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73 million following Christ after watching ‘Jesus’ film; photos

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–So you think “Titanic” was big? Ha! Let’s talk about a movie that redefines “big.”
It didn’t win an Oscar or appear on any critics’ “top 10” lists. It’s 20 years old. It features no major stars. It’s not even the best movie about Jesus Christ from an artistic viewpoint.
What, then, makes the film called “Jesus” so remarkable? For starters, consider these numbers:
— At least 1.5 billion people in more than 220 countries have seen “Jesus” in theaters, on television, via video or — still the most common method — watching 16-mm reels projected onto portable screens, sheets or walls.
— More than 73 million people have publicly declared their decision to follow Christ after seeing the film.
— “Jesus” has been dubbed into more than 450 languages, making it the most widely translated production in film history. Hundreds more translations are in the works.
— More than 800 mission agencies now partner with the Jesus Film Project, an arm of Campus Crusade for Christ, to evangelize the lost, disciple new believers and start churches using “Jesus.” Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries remain the largest single group of users besides the project’s own workers.
— Nearly 2,000 film teams devote themselves exclusively to screening “Jesus” for people around the world — often in the face of violent opposition.
One Uzbek convert who showed the film 25 times was arrested, tortured and dumped into a mental hospital. In Laos, a preacher spent months in a bamboo cage when an official’s wife was caught watching “Jesus.”
In Nigeria, hostile locals tried to drown one film team worker. Extremist Muslims threw rocks during the screening. Every member of the film team was bitten by scorpions. But more than 500 people saw “Jesus.”
Film team members in India were beaten by militants and ordered to worship a monkey god. “Only Jesus is our God,” team members replied. They were beaten even more savagely, then warned never to return. Battered and bleeding, they stumbled away, praying all the while for their attackers.
What is the power of this film? Part of it lies in a simple fact: When people see “Jesus,” they see Jesus — and understand his words — often for the first time.
“Jesus speaks our language!” joyously cried one elderly woman in Mozambique after seeing the first showing of “Jesus” in her Makhuwa language. IMB missionaries spearheaded the Makhuwa version of “Jesus,” and saw thousands come to Christ and many churches planted among Mozambique’s 5 million Makhuwa, considered the largest unreached animistic people group in Africa.
“I’ve just learned that Jesus speaks Bengali,” wrote another woman after seeing it in Bangladesh. The revelation of hearing him speak in one’s “heart language” usually overcomes barriers raised by the fact that a white, Western actor is playing Jesus on the screen.
“We start the showing without any promotion or advertisement,” explains a film worker in a Muslim North African city. “And people will start coming from everywhere. By the time we finish, there are several thousand people on both sides of the screen, so we start the film all over.”
The sheer emotional impact of witnessing Jesus’ life and death — particularly his crucifixion — also explains part of the film’s appeal. In many places audiences weep, tear their clothes and toss dirt in the air to express grief, throw sticks at the Roman soldiers beating Jesus on the screen — or sit in silent awe.
Perhaps the true source of the film’s power, however, is this: It conveys the Word of God, specifically the Gospel of Luke, with virtually word-for-word faithfulness.
Plenty of other film versions of the life of Christ were around when “Jesus” was released in 1979. “But people wanted something that was biblically accurate,” says media consultant Mark Snowden of the International Mission Board. “That’s what made ‘Jesus’ different. Evangelical Christians felt this was the most biblically accurate film ever made.”
They began taking it to the ends of the earth as a visual, oral gospel presentation.
“Our aim is that every person will have had a chance to see the ‘Jesus’ film by the end of the millennium,” says Paul Eshleman, director of the Jesus Film Project.
That means multiplying by more than four the number of viewers who have seen the film since 1979, and doing it in about two years (defining Dec. 31, 2000, as the millennium’s last day).
Impossible? Not if the dedicated Christians showing the film have anything to do with it. Jesus promised: “I, if I be lifted up … will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32, KJV).
“Jesus” lifts him up — and he is drawing people by the millions.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges