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'JESUS,' at 25, history's most-watched film

 

Roy M. Burroughs

More than 197 million people have made decisions to follow Christ while viewing the JESUS film, which is celebrating 25 years of ministry. The movie now can be viewed on the Internet in more than 300 languages at www.JesusFilm.org. The 300-plus translations available online represent the heart language of more than 90 percent of the world's population.

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) - Almost anywhere you find the Gospel - and people hungry for it - you'll find a copy of the JESUS film.

It's by far the most-watched and most-translated movie in history. It's also one of the church's most potent evangelism tools. The film, which first appeared in theaters in 1979, is marking the 25th year of its amazing run. The JESUS Film Project, an arm of Campus Crusade for Christ, distributes various versions worldwide. A few JESUS statistics (updated Oct. 1) give a feel for its global reach:

  • Cumulative viewing/listening audience (includes multiple viewings) since 1979: more than 5.8 billion.
  • Languages with JESUS film/audio translations: 874, with 229 more in the works.
  • Countries where the film has been shown: 228.
  • Countries where the film has been broadcast on television: 176.
  • JESUS film prints, videocassettes, DVDs and VCDs in circulation: more than 510 million.
  • Personal decisions to follow Christ at public film showings: more than 197 million.

In addition to its availability in tailored versions for various formats and age groups, JESUS just made its Internet debut. In October the entire film became accessible online - in more than 300 languages - via streaming video at www.JesusFilm.org.

 

Translating to the world

"To our knowledge, a film has never been freely available on the Internet in so many different languages," says Jim Green, who directs The JESUS Film Project. "The 300-plus translations available represent the heart language of more than 90 percent of the world's population."

The continuing power of the movie is often attributed to people seeing and understanding Jesus' words - often for the first time.

"Jesus speaks our language!" one elderly woman in Mozambique joyously cried after seeing the first showing of JESUS in her Makhuwa language. International Mission Board missionaries spearheaded the Makhuwa version of the film and saw thousands come to Christ among the 5-million-member animistic people group.

 

Emotional reactions

The emotional impact of witnessing Jesus' life and death - particularly His crucifixion - also explains part of the film's appeal. In many places audiences weep, tear their clothes and toss dirt in the air to express grief, throw sticks at the Roman soldiers beating Jesus on the screen - or sit in silent awe.

Perhaps the true source of the film's power, however, is this: It conveys the Word of God, specifically the Gospel of Luke, with virtually word-for-word faithfulness.

A recent campaign in Tomsk, Siberia, drew thousands of people to free screenings around the city. Theaters overflowed, and at least 150 people turned away from one cinema walked more than a mile in the cold to see the movie at another location.

"I'm tired of thrillers," one of the viewers said. "I want something that will talk to my heart. It's time to believe in God."

So great is the film's impact that IMB mission strategists - Southern Baptist missionaries remain the top users of the film worldwide - include its availability as one of their measures of the evangelization of a people group. The JESUS Film Project has formally partnered with the International Mission Board since 1997.