Ministries Making Movies: Samaritan's Purse Tackles Ebola

When Dr. Kent Brantly was infected by Ebola, he was serving as an aid worker for the North Carolina-based organization Samaritan’s Purse. President and CEO Franklin Graham directed his team to tell Brantly’s story after an amazing rescue initiative saved Brantly’s life and the life of several other infected workers. Heading up the project called Facing Darkness, released as a Fathom Event and available now on digital download, was Bill Coger, an award-winning editor and producer who serves as the Vice President of Broadcast and Video Services for Samaritan’s Purse.

Coger began working in radio and television thirty years ago, and has served Samaritan’s Purse since the late 1990s. Now, with a staff of more than thirty producers, editors, graphic designers, and videographers, Coger has always had a heart for ministry and saw Samaritan’s Purse as a way to combine his skills for telling stories in a way that served Christ as well. Through the vision first set by Billy Graham in World Wide Pictures, and now carried by his son, Samaritan’s Purse aims to be at the cutting edge of media and video production.

“We’re always looking for new ways to share about Samaritan’s Purse through different outlets,” explained Coger. “We’d done short films and tremendous amounts of content online. When we first started it, we were all basically on our knees praying for Dr. Brantly and Nancy [Writebol] and the other people infected by ebola. We were getting worldwide news attention, and Franklin was speaking about the experience the organization had been through.”

“The Lord kept pulling on my heart,” he admitted. “I probably should’ve told this story earlier! I told Franklin that the miraculous story arc of what God had done needed to be told. We didn’t set out to make a feature-length film but our first rough cut was three hours long!”

Blending footage from a member of the Samaritan’s Purse staff in Liberia shot with a Canon camera with dramatic re-enactment, news coverage from the rescue, and interviews with Brantly, Graham, and others, Coger had a huge undertaking in cutting the film down to a palatable ninety-minute film. In some ways, it would have been easier if the team had made a dramatic film from scratch!

“It’s true,” said Coger, chuckling. “But since we hadn’t done a film, going after a narrative film would’ve been a bigger challenge because we were used to some of the documentary style telling stories. Since it was a year after Dr. Brantly had gotten cured of Ebola, we had to move quickly. There may still be a narrative film if God chooses.”

Facing Darkness won awards at the Heartland Film Festival, and Coger said the team was excited to hear from Christians and non-Christians about how the film impacted them.

“For people who didn’t know as much about the World Medical Mission aspect of the film or only know about Operation Christmas Child, the promotions on social media and seeing Christians on the front line fighting deadly diseases really touched them,” Coger said.

The producer went on to share how Brantly’s message, that Christians are called to serve in our own country and abroad, even in our own neighborhoods, continued to reach people. For an organization named after an outsider who lived out the ideals of Jesus, in Luke 10's “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” here was an example of compassion even in the face of danger.

“We need to choose compassion over fear on a daily basis, like Dr. Brantly did,” explained Coger, “in loving our neighbor the way he and the other aid workers did. Here they are trying to save lives, looking at the danger to themselves and choosing to serve anyway.”

“God told us hed always been with us, not that we’d be safe. We will all face darkness in our lives, but how will we respond?”

As Coger closed, he was setting off for a week in Alaska, the same location Graham had been in when he heard about Brantly’s infection for the first time. It’s the set of Samaritan’s Purse Operation Heal Our Patriots, where each summer, the organization hosts 160 couples. It’s marriage counseling and ministry to wounded warriors and their spouses. Coger said that many of the couples rededicate their marriages and their faith as a result of them they spend with Samaritan’s Purse and dozens of chaplains from the Armed Forces who have served over the last five years. Heading out to this next chapter, Coger was excited - and marveled - at what his job allows him to do and see each day.

“Everyday there are amazing stories that our team gets to tell.”

Facing Darkness may just be the first of many stories played out in theaters everywhere.