In a world in which technology and communication methods are ever-changing and evolving, there’s a fascinating story about a decades-old film that continues to change lives around the globe.
The movie, titled “JESUS,” is “a two-hour feature film based on the Gospel according to Luke,” that was first released in 1979. It has since been taken around the world by The Jesus Film ministry, part of Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ).
And, remarkably, the nearly 40-year-old movie has been translated into 1,500 languages, viewed by billions and has specifically led 200 million people across the globe to become Christians — a pretty startling figure. In fact, the movie has been so rabidly translated that it was recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records in 2012 as the “Most Translated Film” in history.
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Naturally, the story surrounding the “JESUS” film is remarkable for a plethora of reasons. First, there’s the stunning notion that a decades old movie can still resonate so profoundly. But, beyond that, there are the countless stories of life change that continue to emerge as a result of the movie’s inspiring and transformational content.
Josh Newell, director of marketing and communications for Jesus Film, recently told Faithwire about an incredibly moving story surrounding a Jesus film missions team that went into a rural area of the Andes to share the film with a people group that was so separated from modern culture that its inhabitants literally lived in the rocks.
“They were cliff-dwelling people … (the missionaries) along with a team went up to the rock people and were showing the ‘JESUS’ film on a 16mm set,” he said. “And people were literally crawling out of the rocks and, viscerally, you have this experience that you watch people that shouldn’t be behaving like animals, (they’re) people.”
But because The Jesus Film crew had translated the movie into that people group’s language, the gospel story, which they had likely never heard before, came to life in a deeply profound way.
“As they watched the ‘JESUS’ film and heard Jesus speak in their own language, it was more than movie at that point. It was a visitation of God and of hope into their lives,” Newell explained. “And over the course of the movie you can come see people become erect and stand differently and behave differently, and so life changes happening at a really personal level, but also at a societal level too.”
And that’s just one of the many stories the ministry has seen inside communities across the globe, with Newell explaining that The Jesus Film has conducted deep explorations into the impact the film has on communities in both Africa and India and has found that cultural practices surrounding alcoholism, sexual infidelity and other issues have actually been curbed as a result.
Right now, The Jesus Film is working on its Mission 865 initiative, an effort aimed at reaching 865 documented language groups — each with 50,000 or more speakers — that don’t yet have access to the “JESUS” movie. In sum, they represent 323 million people, with most of those individuals currently not being engaged with the gospel.
“We’ve taken an approach recently in the last six years called Mission 865 and … in 2010 we identified the languages that needed a gospel tool in their language above a speaking population of 50,000,” Newell explained. “Why 50,000? That cutoff … pretty much guarantees that you’re going to reach 99.7 percent of the world’s speaking population. The next 5,000 languages make up that next .3%.”
Newell, who estimated that there are 7,000 languages across the globe, said The Jesus Film ministry, from the start, has been systematic in how it has chosen its language translations.
“We’ve taken a pretty systematic approach and have just chunked off the world’s largest speaking groups and so you start with the biggest ones: Tagalog, Arabic, Russian were amongst the first, and as time goes on you start getting past 100 then the language speaking groups fall under a million people,” he said. “Now you have to be fairly strategic about who it is you are going to go after because there are some languages that are spoken by a guy and his brother.”
The Jesus Film currently translates the movie into around 100 languages a year, coming out with a new translation every three and a half days or so. And bringing these films to small and remote people groups is clearly no easy feat, but as technology has changed, so have the tactics employed to reach these remote people groups.
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There are a variety of ways in which the films are brought to these people, including solar-run backpack systems that missionaries can take into tough-to-reach locations. Despite the difficulties, Newell told additional stories of people encountering Jesus, tears welling up in their eyes as they visually see the gospel story unfold for the first time.
One of the key questions at the core of The Jesus Film’s success is how and why a movie that was produced in 1979 continues to make a global impact.
“The reason why it does live on is because … it’s not predicated on sales, it’s predicated on the power of partnership,” Newell explained. “There is actual need for ministry tools that are easy to use in people’s heart language and in a way that lifts up Jesus very clearly and also fairly comprehensively, because it’s from the gospel of Luke, and one of the most biblically accurate movies about the life of Christ, so I think it’s kind of like that convergence that helps give it the lifespan.”
Find out more about The Jesus Film here.
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