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!

What Does it Take to Change a Nation?

When I think about people who are used mightily of God, I usually think about people who are well-known: Billy Graham, Keith Green, Francis Chan. People like this have a platform from which they can encourage and mobilize others, increasing their impact far beyond that which one person can do. 

But this month, we are telling the story of a normal, run-of-the-mill couple who heard God's voice and took a step of faith that will change the state of the Gospel in their country forever. These people had come to Christ, but had never met another Christian before. Their country, Montenegro, has only 150 known evangelical Christians, and 4 churches, none of which are within driving distance of their city. One night, they heard the voice of God, and got on a bus to travel 21 hours to Vienna, Austria, to meet the pastor they had been listening to on the Internet for a year. 

Pastor Larry Henderson, of Vienna Christian Center, was so moved by their story that he had to help. So after some research and planning, we are preparing to help accelerate the work in Montenegro, a country that has never had an Assemblies of God missionary living there. And we are only a piece of what God is doing--several other national fellowships in Italy, Albania, and even the Pentecostal European Fellowship, are simultaneously focusing on Montenegro to accelerate the Gospel there. 

God is moving here in Europe. Things may be dark at times, but the dawn is coming. Please watch and enjoy this clip from our forthcoming January 2017 release of the film, "21 Hours to Change Montenegro."

Tell Me and HopeBox

Recently, we did a short video entitled 'Tell Me'. This video illustrated how we can communicate the Gospel with Europeans. We believe that media is key in reaching people here in Europe and, ultimately, worldwide.

Many refugee camps and sensitive countries are using our HopeBox. The HopeBox is a wifi hotspot that is battery-operated and smaller than a cell phone. It is loaded with tons of content like videos that share who Jesus is and copies of the Bible in text and audio formats.

Not only is the HopeBox being used in refugee camps, but it is also being used by missionaries in cafes all over Europe. We have the content translated into six languages so all can hear the good news.

These days people use their phone for everything from communication to planning, taking pictures to playing a game. The use of media is at an all-time high. I am especially proud of the 'Tell Me' video and the HopeBox. The video demonstrates the unheard cry of someone who is seeking answers; the HopeBox is a way these questions can be answered.

Thank you for supporting us as we strive to put Jesus on every screen!

Be blessed,

Luke

 

Time Lurches On

Hey slow down!!! I just read an alumni update from my university and see that it’s been ____teen years since I pulled an all-nighter to rectify the procrastination with which I constantly fought in my Greek Mythology class. And then, as if all in the same string of thoughts, complained to myself why the game I want to watch on TV doesn’t start for 5 more hours! (This dilemma is exasperated in Europe where I’m adding 6 hours to the announced ET start times.) What I’m realizing is that time moves much more quickly than we would like, but also, somehow, simultaneously too slowly.

In the Bible, this sense that time ebbs and flows exists as well.  Moses recognized that passing time is a relative matter when he psalmed, “For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.”

David, on the other hand, groaned during a trial in his life, “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?  How long will you look the other way?” David, who is remembered as constantly triumphing over giants, armies, and his own waywardness still felt like you and me waiting on our next vacation to arrive.

Over the last few years (which in some senses have flown by), I’ve done a lot of petitioning to God for things to happen more quickly than they do. More specifically, I’ve been frustrated with my own personal progress and seeing results in my ministry. I regularly catch myself comparing myself to others, thus surrendering my joy. At other times, I give up projects just before the point of breaking through.

So what do we do with a life that speeds out of control at the same moment that it also stands still? I submit that we don’t lose heart or give up, and that we turn to the one who is unaffected by time and surrender our lives to him.

After David agonized about the duration of his trial, he penned,

“But I trust in your unfailing love, I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.”

Amen.