‘It’s Cool to Believe in God’
Actress Gianna Simone's difficult upbringing was no match for divine love
“I’m a vegan. I find it harder to talk about being a vegan than about my faith,” Gianna Simone joked in a sit-down interview with LifeZette.
The young up-and-comer recently appeared in “God’s Not Dead 2,” “Mother’s Day,” and the original series “Hitting the Breaks.” Despite her early success, she’s remained grounded and is deeply committed to living out her faith — even in the competitive environment of Hollywood.
Simone, who is 26 years old, is also extremely committed to charity work. The Gianna Simone Foundation works with foster youth at Maryvale, in Los Angeles, founded by the Daughters of Charity, and supports survivors of the Rwandan genocide.
“We always say we’re on a mission from God,” Simone said, a refreshing and distinct voice out of the entertainment capital of the world.
By this young woman's outgoing and joyful demeanor, few would know the heartbreaking reality of her difficult upbringing. Originally from Boston, she was physically and emotionally abused as a young girl, with no place else to turn except to her father, Anthony Baxter, who at the time was struggling with his own problems.
Eventually she began working out at a local gym, which helped her grow stronger and allowed her to defend herself from the abuse. "My anger and rage for the injustice I lived with on a daily basis became my driving force for change," says Simone, who was later placed into foster care as a young teenager. The gym's owner, Kathy DeMarco, became a devoted mentor and introduced her to church — although Simone didn't truly understand faith and religion until later. DeMarco wanted to adopt the teenager but passed away before that could happen.
Following her death, "I had attempted to take my own life and was sent to a place for troubled girls. I felt I didn't belong there — but I did. I did belong there," Simone said. "I wanted my own room. They said, ‘No, sorry.’ So they put me in a room with another girl."
This other girl, Anne (not her real name), had her own serious struggles.
"If someone said you can go back and change all the abuse, I would say no, because it's made me empathetic toward people."
"She told me she had tried to commit suicide multiple times," Simone explained. "I didn't know what to say to her. The only thing I could tell her was about Jesus and about God and about Jesus' love for us that transcends and overwhelms everything else in our life. 'He loves you even more than your parents love you,'" Simone said she told her.
The truth of the good news just came bubbling up out of her, she said. She didn't even know the source of it.
"For the short amount of time I had been going to church, I guess it resonated with me and the truth was starting to come out."
But the power of Jesus was already working through Gianna Simone, even if she didn't realize it yet.
"The next morning we had a sharing circle and the doctor said, 'Anne, why don't you start off with the sharing?' She said, 'To be honest, I don't feel anxious or miserable anymore because last night I gave my life to Jesus.'"
Simone described this as one of the first moments of her own personal conversion. "I knew it was the truth. It was my first step in sharing that with somebody, seeing how it could transform another human being when that person didn't have hope."
Meanwhile, the young girl, Anne, was very sure it was Christ who had sent Simone to share her room. Anne told her, "They put you in my room for me to help you, but in the end you ended up helping me."
Today, Gianna Simone's strength is undeniable. "I've actually trained my mind to think positive thoughts, and not (dwell on) all of the negative things I grew up hearing, and thinking, and dealing with."
"If someone said you can go back and change all the abuse, I would say no, because it's made me empathetic toward people," said Simone.
"My hope in sharing my story is to inspire people who are going through the same thing or even something similar. If I came out of it sane, so can you, and it's by God's help that I did. And the credit goes completely to God and to Him working through human beings as well."
It's very clear that God is using Simone and her shining talent to be a positive voice in an unforgiving culture.
"It's cool to believe in God. People shouldn't shy away from that, especially young girls with all the media that's out there. And be yourself," she added. "There's only one 'you' in this world, and you're special. And loved. So it's cool to believe in God."