On this night, the encounter occurred in a place that seemed more like Hell. Mozambique was a nation in absolute chaos. Civil war had degenerated into total anarchy. In recent days, this same nation had been devastated by terrible floods. Marauding soldiers and Marxist rebels were fighting each other. Even worse, they were routinely raiding villages and robbing, raping, and killing any person they encountered. At the time, Mozambique was gripped by a cruel famine. Millions were dead or dying.
Over 500,000 refugees had fled. Some had come to a camp just inside South Africa. When JESUS Film partners Willie and Marie Erasmus arrived, the sights and sounds were overwhelming.
Shimmering waves of heat rose in the distance as the blazing African sun beat down on the film team truck. Gritty red dust hung in the air, the evidence of thousands of refugees on the move. Willie and Marie had heard there was little or no water for these people, that they barely staved off starvation by eating a meager daily ration provided by struggling relief agencies.
As they entered the huge camp, they told how they were overcome by the stench of human excrement. Even worse was the sea of emaciated bodies and the empty hopeless looks in the eyes of the people. They heard tale after tale of misery—like that of the young mother who had fled Mozambique with her children, but was eaten alive by a lion before she could make it to the camp. Her two children survived, only to be confronted with this Hell on Earth—their hopes for a better life dashed.
But, there was hope. That’s why Willie and Marie had come. A young missionary working among these desperate people had begged Willie and Marie to come and show them the “JESUS” film. At first, Willie had protested, “We haven’t yet translated it into the Shangaan language these people speak.” The young missionary had replied, “It’s OK, we’ll interpret it while it is being shown.” He had already led 30 of these refugees to Christ. In the middle of this camp they had formed a church. And they had been trained and were ready to help counsel those he had prayed would respond to the message that night.
It seemed that Willie drove the truck through the camp forever, trying to find a suitable clearing where the film team could show the film. Finally, they found a place. All afternoon they worked in the searing heat to set up the portable screen and the sound system.
But Marie sensed that something was very wrong. In her spirit she could feel demonic oppression building. Then the team heard witch doctors chanting and saw them throwing bones on the ground in satanic rituals. With howling and incantations, the witch doctors began calling up the “spirits of their ancestors.” An eerie and foreboding pall seemed to fall over the camp. Satan wanted the showing stopped.
Willie called the team together to pray. Thirty others who came from a nearby New Life Training Center were also enlisted. They had come to help with evangelism and follow-up, but now they were involved in full spiritual warfare.
For three hours they interceded, praying that God would bind the power of the evil, pour out His blessings, and open the eyes of these spiritually blind people who lived in darkness and continuing misery. They joined hands and walked around in a circle, symbolically encircling the camp. They beseeched God to tear down the walls of evil that had engulfed these people, just as He destroyed the walls of Jericho.
As darkness set in, the ragged refugees emerged from their shacks and began to stream toward the showing area. The witch doctors stopped their dancing. More than one thousand people crowded into the small, dusty clearing. When it was dark enough, the film began.
With the English soundtrack playing low and with microphone in hand, the interpreter translated line by line all that was taking place on the screen. Between reel changes (there are four reels and three changes) he told them why it was important that Mary be a virgin and how only a supernatural man could be God.
Marie recounted, “During the scenes of the crucifixion in the fourth, 30-minute reel, we sensed something unusual was happening. Everyone began to cry—women, men, and children. A mournful wailing gradually rose from the crowd into a relentless crescendo.”
As Jesus was being pushed down the Via Dolorosa, the weeping became louder and uncontrollable. When the Roman soldiers started nailing Jesus to the cross, many of the people jumped up and ran toward the screen with their hands in the air, crying out to God.
Everywhere people were confessing their sins. The film was forgotten. Rivers of tears poured down their dirty cheeks. Men beat their chests and cried out, “Oh God! Oh God!” Some were on their knees, some stood with eyes closed and arms raised, others lay prostrate on the ground. The interpreter was even on his back in the dirt, praying, thanking God, crying, praising, and worshiping.
These people were in the presence of a holy God. They were overwhelmed by a sense of their sinfulness and wanted desperately to be forgiven.
Someone turned off the projector. The film team rushed to pray with and counsel those who were seeking God. But they couldn’t speak. One by one, the team members themselves fell to their knees, confessing their own sins.
“I can’t explain how I felt,” Willie told me. “I felt the awesome power of God. I felt His love, His compassion, His care. It was overpowering. It was a wave that welled up inside us and we couldn’t contain it. We were totally, irrevocably, hopelessly in love with Jesus. And the experience just burst out of us with confession and tears, praise and worship, and a feeling of wonder.”
Tears came into Willie’s eyes, “I saw a nine-year-old boy crying out to God. I turned to pray for him, but I couldn’t because I was crying myself. A 70-year-old man with his eyes open and his hands in the air, repeated over and over again, ‘I just saw Jesus! I just saw Jesus!’ But we were not just seeing the portrayal of Jesus, we were feeling His presence so powerfully that we just couldn’t take it in.”
Marie continued, “I started to pray with one woman, but I couldn’t speak. I was overcome and began confessing my own sins. The sense of God’s presence, His power and holiness, was so great that no one could do anything but confess their sin. I knew I was in a holy place. These people had nothing. And God decided to give them a chance—right there in that filthy camp—to feel His presence and His love.”
More than 30 minutes passed. Still the sounds of weeping and passionate prayer filled the field. Willie went to the interpreter and said, “We need to finish the film so they will know the good news of the resurrection.”
All across the audience the people continued to wipe tears from their eyes. They saw the burial of Christ and then the resurrection. The interpreter explained to the crowd, “Jesus died to make the payment for our sins. But death could not hold him.” And with that, he pointed to the screen and shouted with uncontainable joy, “And there He is! He was raised from the dead!” The crowd exploded as if a dam had burst. Everyone began cheering, dancing, hugging one another, and jumping up and down.
The film team never finished showing the film. An invitation was given for those who wanted to receive Christ to come to the front. The “problem” was they ALL wanted to accept Him as their Savior and Lord—all 1,000 people!
Isn’t God wonderful? Who can know or understand His ways? These people had absolutely nothing. They were totally hopeless. They desperately needed to know love, to belong to someone. That night, that holy night, Heaven came down to Hell on Earth. Through prayer, God brought to their impoverished, darkened hearts His indescribable love. They had never heard of Jesus. But that night, they experienced His touch. What a night! What a God!
No, not every showing of “JESUS” is so incredible. Many are actually somewhat routine and predictable. But many others are just as dramatic and power-filled. What is certain is that God is using this most-translated film in all of history to radically, supernaturally transform the lives of millions around the world. To date, some 128 million have indicated decisions for Christ at showings of “JESUS.” More than 1,195 Christian organizations have chosen to use the “JESUS” film as one of their primary tools of evangelism. This is why more than 2,885 film teams are laboring using 652 different translations of “JESUS.”
Excerpted from a letter from Paul Eshleman, former Director, The JESUS Film Project
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