The JESUS Film in Cambodia and Mexico
“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). I thought about this as I traveled this fall (1999) in East Asia, in a “closed” country which 26 years ago, when I was in college, I led a weekly prayer group concerning. What God has done in those years is miraculous.
When logic would tell you the church would not be able to grow under government restrictions, it has grown at a phenomenal rate. I saw thriving churches, despite the fact that in some areas there is strong persecution. I worshipped at one church of 2500 people listening to biblical and Christ-centered teaching. This church has planted—and, no, this is not a typo—more than 650 daughter churches!
In October I also traveled to Cambodia with a team from the JESUS Film Project, including the former director, Paul Eshleman, CEO of the ministry and Senior Vice-President of Campus Crusade for Christ International. It was thrilling to go to four places in Phnom Penh where the film was being shown. (Twelve Cambodian film crews show the film every night in different locations—some 60% of the country has now seen it.) We went down some muddy back alleys, where eighty people gathered in one location, two hundred in another, all of them watching the film attentively.
Every word in the film is from the gospel of Luke, and includes at the end an invitation to receive Christ. In countries with low literacy, people can’t read the Bible even if it’s been translated into their language; but all of them can understand the JESUS Film, which is Scripture on a screen, God made visible. It was thrilling to see the wondrous looks on people’s faces—especially those of the children—as they watched, and heard Jesus speak their own language.
While in Cambodia, I was asked to speak at an outreach dinner for VIPs. Guests included business executives, high-ranking government officials, ten medical doctors, university professors, a university president, television personalities and journalists, and four military generals.
God provided just the right interpreter, a Cambodian national who works with Campus Crusade. I sat down with him in a corner of the restaurant beforehand and went through what I was going to say, so he could think about the best words for the translation. We were right on the same wavelength. He knew by heart in Cambodian many of the Bible verses I’d be sharing.
Paul Eshleman introduced me as a writer. Knowing the importance of family to Cambodians, I told a story about my proud, independent father resisting Christ his whole life, then at age 84 putting a gun to his head and about to pull the trigger as I begged him not to, then by God’s grace, finally coming to Christ as I prayed with him before he was wheeled into surgery.
I said I knew that as Cambodians they’d gone through immeasurable suffering. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge killed nearly three million people, reducing the population from eight million to five. Nearly everyone there could name anywhere from two to six or more murdered relatives. What we saw when we visited the Killing Fields—and one of the torture facilities—was as bad and worse than anything I’ve seen at the Holocaust memorials in Jerusalem and DC.
I said I knew they longed for peace and joy and hope. I told them about Jesus Christ, who understood suffering, who voluntarily suffered on our behalf, so we could be with him in heaven forever, the place for which we were made. Many Cambodians no longer have the illusion that this earth offers hope. I emphasized that the evil in the world—the evil they’d seen in the Killing Fields—came out of the evil in our hearts, and that’s why Jesus died for us.
I stressed that He is not a God who is far away, but a God who is close, a God who loves them and cares about them. This is in stark contrast to the remote cold gods of Buddhism that permeate the country. Jesus offers the peace and joy and hope that has seemed so impossible in Cambodia. Governments and religions don’t keep their promises, Jesus does. I ended by saying my hope was that they would give their lives to Christ that night and one day in heaven I would see them again. We would understand each other without a translator, and I would introduce them to my dad.
After I presented the gospel, a Cambodian pastor, Vek Huong Taing, came up front. He and his wife Samoen and their child miraculously survived years in the Killing Fields, but that’s another story. (EPM is now supporting this dear couple.) Vek gave the invitation to repent and receive Christ. One man was visibly crying at his table. We knew God was doing something special. But we didn’t know the half of it.
As people filled out their response cards, some were indicating they’d prayed and accepted Christ as their Savior. After everyone was gone the organizers counted the totals. I might have guessed ten converts, and I would have been thrilled at that. But out of 99 unbelievers, a total of 52 indicated they had put their faith in Christ!
I was amazed. (You know the old pattern—we pray, God answers, we’re shocked.) Each person is being followed up, channeled into churches, and numbers of them are being discipled together. This was all God’s work—I and the others were just privileged to be there as his errand boys, serving Him and the dear Cambodian Christians who put this event together and bathed it in prayer. Those of you on our prayer support team added your prayers to theirs.
One powerful consequence of God’s work at that outreach dinner emerged the next day. As we visited the Killing Fields Paul told us that, though 60% of Cambodians have seen the JESUS film, they have never been able to get permission to show the film in the region surrounding the Killing Fields. It turns out the deputy governor of that region had the letter of request sitting on his desk for a long time and had refused to sign it. Well, guess who was at that VIP outreach—that same deputy governor. And...he prayed to accept Christ! The next morning he went to his office and signed that paper, giving permission to show the JESUS film in his region.
This was a dramatic example of the importance of reaching the upper classes of society—not because they are more valuable or more important to God (they aren’t), but because of the trickle-down benefits of the gospel it brings to the poor and disadvantaged. As a result of that single man coming to Christ, tens of thousands of people will now see the JESUS film in their own language, and thousands of those will come to faith in Christ.
Psalm 66 kept coming to mind: “Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds...Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf.’“ Those who pray for or financially support EPM will one day meet in heaven some of these dear Cambodian brothers and sisters, and hear them say “thank you.” In November, just a month after returning from Cambodia, I spoke at a JESUS film donor conference in Mexico. Nanci and I went with a group to the outlying areas of Puerta Vallerto, away from the touristy stuff, and walked through the barrios passing out invitations to view the pelicula (film) under Los Mangos (the mango trees) at siete, repeating the word “gratis” (free) and our approximately seven other Spanish words, as if we knew what we were doing.
There’s something amusing and endearing to people about Americans bumbling around trying to speak their language and doing a terrible job. On that basis, Nanci and I endeared ourselves to a lot of people. Of course, the local believers and JESUS film staff had no language barrier and the film was in Spanish.
As the film showed, we watched and prayed. 270 people saw the film by the mangos, and when a JESUS film staffer gave a live invitation, 40 children and 25 adults raised their hands to say they had prayed to ask Jesus to forgive their sins and be their Savior and Lord. It was wonderful to see them come forward and be followed up by believers from local churches.
And it was exciting to be there praying. Not “just praying”—there’s no such thing. One of the prayer issues related to problems with the film projector. You could sense the desperate efforts of evil spirits to derail this presentation of the gospel. What a privilege to participate in spiritual warfare and the harvest of God’s Spirit.
There were three other showings the same night. Over 200 people came to Christ. All are followed up by Campus Crusade/JESUS film staff and local church members and pastors. This is not only evangelism—discipleship and training and the local church are all taken very seriously. There were also daily full-page ads sharing the gospel in the major newspaper, and the JESUS audio drama was played over the radio. This was the beginning of an intensive two-week saturation with the gospel.
The Mexico JESUS film director said something interesting—many American missions and southern churches make forays into northern Mexico to work on housing projects and bring the gospel, and this is great. (Our family and church have done the same.) But the deeper down you go into Mexico, the less evangelized the country is. People in large parts of Mexico have never heard the true gospel. They have a nominal Catholic affiliation, but no true faith in Christ. Parts of Mexico are less evangelized than many parts of South America or Africa.
Seeing eyes glued and ears tuned to the JESUS film gives you a fresh appreciation of the gospel’s magnificence. There is nothing like hearing people gasp and watching them cover their mouths and wipe their tears as they stand wide-eyed, gaping at this Christ—this wonderful messenger sent from God—being nailed to the cross. It is a stunning sight, which I’ve now witnessed in three different cultures. I’ve also seen the people’s joy and wonder and smiles when Christ appears after the resurrection, and watched as they absorb attentively the presentation of the gospel added to the end of the film, and the live presentation that often follows.
In restricted countries I’ve visited, the film can’t be shown outdoors, but videos are watched on TVs. I’ll never forget crowding into two homes in East Asia where the JESUS video was being shown by Christians to their neighbors. I counted 33 in one home and 37 in the other, eyes glued to the screen, listening in their own language to every word spoken by Jesus, straight from the Word of God.
The entire JESUS film can be watched over the internet (www.jesusfilm.org), and the second most popular language it’s watched in is Arabic! Countless Muslims have watched it in the privacy of their own homes.
The JESUS film is arguably the single greatest evangelistic tool in history apart from the Word of God itself. It’s now being used by more than 800 mission agencies worldwide, and has been shown in 223 countries.
Nearly three billion (that’s not a typo either) people have seen the film, and over a hundred million of these have specifically indicated they have put their faith in Christ.
The film is in 560 languages, with new language translations being completed weekly. It’s in Mandarin Chinese, spoken by 70% of China’s 1.2 billion people. It’s also in the language of the Nambikuara of northern Brazil, who number less that 500—the translation and recording were conducted by Wycliffe Bible Translators missionaries. Tens of thousands of churches have been planted around the world through the film.
I have seen the work and the workers first-hand in several countries, and I can vouch for the integrity, vision and biblical foundation of this ministry. I encourage you to read the accompanying information on the JESUS Film Project and consider if God would have you invest in eternity by getting involved in financial or prayer support for this wonderful work of the Lord.