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‘Jesus’ film viewership surpasses 5 billion

SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. (BP)–Long the most translated film in history, the “Jesus” film has passed a new milestone — viewership exceeding 5 billion.

Translated and distributed internationally by the Jesus Film Project, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ International, it has been viewed in every country of the world. As of July 1, the viewing audience numbered 5,164,836,643.

The job, however, is not yet done, said Paul Eshleman, director of the Jesus Film Project.

“We fully realize,” he said, “that while some may have viewed the Jesus film more than once, others still have not had the opportunity. Or, they have not yet seen it in a language version that communicates clearly to them. Because of this, we are continuing to work with many denominations and mission agencies to make sure the film is shown in every geographic area. We also will continue to translate the film, so that people can encounter the life and message of Jesus Christ in the language they know and relate to best.”

Since its release in late 1979, the Jesus film has been translated into 743 languages and shown in 236 countries, territories and protectorates. In addition, an audio version of the film, “The Story of Jesus,” is available in 226 of the 743 languages and 15 others. Over the years, 1,529 mission agencies and denominations have used the film, along with the current 2,756 Jesus film teams.

Southern Baptists continue to be the largest global distributors of the film through International Mission Board teams. In fact, their distribution efforts are so widespread that the mission agency is “unable to keep track of the incredible quantities and creative variety of Jesus film uses,” reported Mark Snowden, IMB overseas communications director.

“In many places we widely distribute the movie in the marketplace, tourist destinations or to seamen in strategic ports,” Snowden said. “In other places, a multiple-language DVD is quietly handed to a seeker who encounters a believer. We also have distributed the Jesus film in a special audio format on radio and cassette.”

The International Mission Board has partnered with the Jesus Film Project to train six missionaries as recordists for new dubbed translations of the film. IMB strategists also have been working with project leaders to develop follow-up training, based on chronological Bible storying, to use among new believers who are non-literate. The “Luke Partnership,” a joint effort of the Jesus Film Project, Wycliffe Bible Translators and the International Mission Board, seeks to use the Gospel of Luke in a non-written form to spur church planting among oral peoples who have yet to hear the gospel in their own languages.

The film project was spurred by Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright’s vision for an appealing biblically accurate film about the life of Christ. In the mid-1970s a team of 500 scholars and leaders from a variety of Christian and secular organizations began a five-year effort focusing on how best to portray Jesus on the motion picture screen.

The team agreed that the film must meet five key criteria:

— The film must be as archaeologically, historically and theologically accurate as humanly possible.

— The presentation must be unbiased, acceptable to all as a true depiction of Christ’s life.

— The film story must appeal to all ages.

— The script must be easily translatable into virtually any language on earth.

— The film must be of theater-viewing quality and effective with both urban and rural audiences worldwide.

The film was produced at a cost of $6 million, primarily funded by a businessman and longtime friend of Campus Crusade for Christ International.

John Heyman, a film producer and financier with more than 30 films to his credit, provided the driving force behind the production of the film, which was premiered in U.S. theaters in late 1979. British Shakespearean actor Brian Deacon was selected to portray Jesus after a six-month search encompassing more than 260 screen tests.

“Every two seconds — sometimes in the midst of global chaos and conflict — someone indicates a decision to receive Christ as personal Savior as a result of seeing the Jesus film,” the project’s website, www.jesusfilm.org, reports.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: AMONG THE BILLIONS, ‘JESUS’ ENCOUNTER and SETTING THE STAGE.

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