As The Jesus Film Project’s Director of Marketing & Communications, Josh Newell has seen the power of The Jesus Film and Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) in the seventeen years he has spent on staff, in the United States and abroad. After exploring graduate work at the University of Virginia, Newell and his family settled in the state, but found he could help spread the message of The Jesus Film’s work around the world. As the film reached its 1500th translation - the film was translated into its 1500th language version - Christian Cinema caught up with Newell to discuss the film’s importance thirty years later.
To translate the film, the Project works with Bible translators who are in the people group or a people group closest to the cluster of languages it is working to address with a new translation of the film. Newell said that this is crucial to the Project because of the Biblical command that Jesus offered in Matthew 28:19, to make disciples of all nations.
“From our DNA, The Jesus Film is about reaching every tongue, tribe, and nation, to plant churches. We’re this small platform to accelerate ministry, working with 1500 partners. We’re able to see God at work. It’s really humbling to see the pattern of partnership, with people from all different denominations and traditions, and to say, ‘ at our essence, it’s about lifting up Jesus.’
While The Jesus Film was produced in 1979 as a word-for-word cinematic translation of the Gospel of Luke, its limited release in two thousand theaters could not begin to show how it would impact 7.5 billion people. But when Cru began to market the film to Christians for use in reaching people who had never heard of Jesus, a powerful ministry took shape.
“Many peoples are illiterate so it’s important to bring the gospel to life on film, and in their own language,” Newell explained. “We made it freely available to anyone in the body of Christ from organizations to individuals to share their faith.”
With their 1500th translation, The Jesus Film Project has seen Bill Bright’s vision for the film translated into Daasanach, a dialogue found in Ethiopia, the south Sudan, and Kenya, among a tribal group remote and difficult to reach both spiritually and logistically, Newell said. But the good news of Jesus Christ is still getting through.
“There are three different local churches that really hadn’t been working together in the area,” he recounted. “But this particular project gave them the impetus to work together. ‘What if we all worked together to see a JESUS FIlm premiere so that more people would see who Jesus is, not about our denomination, but about these people that we’re hear to reach?’”
For these natives, who are four-hour flight from the capital of Nairobi, with no running water and a cattle herding-based economy, the film becomes a unique means of evangelism. In that part of the world, there is a rising percent of the population, two percent, who long to share the gospel.
Newell shared that the process involved The Jesus Film Project working closely with translators, asking them to begin with the Gospel of Luke. Through cutting edge technology called Script Adaptor, people in those areas with no literary background are able to receive an audio translation on the fly, straight from oral to audio. But when the team is ready to adapt the audio of the film, they first find twenty voice actors who speak the language and then send in a team from Orlando.
“The film crew is usually two people from Orlando, establishing a mini-studio on site,” Newell explained. “Sometimes, it’s just in the middle of a hut. For a week and a half they record the actors, making sure that the vocals match up with the way the actors on screen are moving. Sometimes they turn over the edits right there in the field, but often it’s refined back in Orlando with finalized music. Then it’s put directly in the hands of missionaries, digitized for the app, and put on our website. In today’s world, the sharing on Youtube makes it spread even faster.”
For those hearing about The Jesus Film’s 1500th translation, the Mission 865 initiative is even more amazing: since 2010, the film has been translated into 275 languages with the goal to be translated into 99% of the world’s languages (or 590 more times).
“We’re committed to getting these languages done throughout the world, so there has been funding provided through matching donations that drives down the cost for a language by half,” Newell said. “If a church wants to adopt a people group, then you can do this by signing up for a Mission 865 language on our website. It’s fruitful to see the story be made but also see people’s lives being transformed.”
Translating the film at a rate of one hundred languages a year, The Jesus Film Project is ramping up production with great results. The Project has hit 1500 but is not stopping there; there are 590 more people groups who need to hear the gospel. There’s no time like the present to get involved and make the good news known throughout the world.