From prisoner of war to motivational speaking and landing a role in a Christian film, Jessica Lynch has come a long way from her ordeal in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq.

She visited Lodi and Bear Creek Community Church this weekend to help promote a new Christian film with J.C. Films called, “One Church.”

Visitors at the church screened a rough cut of the new film, and helped by filling out surveys on what should change before the film is officially released.

The story is a political thriller based around the idea of a president taking control of the message in religion by creating one unified church for the nation. Lynch plays the role of the president’s daughter, Beth Barlow, who is the love interest in the story.

“I’ve had no acting lessons. This isn’t something I’m moving to Hollywood to do. It’s just a fun opportunity,” Lynch said.

The first U.S. female POWLynch’s name made headlines in 2003 as one of the first female POWs in Operation: Iraqi Freedom. The search and eventual rescue was well-documented over the course of the nine days she was missing.

She was a private first class in the U.S. Army, who had originally joined to use the GI bill to fund her education so she could become a teacher. She was stationed in Iraq when her unit got lost and ended up in a city, where they were ambushed, she said.

The attack left 11 of her comrades dead, six taken as POWs and several others with numerous injuries.

“We pretty much got blasted by RPGs and gunshots. It was horrific,” she said.

Lynch’s best friend Lori Piestewa was driving the vehicle and two men were sitting on either side of Lynch when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the side, causing Piestewa to lose control of the vehicle and crash into the back of an 18-wheel truck trailer. Both men on either side of Lynch were shot and killed, while she had been knocked unconscious during the initial blast, she said.

Iraqis collected the injured and the dead from the blast and Lynch was taken to Saddam General Hospital, where she remained for nine days until the Americans discovered her location, she said.

The initial reports of her time in Iraq have been controversial, including the idea that she had valiantly shot at the attackers — her weapon had jammed at the time, according to Lynch.

“No matter how many times I go on the Today Show, CNN or Fox News and tell my story, people still go back to the fabricated ones,” Lynch said.

Life after the Iraq War

As a result of the injuries from the blast, Lynch has had to attend physical therapy twice a week. It’s something that’s become just a part of life to keep her muscles strong rather than a thing to be sad about or overcome, she said.

Lynch has earned a bachelors degree in elementary education and a masters in communication from West Virginia University.

She has an 8-year-old daughter, named Dakota, who she enjoys spending time with. “The fun part is I get to go sit with her, play dolls and sing karaoke. I’m the goofy mom that likes crawling under tables and doing weird stuff — as long as she’s laughing,” Lynch said.

Following her dream of teaching, she works a substitute teacher but also as a motivational speaker, traveling across the country spreading the message of perseverance through difficult times.

“Every person has a struggle. And it doesn’t have to be a big one. It could be ‘I stubbed my toe and now it hurts and I don’t want to go to work,’” Lynch said. Through sharing her story, she hopes it can help inspire people to get through tough situations, whether it be having cancer or having a family member who was a POW.

Stepping into the film world

This step into independent Christian films began with a serendipitous meeting with the J.C. Films CEO Jason Campbell, who was showing a film on the subject of internet safety at a church near her home in West Virginia.

He invited her to make a cameo appearance on a film called “Virtuous” before he decided to bring her into a major role in this new movie.

“It’s been wonderful working with her. She’s a real person who tells a true story of perseverance. You don’t meet a lot of people like her who’ve been held captive for nine days and appreciates every breath she has,” Campbell said.

Lynch credits the film crew for working with her even though she is not an actor and has not taken any acting classes.

Before the screening, Lynch spoke to a few people from the church, like Ray Ybarra from Stockton, who had gifted her a hat that said Army of God on behalf of the church’s men’s ministry.

“She’s down to earth and very sweet,” he said. “I was in the military in 1964, and being a POW would be a lot to go through.”

Although Lynch has no plans to continue a career in film, she has enjoyed taking on this new opportunity in her life.

“It’s very busy and hectic but you only live once. I want to have fun and enjoy it,” Lynch said.

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodinews.com.

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