When Bob Rieth was studying at a Minneapolis seminary back in July, 1963, he and his wife, Marion, decided to take some time off and get some light relief by watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
But the show turned out being far from light relief, but it did change the lives of this couple, and brought some much-needed light to Hollywood.
One of the guests that night was Mickey Rooney who, at the peak of his career between the ages of 15 and 25, made forty-three films and co-starred alongside Judy Garland, Wallace Beery, Spencer Tracy, and Elizabeth Taylor. He was one of MGM’s most consistently successful actors and a favorite of studio head Louis B. Mayer.
And, in an interview I did recently at a star-studded Hollywood event that Bob put on to help launch ISIS, Iran and Israel, the latest book from Chris Mitchell, the CBN Middle East Bureau Chief, this Lutheran pastor recalled the Mickey Rooney appearance that literally changed his life.
“I was in seminary, and I would go to school in the morning, do my visitation in the afternoon, and then in the evenings my wife, Marion, and I would take some time off for relaxation, and so I turned on the TV for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and suddenly Mickey came on,” he said.
“They sat and talked at length about their marriages and divorces and all the checks they had had to write, and all that because both of them had been married and divorced so many times. At the end of the interview, as Mickey was standing up to leave, he turned to Johnny and said, ‘May I add one more thing?’ and Johnny said, ‘Well sure.”
“Mickey then said, ‘The things we’re talking about tonight are not my successes; they’re my failures.’ That was his closing remark and when I heard him say that, it was like my heart broke and I wept. I realized the need that existed in the entertainment business. And literally, within a week, I began to notice that I had a changed-heart attitude towards people who were, not only Hollywood celebrities, but people in the public eye. So gradually over a number of years, my heart and our ministry went in that direction.”
Eventually, that event was the beginning of the launch of Media Fellowship International (MFI), a Christian ministry that works with people in the media and arts community in a confidential and non-judgmental manner.
“We provide a safe support group, where people can receive encouragement and Godly counsel, and have fellowship with other Christians in the industry,” said Rieth.
Even though Bob and Marion Rieth had now moved to Seattle – a city that is some 1,129 miles north of Hollywood — he explained how MFI actually began.
“I was now a pastor in Seattle and was asked to lead a Bible study for business leaders,” he recalled. “And from that, some of those men introduced me to other people, and I was asked to lead a Bible study for professional athletes, and then, eventually for media people in Seattle.
“That group grew from 5 or 6 people in 3 years to 50 people. Many were saved during that time and lives were changed completely. It was really a New Testament-era-type revival, and that was the core of the beginning of Media Fellowship International.”
MFI, incorporated by the state of California in 1987, is recognized as a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization, and is funded by private contributions from individuals who believe in this vital ministry of reaching “to the media, through the media.”
Rieth added, “We’ve had groups in 25 cities, but right now we have Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Nashville, Atlanta, New York, and DC. We’ve got about 12 or 15 cities right now with groups that meet regularly.”
Quietly-spoken Bob Rieth, has, in recent years, become beloved by many in the Hollywood community, but he seems the most unlikely person to become a confidant to so many in the entertainment capital of the world. There is no razzle-dazzle with him, just a Godly and kindly manner.
This gentle man (in all senses of the word) has been putting on, each year, an Annual Media Fellowship International Annual Praise Brunch at one of the top hotels in Beverly Hills, which is attended by hundreds who make up a Who’s Who of Hollywood’s Community.
But much of his work is behind-the-scenes, with his confidential counseling of many of the Hollywood stars who are going through difficult times in their personal lives.
I pointed out to “Pastor Bob”, as he known in Hollywood, that he could become world famous by releasing the information he gets from his counseling, but he would have none of it.
“Well, we have a lot of people who ask that question and, in reality, one of the keys to the success of the ministry is the fact that it is so confidential. I’ve worked with many world leaders and stars, and if I wanted to share that information, it might draw a crowd, but I’m not sure that it would be what we want; and it would certainly threaten the people who do come to us. So we’ve kept it very, very personal.”
Another aspect of the MFI ministry is their work with people in the media who are out reporting on terrible disasters.
“Their needs are quite different because, first of all, when they go out on a location to cover one of these catastrophes, they have to maintain a separation from their personal and professional life, and in most cases when media people come on the scene of a huge disaster, within three days, the local people wish they’d go home because there are so many of them that come, and people feel infringed upon,” he said.
“So it gives us an opportunity to meet with the media staff individually, or in small groups, and many times they’re very open and share their personal needs and I pray with them, people of all backgrounds. Amazingly, at that time, the fact that I’m a Christian is a comfort to them, and they might be from any background and they come to me to talk about what’s happening in their own lives and how this disaster is affecting them.”
He went on to say, “I’ve spoken with Muslims, atheists, as well as people from all different Christian backgrounds, as well as Jewish people. So, as long as we come in a loving way and I am not preaching something, or trying to persuade them to do something, it works out fine. I tell them that we’ve come to listen and to pray and to be available and many of them come to us for that opportunity.”
I then asked him why he had arranged the event at the Hollywood studio where we were speaking, as a way to help launch Chris Mitchell’s book, and he replied, “I’ve known Chris for quite a few years now. He’s based in Israel with CBN and is a wonderful friend; he’s a godly man; but also he’s working in the heart of what’s happening in the Middle East. As Christians, we need to be aware of what’s happening in the world in which we live and especially of the danger that comes from the Middle East.
“When I’m in Israel, if I go down in the morning from my hotel room and pick up a copy of the Jerusalem Post, I feel like I’m standing in the middle of the world, because everything in that paper relates to what is going on.
“So it’s really important for us, as believers, to be aware of that. And so I’m thankful that Chris has been able to come here to be able to share what he is seeing and doing and for us to be able to ask him questions about what he believes will happen there because, we may not be in the last days, but if not, we are close.”
For more information on Media Fellowship International, just go to www.mediafellowship.org