JESUS Film, at 1,500 Languages, Reaches Millions

Riah* had been faithfully working to help keep up the home of Yvonne Cantwell*, an IMB missionary in Southeast Asia. And Cantwell had been faithfully sharing the Gospel and Bible stories with her as they built a relationship.

“She is from a UPG [unreached people group],” Cantwell said. “I speak her national language but not her heart language.”

Riah was “friendly and open but she stayed loyal to the religion of her people,” Cantwell said.

Until one day, that is, when Riah came in talking about a radio program she had heard--one that talked about the lineage of Jesus--and Cantwell remembered she had the “JESUS” film app on her phone.

“While she was working, I searched the app and found they had short clips from the Jesus Film in so many languages--including Riah’s heart language,” Cantwell said. “That day before she went home, I showed her ‘The Beginning’ clip. When she first heard the words in her language she laughed in surprise and said, ‘They are from my home island.’”

Riah was captivated with the story of creation and the fall, of Abraham and the sacrifice and the prophets telling of the coming Messiah, Cantwell said.

“She has not yet turned from darkness to light, but these JESUS film clips in her heart language, so easily shown to her on my phone, are helping her along this journey,” Cantwell said.

Riah’s story is one of countless thousands that the Jesus Film Project is celebrating as it marks its 1,500th language translation this month, Josh Newell, the Jesus Film Project’s director of marketing and communications, told Baptist Press.

The latest translation--into Daasanach, a language spoken by an ethnic group inhabiting parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan--is part of the project’s initiative to reach the world’s remaining 865 language groups that have 50,000 or more speakers.

It’s a “big milestone,” Newell said--”a celebration of a partnership from Bible translators to church planters to individuals who use it throughout the world to reach people from far-flung corners to city high rises.”

Multiply those partnerships across 1,500 languages and 37 years, and “you just have to sit back and say, ‘God, You’re so amazing,’” he said.

The Jesus film first aired in 1979, and since then, the film has been used to make 7.5 billion Gospel presentations in 230 countries, with more than 490 million people indicating a decision for Christ after viewing it.

The film has moved across mediums from a 16mm projector to VHS to DVD to downloadable content, Newell said. A miniature SD card the size of a postage stamp can hold the movie in 16 languages.

*Names changed