- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

MIAMI BEACH, Fla.

The bodies at this Saturday-night gathering are sculpted, the locks of hair full and wavy, the faces made for the covers of magazines.

It’s heavenly. Such physical perfection is a South Beach staple, on its sandy, sun-kissed shoreline, and in its thumping, velvet-roped dance clubs. But these young men and women, blessed with camera-ready exteriors, are here not to find a weekend hookup or to imbibe a $15 drink. They’re here for God.

Since its 1984 founding in New York, Models for Christ has sought to bring faith to fashion — spirituality and sanctity to an industry driven by sex and selfishness. The nondenominational organization has since expanded to 19 other major fashion centers, including Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo and Milan, Italy. Hundreds participate.

“This work can lead anyone away from the Lord,” said Jeremiah Johnson, a former model who leads the group’s Miami Beach chapter. “But it doesn’t have to.”

About a dozen people — models, photographers, agents and others in the industry — gather in a circle of maroon chairs in the simple worship space for Calvary Chapel Miami Beach. They sing church songs, read from bright blue paperback Bibles and share their struggles of remaining Christian in the fashion business.

Most come dressed casually in jeans and T-shirts. They are as young as 17 and come from all parts of the country during the peak season for modeling work. They bow their heads in prayer.

Many talk about their boundaries — refusing to do overtly sexual advertisements, or those for alcohol and cigarettes. But they also talk about resisting a professional culture they feel often encourages rampant partying and sex.

“There’s a lot of pressure to do the alcohol ad or get in your underwear or do whatever publication you don’t want to do. But we don’t need to bow down in order to be blessed in what we do,” said Roman Watson, 29, a model who has done work for Ralph Lauren, Nike and Macy’s. “I want to encourage everyone to be a Christian first and a model second.”

Mr. Watson said models often are afraid to reveal their moral boundaries on shoots for fear that it could end their careers. But he urged those gathered at Models for Christ to follow their hearts and they ultimately would be rewarded with work.

“We can be fearful of a client or whatever thing, but we should be fearful of the King of Kings,” he said. “God is able to bless you. He’s got more connections than the entire world.”

Jeff and Laura Calenberg were both models when they founded Models for Christ — online at www.modelsforchrist.com — with a small group of participants. Mr. Calenberg said he wanted to provide a gathering place for Christians in the industry and set an example for those not necessarily living a spiritual life.

“The business has a lot of darkness in it,” said Mr. Calenberg, now a fashion photographer. “As a believer in Christ, we are seeking to maintain the light within us as well as shine toward others.”

Mr. Calenberg said there are countless stories of people who have been transformed by the group and led away from lives of substance abuse and promiscuity.

“We’ve seen some people’s lives change totally,” he said.

At a recent Models for Christ meeting, Heather Funk, 34, a fashion photographer based in Miami, told her own story of club-hopping, and drug and alcohol abuse. She eventually became a Christian.

“The fashion industry, there’s so many extremes in it. The models are extremely beautiful, extremely skinny, make tons of money,” she said. “It may seem an unlikely place to find God, but really it’s not.”

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