“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Scene from the JESUS Film
His Last Command—Our First Concern
When Jesus gave the Great Commission to his disciples before he ascended into heaven, he imparted God’s eternal vision to reach the world with his love. These twelve men obeyed his call and transformed human history with the life-giving message of forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. Today, we at The JESUS Film Project, http://www.jesusfilm.org/, prioritize our savior’s last command by making his Great Commission our first concern. Our vision is to work with the body of Christ to finish the task of sharing Jesus with everyone, everywhere, in his or her own language, so that everyone will have an opportunity to hear the gospel and receive Christ.
It Began with a Simple Dream
Since 1950, Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International (CCCI), dreamed of developing an appealing, biblically-accurate film about the life of Christ. This dream became a reality more than twenty-five years ago when John Heyman in cooperation with CCCI produced the JESUS film—a two-hour movie about the life of Jesus based on the Gospel of Luke—with the hope of bringing the good news to life for the peoples of the world through the powerful medium of film. They never imagined that God would use this simple film as one of the most powerful evangelistic tools in church history. Of the 5.4 billion people who have watched JESUS since its release in 1979, more than 201 million people have indicated decisions for Christ. Now in more than nine hundred languages, it is the most widely-translated film in world history (www.jesusfilm.org/progress/translations.html).
Catching God’s Vision to Reach the World
Why is the JESUS film so effective? Because it is the power of the word of God. Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). God promised that his word would never return void, so as we continue to lift up Jesus and proclaim the word of God throughout the earth, he is faithful to draw people to himself. God’s vision of reaching the world with his love lived in his heart long before Jesus proclaimed the Great Commission. Hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth, God shared this vision with his servants, the prophets:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
Jesus continued to proclaim God’s vision as he prophesied about the end times, saying, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
Language Translations: Reaching the Unreached
The JESUS Film Project remains faithful to the calling of joining Christian workers throughout the world—both CCCI staff members and partnership ministries—to lift up Jesus in the whole world by producing language translations for the unreached people groups of the world. Our first priority is to complete all language translations of the JESUS film for people groups with more than 100,000 people. We are continuing to move forward in cooperation with the body of Christ to reach all unreached people groups in the farthest corners of the earth who have yet to hear. This task is truly beyond any one ministry or organization. We have been partnering with more than 1,500 Christian agencies to give people multiple opportunities to hear the gospel through the JESUS film. In the next ten years, we anticipate a great worldwide mobilization of churches to share Jesus through the JESUS film in the context of follow-through and church planting. We envision five million churches using the JESUS film to plant churches in every corner of the globe. Our vision is that every church will have a JESUS film team!
A partnership ministry in Mozambique recently traveled to an unreached village to preach the gospel. Felito, the leader of the outreach, asked the chief for permission to screen JESUS. However, the chief replied, “I’m the chief [and religious leader] of this village, and since this village exists, we have never allowed any other religion. We don’t want you to do anything here.” Undaunted, Felito responded, “We came to show the JESUS film, preach the gospel and heal the sick.” The village chief was surprised to hear that they would heal the sick. He said, “You can heal the sick? Is that possible?” Felito replied, “Yes, if you let us do what we came to do—show the JESUS film, preach the gospel and heal the sick.”
The chief finally consented, and that evening five thousand people gathered to watch JESUS in the language of their hearts. At the film’s conclusion, Felito began to preach a clear, gospel message, inviting people to receive forgiveness from their sins in Jesus’ name. Before he had finished speaking, the crowd began to raise their hands and lift their voices, saying, “We want our sins to be forgiven!” Felito then asked the sick to come forward for healing, and an 8-year-old boy who was deaf was instantly healed and could hear. When the village chief saw this miraculous healing, he came to the platform, took the microphone and said, “What you have just seen is real, because there is no man who can do what you have seen unless God is with him. And God is with these guys.” An entire village of unreached people heard the gospel in their own language, saw the power of God and had the opportunity to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ.
Follow-Through Evangelism: Discipleship and Church Planting
The JESUS Film Project also recognizes the need to work with local churches to ensure follow-through evangelism for those who respond to the gospel, to help build spiritual movements everywhere so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus. By linking evangelism with training, discipleship and church planting, new believers become connected with the local body of Christ and have the opportunity to grow in their faith. For example, a film team in rural Africa may be able to reach a few villages a month by themselves. If, however, they train local Christians to use JESUS effectively, their efforts are multiplied far beyond their own abilities. When the ministry puts time, effort and energy into the training and mobilization of other believers, more people hear about Jesus than through evangelism alone.
In Tanzania, local church leaders partner with JESUS film teams to plant new churches. Since January 2005, one JESUS film team has joined several denominations to plant twenty-eight new churches! Bishop Hilkiah, an Anglican leader, said, “I have started twenty-eight new churches in the Myra Region with Wilson Molonga, the JESUS film team leader. All these twenty-eight churches are healthy and growing.…All the denominations are wanting to give [JESUS film] teams an office in their headquarters building!”
One of these new churches was the first church ever planted in a remote village on the shores of Lake Victoria. This village was known for its high population of alcoholics, drug addicts and prostitutes. The owner of the village bar came to a JESUS film showing and prayed to receive Christ. The Lord convicted his heart, and he transformed his bar into a church! The leader of this new church said, “This village has been changed by the hand of God. There are no more alcoholics, drug addicts and prostitutes. The young men are now going into town and finding jobs. The government heard what happened and is helping the young men find jobs.”
Standing Together to Finish the Task
As we continue to strengthen our existing partnerships and establish new relationships, we look ahead to the great things God has in store for us. According to Dr. Steven Steele of Dawn Ministries, 750,000 churches were planted in the past ten years with involvement of the JESUS film! In the next ten years, Dr. Steele anticipates that ten to twelve million new churches will be planted worldwide.
The times in which we live are significant in God’s kingdom. We are seeing an unprecedented unity and passion in the Church worldwide as we join together to reach the lost, and we are thankful for the calling God has given us at The JESUS Film Project. We stand with the body of Christ to follow our savior in his mission to “… preach good news to the poor … to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1b). May we have the compassion of Jesus for the lost of this world—the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and the prisoners, as we proclaim the good news of the kingdom to the ends of the earth.