word for the Lord. "You're special to Jesus," is inscribed on many a photograph.
I first met Jodi and Ray when they asked me to officiate at their wedding, May 19, 1984. Having worshipped with us several times while visiting Jodi's family in a nearby town, they decided to begin their marriage at our church. I felt excitement and joy as we planned the wedding together and became fascinated with my new young friends. One evening, after they left my office, I thought prayerfully about how unusual it is for people so young to begin marriage grounded in a love for Jesus and a desire to serve Him.
Since their wedding, the Bensons come to our church whenever in the area to see family and, the summer of 1995, performed as Laurie and Curly in Oklahoma, a production of our theater ministry. While with us that summer, they also did a concert to benefit our arts centre.
Although The Little Mermaid made Jodi an international celebrity she maintains a natural witness to Jesus Christ that is no way rehearsed. She has witnessed from our theater stage but her best testimony is standing in a hallway talking to someone about most anything and listening intently with those big, glistening eyes. She is a spiritual friend to many in our congregation.
Four years ago, my wife Sharon and I heard from the Bensons at a critical time in our lives. Sharon had been diagnosed with lymphoma and we were devastated. Not long after that, Jodi and Ray appeared on our driveway and the four of us stood there circled in prayer for healing and direction. Jodi brought belief to my heart when she said with no disclaimer or qualifier, "Pastor Phil, God is healing Sharon right now."
That day, after sitting down to visit, Jodi and Ray told us they had been cast to tour in the European premier of My One and Only. Although mutually involved in previous productions, they had not played romantic leads opposite one another. We shared their excitement but were surprised when Jodi suggested, as if it were no big deal, "Why don't you come to Europe and see us do the show?" We couldn't do that. Sharon had begun chemo and the predicted side effects forecast both discomfort and incapacity. But the Bensons asked us to pray about it and we promised we would.
After a lot of prayer, our position moved from "we can't" to "why can't we?" and in September of 1994 we met Jodi and Ray in Vienna, Austria. We stayed almost a week, saw the show twice, and spent part of every day with our friends. We took in some of the sights, ate great German food, celebrated Sharon's and Ray's birthdays, and several times prayed for one another. Because of the effects of chemo treatments Sharon was not her usual ubiquitous self and we couldn't go at full pace but God helped us make every minute count.
In Vienna, I further observed the Benson's ability to witness to their Christian faith. Before each performance they held a prayer meeting in their dressing room for any cast members who wished to attend. The prayers offered were genuine and the sense of affirmation strong. One young adult cast member had received Jesus Christ as his Savior as a result of those meetings.
All Christians have opportunity to attract others to the faith but the opportunity of those in the spotlight is greater. Jodi and Ray Benson know they are in the spotlight and have both opportunity and responsibility to witness faith in Jesus Christ. They take their responsibility seriously and seize every opportunity.
I once talked about Jodi Benson to a fellow minister, a young father with two daughters. He listened with interest and then said, "I can't wait to get home and tell my girls the Little Mermaid is a Christian." The Little Mermaid is a Christian who loves the Lord and takes personal evangelism seriously. In a business where being Christian is not popular, Jodi Benson is straightforward about her commitment to Jesus Christ. And we attended church with Jodi and Ray. I'm sure everybody knew Jodi's identification with the Little Mermaid but she easily and naturally deflected any focus on that.
To Jodi Benson the only celebrity there that day was Jesus.