EDITORS’ NOTE: Because of intense security concerns throughout North Africa and the Middle East, the names of the people group, country and Christians in this article could not be used. Pseudonyms are used instead of real names.
NORTHERN AFRICA (BP)–Lyndon Shelby and Stella Sims had just finished their last bite of “brik,” a traditional North African dish. Their host, Mustafa Mamoud, served them each a cup of Arabic tea, which is customary for after-dinner discussions in the countries of northern Africa.
As Shelby and Sims sipped at their tea and talked with their host, they talked about what had led them to help translate the “Jesus” film into the languages spoken by millions of people across North Africa and the Middle East who have heard little or nothing about salvation in Jesus Christ.
Mustafa asked the women, who are serving as journeymen with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, what it felt like to do something that was making such an impact.
“I came to Christ after watching the ‘Jesus’ film,” he said with a smile.
As Mustafa shared how he had accepted Christ while watching the “Jesus” film in classical Arabic, Shelby and Sims began to realize just how much of an impact their work would have for the kingdom of God.
“That’s not even his heart language,” said Sims, a member of a Southern Baptist church in Texas. “Our whole program was built around the fact that we would dub the ‘Jesus’ film in a people group’s heart language — not their trade language, but the language they use to communicate with their family.
“It amazed me that God was using classical Arabic to touch this people group when the Arabic dialect [translation] of his people group had not been completed yet.”
This dialect was the first film the two journeymen had completed on their own in this historic partnership between the IMB and Campus Crusade for Christ International.
Although much of the film already had been produced by the time Shelby and Sims went into the country, there were portions of the translation that needed to be re-recorded in order to make the film more appropriate for the people group.
“The recording went very well,” Sims said. “We were able to make the corrections in a day and have the review committee the next. That was all God.”
The partnership began on Valentine’s Day 1997, when the two prominent missions agencies signed an agreement to produce the “Jesus” film. The IMB provided the personnel and language expertise and Campus Crusade provided the equipment.
The original Jesus film was produced by Campus Crusade in 1979 as a way to share the gospel worldwide. Soon after they created the English version, they began the difficult process of translating it into the languages of the world. Now they are partnering with other Christian organizations, such as the IMB, to help translate, produce and distribute the film.
Recently the Jesus film was translated into its 500th language — Karamojong, the language of an unreached people group in eastern Africa. Once every eight days translation of the film into another language is completed, making it possible to take the good news of Jesus Christ to a new people group for the first time.
More than 2 billion people have viewed the feature-length film since its premiere in 1979. More than 87 million have made decisions to follow Christ as a result.
“This partnership has gone wonderful so far,” said Mike Smith, an IMB missionary who oversees the work of Shelby and Sims. “Most of the strategy plans for our teams (in North Africa and the Middle East) have the creation of the Jesus film in the language of their people as a top priority. It’s great to be a part of something with such a strong people-group focus.”
The new film translation will be used this summer to tell the gospel story. Volunteers will distribute the video to North Africans visiting Europe.
There are more than 9.3 million speakers of this particular Arabic dialect around the world. Most are Muslims and know Jesus Christ only as a prophet. Both Campus Crusade and IMB missionaries hope that showing the gospel story in this people group’s own heart language will let them know him as their Savior.
“I’m not called to a specific people group, but my work is just as important as someone who does work with a specific people group,” said Shelby, a member of a Southern Baptist church in Missouri. “My task is to help people who don’t know about Jesus hear the gospel in their own heart language.”