Q&A: After 20 years of ministry, JESUS Film leader looks to future

Joy Forney
Thursday, January 26, 2017
ImageJESUS Film Harvest Partners (JFHP) is a Kingdom-building ministry devoted to world evangelism through the JESUS film and other tools used by teams of local people for evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.
The ministry is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. ENGAGE caught up with JFHP Executive Director Brian* to spend some time reflecting on what God has done across the past two decades and to look ahead at what is to come. Read part one of this interview here.
ENGAGE: Let’s talk about the future of JFHP. Going forward, what new strategies or goals is JFHP exploring for the coming short-term period and long-term period?
BRIAN: The Church of the Nazarene is in about 160 countries. That means there's about 70 or 80 left, depending on how you define a country. Long-term would be to go to those countries and we need to identify who are the best people from which countries to go there. Obviously, we haven’t been there yet, we’ve been around for over 100 years, and there are reasons why we’re not in those countries. Short-term we’re trying to figure out, why aren’t we there? How can we get there? But the least, the last, and the lost, they live in those countries.
ImageA lot of those countries are in what we call the 10/40 Window, a densely populated geographic area that is home to multiple religious beliefs. Most of the people who’ve never heard the name of Jesus live in that area. Most of the poorest people in the world live there. Our goal has always been [to go] where we can insert the JESUS film in order to lead the most people to Christ in one showing, but also not shy away from those areas that are hard where maybe we know we’ll get one person, or maybe we won’t get any in the difficult places.
There is one country where they can’t raise their hands at the end of a showing, so sometimes they record maybe one, maybe two people who accept Christ in a showing. Then they do follow-up in the homes, and they are leading hundreds of people to Christ—once they get out of the public arena by just following up on those one or two converts.
The Jesus Film Project of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) has come up with an app, it’s called the Jesus Film [Project®] app, and they have put all of their films…in every language on an app. People are now going to the app store in whatever format of phone they have and downloading this app and watching JESUS in real-time in their language. A lot of short videos and discipleship materials are on that app as well.
In the future, we want to hit the difficult places in countries where we are and where we’ve never been. As far as delivery, I think smaller screens, Bluetooth emitters through Wi-Fi hotspots...that’s the way that we’re going to be able to deliver the JESUS film and the audio Bible...into more private phones they then have the chance to watch one-on-one or in small groups.             
ENGAGE: As the Nazarene denomination emphasizes a push into urban areas around the world going forward, does JFHP have an opportunity also to expand into more urban areas?
When we go to the urban centers, we can’t set up that screen in the middle of the road anymore and stop traffic. It just doesn’t work in the urban centers. More and more the people in the next 20 years will be in the urban centers. The big pockets of the population of people who have never heard about Jesus will be in those urban centers. Campus Crusade has given different organizations permission to cut up the JESUS film. They have actually segmented the JESUS film and then put very good questions at the end of each snippet from the film. The snippets would be maybe a story, so the story from the woman at the well might be three minutes long, and then they would put three questions in various languages at the end to create discussion.
A lot of people are just using stories from the JESUS film. I know in some of the Pacific Rim countries where we’re encountering people who are taught there is no God. Well, they can’t really watch the whole film because they have too many questions, so they’re watching one story at a time, and we’re able to answer the questions one story at a time, which is how they need to receive it.
ENGAGE: Conventional human wisdom says that all good things must come to an end. How much longer into the future do you think the JESUS film itself, and/or JFHP can be an effective force for evangelism and discipleship in the world?
BRIAN: The discipleship is ongoing. Once you lead somebody to Christ, the hard work starts. The evangelism is really the easy part; it’s the making of the disciple that’s hard. I don’t think disciple-making has a date on it. I think we will be engaged in disciple-making until I retire at least. Maybe 20 more years, I don’t know.
ImageAs the years have gone on, Campus Crusade and some other organizations have been beaming the JESUS film into countries by satellite. They’ve been getting it on television. They’ve been distributing DVDs and VHS video cassettes, so we’ve seen our crowd sizes in the countries we’ve started in getting smaller because more and more people have access to this film in other ways. In the rural settings…the JESUS film is still something that draws their attention. The technology initially, and then the film in their language gets their attention on an ongoing basis. When we started [the JESUS film] was in 600 languages and now there are over 1,400. About 97 percent of the world can understand the JESUS film in one of their languages. They’ve still got about 6,000-7,000 languages and dialects to go, but those dialects would be for smaller people groups. As we get new languages of the JESUS film, we’re actually focusing on smaller groups, which mean the crowd size will be smaller, so our average crowd size has dropped to about 125 now.
As far as the effectiveness of the JESUS film doing evangelism, I think as long as we continue to deliver it in new ways to new people groups—there are 7.2 billion of us on the planet. We’ve never had that many people on this ride before. More people are being born than are dying in certain countries, so I think the JESUS film will have an impact even in the developed countries, but definitely in those rural areas where people are just now getting cell phones. They haven’t had electricity, they haven’t had running water, they don’t have copper wires coming to their town, but there is a cell phone tower on the next mountain. As those cell phone towers expand into these countries where they have huge rural populations, I think our impact in those rural communities will be dramatic in the coming years.
ENGAGE: JFHP has determined that for every $3 given, an average of one person makes a decision for Christ. In what additional ways has the Holy Spirit ensured that supporting JFHP is a good return on investment for those who give?
BRIAN: Our intention for those who give is to connect them to the Great Commission. As we work with local people or local churches or families or foundations, we want them to be directly connected to the Great Commission and the results of “what does $3 really do?” Well, it helps lead somebody to Christ, but it also may lead a family to Christ. It also may lead a village to Christ. We try to quantify “here is what your money is doing” and then we try to report back to the donor, and here’s a story from the team you helped support. Here’s a picture, here are the statistics. 
ImageWe’ve determined that yes, $3 helps lead one person to Christ, but in addition to that, it also establishes churches, it makes disciples, it helps us reach the next lost person for Christ. We’re always looking at what is the next thing we can do. The money is not really the deal, we’re trying to connect people to the Great Commission, and then tell them, “Here’s what you did, and here are the people you led to Christ on the other side of the world.”
ENGAGE: In closing, what is one thing you want people to understand about the vision/future of JFHP?
BRIAN: Probably the main thing I’d want people to understand about the future of JFHP is that it’s not about us. We are just here filling a gap and helping other people succeed. We’re not here about building this ministry. We’re here about how do we help local people around the world reach their next neighbor who has never had the chance to hear about Jesus or experience His love. As we focus on the future, I think we want to put a smile on God’s face by doing exactly what His heart is, and His heart is to redeem His whole creation to Himself. As we help Him, as we assist Him in putting tools in the hands of people who will lead people to Christ, we are fulfilling the heart of God. And we’re so glad when He smiles at us at the end.
For information on attending JFHP’s 20th Anniversary Celebration, contact Patty Montague or get additional information about the ministry by visiting JFHP.org, or call 001 913-663-5700.