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Director of "Return to the Hiding Place" on Corrie Ten Boom, Fighting Evil, & The Sleeping Church
Director of "Return to the Hiding Place" on Corrie Ten Boom, Fighting Evil, & The Sleeping Church

Director of "Return to the Hiding Place" on Corrie Ten Boom, Fighting Evil, & The Sleeping Church

By Jacob Sahms

Peter Spencer, the writer, director, and producer of Return to the Hiding Place, sat down with www.ChristianCinema.com to discuss his new film about the teenage movement to battle the Nazis in World War II in Holland. Along the way, he shared about his relationship with real-life freedom fighter Hans Poley, making a feature film on two continents, and the potential for the Church to fight evil around the world. 

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Tell us about your background in film.

I was in marketing and advertising for thirty years and have been making documentaries for twenty-five years. I’ve always had a passion for writing and communication. This was the first feature film I’ve written and directed.

It started through a series of conversations with Hans Poley when he was a live. I would travel to Holland and he would show me where he had hidden people, like a downed pilot. When he traveled to the US, we’d meet in Florida and have conversations, and I would just interview him for a few days at a time.

I used to tell him that teenagers today are choosing what video games to play and here he was fighting the most evil, demonic, Isis-like group in the world. The movie is basically the prequel to The Hiding Place.

How did you meet Hans Poley?

I had been speaking in San Antonio on a pro-life issue, many years ago, and we had found legal ways to close clinics. Women were being taken advantage of, being lied to and not told the truth. It’s heart breaking.

An elderly man walked up to me after a presentation and said, “In my day and age, it was ‘what do you do with the Jews’? Today, it’s the unborn. In the future, it will be the Christian martyrs.

Hans told me about himself, and afterward I said, ‘Wow, this sounds like The Hiding Place. Hans laughed and said, ‘My parents took me over to Corrie’s because I was being sought for anti-Nazi efforts, and I became the first teenager that she took in.’ During the time he was there, he began colluding with other teenagers, which is how Corrie hid her eight hundred Jews.

What does it mean to you personally to tell this story for your friend and for others who fought the Nazis with him?

It’s humbling that the Lord would have Hans come to the speech that day, that he would become a friend, and that my passions and gifts would be in writing. I believe this film is timed for today given what’s going on in the Middle East, not just to Jews but also to Christians.

The film is a message to the church that we can’t be asleep at the wheel, the way that much of the church was asleep during the Holocaust. We’re actually doing a sermon series with clips for a church that shows the parallels between Christians in the Middle East and the events of the movie; we are in the midst of a holocaust.

I believe personally that the people of the God are the target, that the war is not about politics, or borders. I believe God has called us to rise up and have a voice. The call of the believer is to give a voice to those who do not have a voice. You can change a couple of names and the uniforms [of Return to the Hiding Place] and you can see it happening again.

I loved the church scene where Hans goes undercover to stir up support in a church, and instead encounters an argument among church leaders. What things do you think distract us today?

I’m the son of a pastor, and the grandson of a pastor. I watched my dad walk into the foyer after a church meeting that was full of arguments about things like “what color should we paint the walls?” and fall dead of a heart attack.

Distraction, it’s what Satan does – like a magician distracting us with a coin in one hand, while moving things around with his other hand while we’re not looking at it. I’ve seen how Satan consumes the church with everything that doesn’t matter. As long as good men do nothing, evil triumphs.

The church has gotten into the habit of majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors. Americans go home and watch TV shows. They might be good family moral shows but they’re a distraction from what we should be seeing in our neighborhoods and around the world. There are people suffering.

My hope for this film is that it will shake awake the church. That the church will begin to major in the majors and minor in the minors. I want church folk to see that people are crying out on trains on their way to death camps.

What issues, in addition to the lives of the unborn and those suffering in the Middle East, do you think the church should be taking a stronger stance on fighting around the world?

I think the church should be leading on social issues, whether it’s the poor or the underprivileged. If we as Christians knew the scriptures that prove the divinity of Christ as well as we know every fact about our political candidates, the world would change.

I have four children. If one of my children is stuck in a bus station at thirteen on her way home from school, I’m going to be preoccupied with that. We need to be preoccupied with the suffering of the body of Christ.  

I’ve met with a pastor in India, where I sometimes teach apologetics, who has a church of ninety-five thousand people. He said to me the same thing that my father used to say to me when I was a kid. “It’s Friday night and you’re going to be executed tomorrow. You’re with five other people who are Christians. Are you going to discuss pews or are you going to talk about Jesus Christ? Are you going to argue or focus on the fact that he died for our sins and rose from the dead through the Atonement?”

Abortion is America’s Auschwitz. We need to protect the body of Christ.

What does it mean to be faithful when your life is on the line? Eusi, a Jew, and Corrie Ten Boom get into a discussion about truth and faith, and how much deception is okay…

I put that in there because there are people debating their own involvement. It comes down to what Eusi says, “Rahab lied. The women who hid Moses lied. And they were Biblically righteous.”

I believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant, but we can become legalistic and engage in moral selectivity.  We can say, “well, that’s wrong,” and get up and walk out the door and be more wrong. We need to be asking, “how is this going to affect the body of Christ?”

Eusi showed Corrie that she was breaking the law, but that the Scripture showed that the protection of the innocent allowed for that decision. You’re protecting the body the Christ.

We need to ask ourselves, is this argument going to build up this church or are we letting it tear it asunder? To me, it’s Christ alone, Scripture alone. If we thought about everything that way, the planet would have been taken over by the body of Christ by now.

Eusi and Corrie weren’t on the same page even though they seemed to be in agreement. But they made each other think.

Watching this movie, I want people to think. 

How did you make a film that appears top notch in production, acting, script, etc. on a smaller budget, outside of Hollywood?

(Laughs) I prayed a whole lot. In twenty-three days, we shot on forty-five locations. We even filmed on a second continent, which could’ve undone the whole thing.

It started nineteen years ago when I began to work on the project but the world was a different place. There would be days where I’d sit down and knock out forty to fifty pages of copy.

When filming it, I knew that I wanted the audience, young or old, to stick with it until the end. The number one challenge for Christian filmmakers is that the world has literally persuaded us from being a Christian culture to an anti-Christian culture.

As filmmakers, you need to make people fall in love with your characters in the first act. Robert Redford always had political views but he spent Act 1 making us fall in love with his character. You might not agree with the character’s point of view in Act 2 but if you’ve fallen in love, you’re hooked. In Act 3, you have the hero do something heroic, and the audience walks away sympathetic to that hero.

In our film, it was important that people didn’t feel like they were being preached to. We needed to see that these were real characters, and fall in love with them. The arc of the story brings you compassionately toward what they believe. People have come to faith by seeing the film, as the characters stand in the gap for total strangers. People want to know what motivates people to give their lives for others? We’re not a religion of death but a religion of faith where we give life.

There are pretty well known people who were against the Christian faith because of bad experiences, who, after watching the film, “our paradigm for the faith was wrong. There’s something more here.”  

Tell us about your upcoming project, “Thief.”

My father was my Greek teacher at the school he founded in San Antonio. One day when I was listening to the words of the thief on the cross, breaking down the language there, I realized certain phrasings kept coming up. They sent me looking elsewhere in the Bible.

I believe the thief who confessed Christ was a disciple but not an apostle. There were thousands of people who Christ was discipling.

So I’ve written a novel showing where this man was. John Rhys Davies is going to do a television show documenting where this man would’ve been and when he would’ve communicated with Christ.  I’ve shown it to a few scholars who have come back and said that, ‘that was right in front of us the whole time, and we’ve never seen it before!’


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