Bathsheba: On the Screen

Cast and IMM team members at the premiere

Well, it’s done. Bathsheba has been taking us for quite a ride over the last 10 months. Now this story is done for all to see how God can breath new life into anything.

We had about 100 people at the premiere on Sunday in Puerta del Sol; the heart of Madrid. Most of the actors and extras came to celebrate with us, as well as some of our missionary family and friends of IMM. We thank you for your kind words and support of this incredible story.

Jorge, the actor who portrayed the prophet Nathan, told us, “Yo estaba a punto de llorar!” That means he was almost in tears because the story moved him so much. Please pray for Jorge that he finds God! 

We have made ourselves available to all the actors and extras who don’t know Jesus. The conversations we had with the actors during the production were wonderful. The Holy Spirit was so tangible and undeniable. We want them to know Him! 

That’s one of my favorite part of our ministries; we get to witness to a world that would otherwise go unevangelized. Please pray for us to have more opportunities with these actors and others to share the Good News of Jesus.

Now we will translate this story and the other three stories from the Women of the Bible series into Arabic and French for the Arab world. Thank you for praying for this project and celebrating with us on its completion. But most of all, thank for praying with as we strive to put Jesus on every screen so all can hear!

Bathsheba Final Preparations! 

I'm excited. We will debut the story of Bathsheba, a life revived this Sunday for the actors here in Madrid. We enjoy setting up a day of celebration and presenting the story to them and their friends and families. 

While they have participated, they haven't seen the bird's eye view of the entire story. They haven't seen it on the screen. 

We have shot the Line of Christ series from Women of the Bible on a chromakey screen. That means the actors are in a green room with a few props. So they don't actually know what it will look like.

We're still doing exports! We're still working on the audio mix. It's a lot of gigs — pray the equipment hangs in there. The atmosphere is bubbling around here.

It's beautiful. The team has done a great job. I'm so proud to work with them. I love seeing how one idea becomes richer as we all give creativity into it. 

Pray with us as we present the story this weekend. Some people who come won't be believers. We want them to discover much more than a beautiful historical story. Pray they see a living God who can redeem broken lives.

Christian Horror Movies!?

When I was seven, I saw the most terrifying movie of my life in a church. Childhood slumber became nights of dread. What should have been quiet afternoons in the yard were suddenly spiked with moments of wild distress. My little shoulders carried the horrifying knowledge that at any moment my safe world would crumble. Everyone I loved would vanish. I would be left defenseless and without hope in an empty neighborhood … and then the evil minions of Satan would hunt me down with walkie-talkies.

Many, many years later I met the producer of that movie, Russell Doughten, at a Christian Media conference.  The man who created "A Thief in the Night"  was a tall, grandfatherly man with a snowy beard. When I shook his gentle hand I looked into his kind eyes and thought "Is this the dude that made me insanely claw my way out of a locked streamline trailer one night at a church camp!?" Oh yes, it was the dude. We shared a cup of coffee. 

He described how he produced "The Blob" in his younger days, and felt convicted to use the proceeds to create a Christian movie that would spur the younger folks on to a life devoted to Christ. So, he crafted "A Thief in the Night" with all the skills and passion that he gleaned from creating horror movies for the drive-in. Incredibly intense moments, disturbing cut-aways, Hitchcock-worthy camera angles all set to a Doom-laden soundtrack, he brought it all. While I did not reveal the depth of emotional trauma I suffered because of his devotion, I did begin to understand something. We Christians are unmatched in our portrayals of horror. We may bicker over movie genres and fuss at vampires and werewolves. Admittedly, shambling zombies are not always edifying. But consider, from the days Dante's "Inferno" written nearly 500 years ago, and including the recent wails of eternal torment in "Heaven's Gates Hell's Flames", when we put our minds to it, We Christians can maniacally bludgeon our audiences into hysterics. I once covered an entire sanctuary in aluminum foil to properly reflect the 500-watt red lights of eternal torment.

And here is my caveat. When portraying the very real world of spiritual conflict in all of its depth and horror, don't forget to temper the creative powers you are given with grace. Sure, you can keep the shot of the demon-possessed, man, gibbering curses in a strangled fit as he lurches from tombstone to tombstone. But don't forget to offer a genuine hope before the credits roll. Preach some unconditional love.

Remembering Where We Came From

Things don't stay the same. I'm struck after years as part of the IMM team to realize so much of what we are able to do for the Kingdom comes from work that people before us have done.  Or work people who have never seen our offices have done!

Speed the Light buys cameras and equipment for IMM. How many thousands of youth have given or helped with a car wash to make this possible? And this has been going on for years - pre-digital cameras even!

Other organizations and hundreds of churches and thousands of donors keep the lights on in the studio and the stories of Jesus going on screens across the world. Even when the screens change. 

This week we are having a visit from the original director of IMM, David Lee and an early board member Bill Register. Hearing the stories of IMM putting training and early investment into organizations all over Europe and beyond that are still spreading God's love today is incredible. I'm so thankful for the faithfulness of so many others that has empowered us to keep telling God's stories all over Europe, Africa, Eurasia and the Middle East.

It All Started Here

It All Started Here

I wasn’t sure what to think when I pushed the door open. I looked around and saw a couch against the bare brick wall, and a table in the center of the space. I wonder what kinds of decisions were made around that table, I wondered. We turned the corner and walked through two doors into the studio space. It’s a lot smaller than I imagined it would be, I thought to myself, looking around at the walls, the floor, and the huge electrical panel just to the right of the door. I tried to take in as much as possible, thinking about the history that was made here, along with television shows that, to this day, continue to take the Gospel throughout the Earth. 

I had just walked into IMM’s former home, in Brussels, Belgium. When IMM relocated to Europe from Lakeland, Florida, they had utilized a large portion of the European Ministry Center (EMC) in Brussels for their global headquarters, complete with a studio, edit suites, and administrative offices. I had heard many stories about what had happened in Brussels, so it was a little surreal walking into that space for the first time. There is an incredible legacy of programming that originated in that building, produced by dozens of talented and passionate people. The massive investment of time and resource that went into that programming still pays off today as we do new language translations of programs from the Brussels era. 

And even as I looked back, thinking about what had been done in that building, the reason I was in the building in the first place was to look forward to the work yet to be done. Matt and I were in the EMC to conduct a symposium of pastors and ministry leaders from all throughout Belgium, with the goal of using media to reach more French-speakers with the Gospel. We’re so grateful for those that have gone before us, and for the foundation that was built that we continue to use as a platform to put Jesus on every screen.

Rejected

Rejected

As I walked outside the wall of the Istanbul Archeology Museum, I passed a cross that was carved into a discarded stone. The white stone rested amongst pillars and empty sarcophagi on a strip of gravel and grass next to the wall.

Earlier that day I saw many religious relics encased in glass, the Prophet’s Sword, the Prophet’s Beard Clippings, a gold encasement for the Karbala polished by thousands of hands, while an Imam’s amplified voice sang the words of the Koran.

Now staring, I wondered at the value of the white stone with the cross, which had no identifying marker.  It had to be at least 500 years old, 1453 being the year in which the city fell to the conquering forces of Islam.

In parts of the world today, there are people who follow the Islamic faith, because their people “have always been followers of Islam.” In these same places, the truth is, that before they were followers of the prophet, they were followers of Christ.

The Heritage Project will tell the stories of the early Christian church in places like North Africa, where hundreds of years of revisionist history have placed the Hope of the Cross outside the walls. 

The coming months will require much from the IMM team, the scriptwriters, translators, artists and broadcasters. We’ll need your prayers as we work together to bring the rejected cross of Christ back across the high walls of closed cultures, so it may become a cornerstone in the hearts of future believers.

Making It Clear

Making It Clear

I sat down last week to record my thoughts on the Bathsheba story for the composer who will create music. The actors spoke in Spanish for these stories so the composer always asks me to narrate the story explaining the ideas behind the scenes so that he can create music to accent what the action.

The idea is for me to make the story clearer for him. 

I realized that it is what we do in media and in missions. We take God's stories from the Bible and we dramatize them, we make them clear, to reach a hurting heart. Or we take a testimony in someone's life and amplify it so that more and more people will hear the good news of God's forgiveness and power at work. Or we use a drama that shines clearly the light of God's salvation in a way a person can see God  - maybe for the very first time.

God gives us all talents and abilities to bring to the kingdom. He has called our team to use media to make his story clearer and to send it across the world through satellite, internet, and terrestrial delivery methods that carry a clear message even to places where a believer can't easily go.

Standards

In our production department at IMM, we have been cleaning up old files and project folders so that everything is in order.  In this process, we found that many of our video products were kept in a format as requested by various distribution partners.  This means we had a huge variance in file quality and size. Because a large number of our older and current projects continue to be remade into new language versions, having discrepancies with these files is problematic. We recognized that we desperately needed a standard.

Many people have different standards for life.  “Be a good person.” “Go to church twice a year”. “Pray 3 times a day.” While these things seem like good practices, they represent a huge range of ideas for what is required of us.  Romans 3:23 says “For everyone has sinned: we fall short of God’s glorious standard.” On our own, we cannot reach the standard God has put in place. Knowing this standard and deciding our own human efforts are not enough frees us to accept Jesus’ help to attain it.

Back to our video files.  We decided on a standard. Going forward, we are going to keep our final video products in a format called Apple ProRes 422 (plus one that this blog doesn’t cover).  This format allows that future copies and versions will not degrade generationally.  At the same time, they are not so enormous that they become a burden. They can also easily be converted for the needs of our ministry partners.

In the end, having a standard is good for everyone.  My desire is that anyone who comes to work with IMM in the future will have a clear standard to follow that minimizes frustration and confusion.  In a greater and more important way, having Jesus as our standard of faith (see also Ephesians 4) will show us the way forward to an acceptable, glorious standard.

The Delivery

The Delivery

We got up at 6:00 a.m., took the early commuter train into the city, and boarded the long-distance train that would take us close to the international border. In a corner of the train station, we handed over a new shipment of HopeBoxes to a courier, who would carry them over the border and deliver them to the national church leadership in the destination country.

This trip had been set in motion several months ago when we had provided the church leadership in the destination country with a HopeBox to test its usefulness in evangelism in rural areas. As in many places in the world, most people in their country have cell phones, even in rural areas. But while they have cell phones, many don’t have access to data and so people are always looking for a wifi connection.

The HopeBox is a simple personal evangelism device carried in the pocket of a worker and provides a wifi connection to anyone within approximately 50 ft. (for example, in a coffee shop, or in a bus). They work anywhere in the world and no internet access is required. Loaded on the HopeBox are Bibles, a variety of video and audio content, and other material that helps to explain the Hope of the message of the Gospel within the context of the local language and culture! Anyone connecting to a HopeBox can watch, read, or download any of the content to their phone. There is also a small contact form allowing the worker to follow-up and continue to help people on their journey to faith in Christ.

The sample HopeBox, previously provided, has been used for a few months and it has been found to be helpful to them and so we were asked to provide more devices for workers in that country. Every day more phones are purchased, each one is an access point into someone’s life and another opportunity to "Put Jesus on Every Screen."

Making New Things Old

Making New Things Old

These days I’m inhaling a lot of sawdust and epoxy fumes. Not on purpose. I’ve been working in the IMM shop, sawing, drilling, grinding, sanding, painting, gluing and praying. Praying that the props being created for The Heritage Project will do the rich stories of early Christian history justice.

The Heritage Project is a video docudrama series about the early Christian Church in North Africa, its great Christian leaders and teachers, and its martyrs under the Romans and the Vandals. A vibrant North African church, both men and women, were prepared to die rather than renounce their faith and had a profound influence that extends to us today.

I have an extensive list that includes Roman altars, incense burners used in the Imperial Cult, a gallows for the arena, bookcases for scrolls, Vandal shields, Optio staffs, and Lictor Fasce (I had to look them up myself). As a result, I pour over internet sites from museums of ancient history and spend hours searching through aisles of hardware, adhesives, wood, paint and even plumbing, looking for the right pieces to deconstruct and repurpose. 

Soon, The Heritage Project will be in front of the cameras, so that all can see how Christ’s story is being proven true through the lives of Christians across the ages. The stories will be targeted to the areas of the world where they occurred. Pray for wisdom and creativity as the entire team moves ahead with this historic collaboration.

BTW, did you know that old scrolls can be made from hardened linen window shades?

What Does it Take to Change a Nation [UPDATE]

What does it take to change a nation? 

In this case, all it took was a step of faith and a bus ticket. 

Earlier this month, many of the team at IMM participated in an event in Houston, Texas, called The World Missions Summit, a conference co-hosted by Chi Alpha Campus Ministries and Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM). We were able to connect with many students who were interested in considering giving a year—or praying about a lifetime—of service to Europe and/or IMM. 

It was at this event where we premiered an 8-minute film called “21 Hours to Change Montenegro”—the story of a blue-collar couple from Montenegro who, having never met another Christian in their entire lives, heard the voice of God and spent 21 hours on a bus—each way—to meet the pastor they had been listening to on the Internet for a year. Their country, Montenegro, is one of the least evangelized in the world, with only 4 Evangelical churches and fewer than 150 known Christians. AGWM has never had a missionary in Montenegro. But God is moving. 

God is using this story to ignite a passion for missions among hundreds of young people from all over the United States. He has also given us opportunity to partner with the very first AGWM missionaries headed to Montenegro, and this film is helping to raise awareness and funds to plant a church in the city from which this couple came. We are grateful to have played a small part in a mighty work that is only just beginning of the change that will come to this country, and it all began with a step of faith and a bus ticket.

Announcing New Partnership in Vietnam

Our priority at IMM is to put Jesus on every screen. Working with like-minded partners on production and distribution efforts enhances stewardship and maximizes impact. Because we value collaboration, we seek to create high production value visual content that can be readily produced in new languages.

The Bible Stories Video Project (BSVP) is a great example of this concept. Filmed over several years, BSVP is a collection of 30 video stories about the life and ministry of Jesus. They feature dramatized visual accounts of people he met and interacted with, parables he told and highlights of his ministry path.  Each video, like the Lost Son, provides viewers with valuable historic, cultural and spiritual insights. A flexible production design allows partners to use a new native speaker host to introduce and conclude the stories and to narrate over the full-screen visuals and original music. 

Over the years, missionaries, national churches, broadcasters and numerous outreach ministries have produced BSVP video stories in scores of languages. Potential audiences for these total many millions of people.  Recent versions of the Parables in Albanian, Berber, Bulgarian, Croatian, Dari, Kurdish, Pashto, Russian and Serbian have been introduced or begun. And we’re excited to announce our newest partnership to produce these stories in the Vietnamese language!

REAP (Roever Educational Assistance Programs) plans to produce all 30 video stories and the four, thirty-minute programs of our Open the Gospels series in Vietnamese. REAP offers extensive resources for ministerial training and leadership development in Vietnam and among the Vietnamese diaspora worldwide. The new language version will be used to enhance those efforts and provide additional outreach tools for their ministry. Vietnam is one of six officially communist countries in the world with nearly 95 million people living there and almost 5 million global emigrants outside the nation. We rejoice that Jesus will be seen on the screens of thousands of Vietnamese in 2017!