In the sequence of Road to Emmaus (2009), Come Follow Me (2013), and My Son My Savior (2015) is the fourth and final in a series of outreach movies from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). The title To the Ends of the Earth is taken directly from Jesus' command to his disciples at his Ascension: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The movie follows Paul's remarkable visit to the city of Philippi, recorded in Acts 16. It shows how Paul connected with people from all walks of life, demonstrating that the good news of Jesus is indeed for all people — to the very ends of the earth.
Jesus came not just to benefit one type of people. Jesus is God's answer of love for people of every culture or background. The movie features four main characters depicting that the message of Jesus is a power that changes even the most unlikely hearts. The gospel gives truth to the seeker (Lydia), freedom to the oppressed (slave girl), and hope to the hopeless (jailer). God calls, equips, and sends messengers to share the good news of Jesus To the Ends of the Earth (Paul).
Paul — A Call to Faith — A Call to Mission
God's call to faith is an effective one and a prime example of God's grace. The knowledge that Jesus had died to forgive him and came alive to give him life changed Paul from a man of pride and hatred into a model of love and humility. Paul's call to faith was also a call to mission. In Paul's case, it was a unique mission to reach the Gentiles — especially those who hadn't heard about Jesus. God calls us to faith through the gospel and has a calling for us — a role to carry out his mission for the world. In one way or another, all of us are involved in the task of taking the gospel message To the Ends of the Earth.
Lydia — Finding the Grace of God in a World of Self-righteousness
Lydia respects and tries to follow the Jewish laws and rituals but realizes something is missing. She tries to be kind and helpful, but Paul leads her to see the failure of our hearts to live the level of love that honors God. Paul leads her to realize that Jesus is the promised Messiah who has done all that is needed to save us. "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message" (Acts 16:14); she and her household were baptized.
By nature, we think we can gain God's favor by what we do or by our moral purity. We fall far short of the glory of God and do not have the ability to earn his favor. But Jesus gained our forgiveness with his blood shed on the cross and he clothes us with his purity. Our relationship with God is built on his forgiveness and our faith in what Christ did in our place. It draws us to trust him, worship him as Lord, receive his blessings, and extend his love to others.
Slave Girl — Showing Compassion to those Enslaved by their Demons
The evil spirit controlling the slave girl taunts Paul and Silas, identifying them as servants of the Most High God. By the power of Christ, Paul drives out the spirit and frees the girl.
We sometimes struggle in life and are enslaved with our own "demons." Some feel stuck in abuse or enslaved by addictions. The devil and his influence are real, but so is the almighty God. The gospel of Jesus frees us from the devil's control and brings us into a whole new life with God.
Jailer — The Light of Jesus Dispels the Darkness of Despair
Although the situation looked grim for Paul and Silas in prison, suddenly there is an earthquake that frees them from their chains. The jailer is ready to commit suicide, until Paul reveals that they are all still there. The jailer finds the answer to "what must I do to be saved" when Paul proclaims, "Believe in Lord Jesus and you will be saved — you and your household" (Acts 16:30-31).
Sometimes people feel stuck in a disrespected layer of society with a dead-end job. They are consumed with a fear of failure, dishonor, or punishment. Sometimes it seems hopeless with no way of escape. But God hasn't abandoned us. He calls us to believe in him and be saved. Jesus has taken on the burden of sin, carried our shame, and given us a future with honor. He provides us with his washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit — frees us from our chains of fear and condemnation.
To the Ends of the Earth was supposed to be the third movie, coming after Come Follow Me, a movie that displayed the challenges and triumphs of being a follower of Jesus, as it featured the apostle Peter. The plan was to follow up on that discipleship message with a movie that gave direction on the work that Jesus gives his followers to do — to spread the gospel everywhere. So, concept work on the To the Ends of the Earth movie started even before the Come Follow Me movie was in use.
However, church leaders provided feedback that caused a change in course. Many congregations used Road to Emmaus and Come Follow Me in connection with Easter outreach, and appropriately so because the content and messages of those two movies fit well with the celebration of Jesus' resurrection. What church leaders asked for was a movie for outreach at Christmas. So, concept work on To the Ends of the Earth was shelved and focus was shifted to a movie with a Christmas theme. The result was My Son My Savior released in 2015, a movie about the coming, life, and ministry of Jesus told from the perspective of his mother Mary.
The intent was to have To the Ends of the Earth ready two years later, in 2017. However, that was the year of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, and a full-length movie was released for that special occasion. So as not to conflict with the Reformation emphasis, work was restarted on To the Ends of the Earth for a planned release in 2018.
The team that put together the script included Pastors Dave Kehl, Paul Hartman, John Braun, and Mike Hintz. It took over a year for the script to be finalized. What complicated the work of this group was distance. Dave Kehl lives in Hong Kong, serving our mission field there. Paul Hartman lives in El Paso; he is the retired director of Multi-Language Publications. John Braun and Mike Hintz are local to the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry. The group made use of technology to carry out their discussion, "meeting" via Skype video conference.
Closely involved with helping this team was the one who put their work into the form of a movie script, professional writer and WELS member, Jas Lonnquist. She lives in California and there were several long video conferences with her and the pastors on the team. All in all, everything came together, and the script was turned over to the producers: Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein. They had lots of input that resulted in numerous adjustments to make a good movie. More video conferencing and many, many emails among all involved finally resulted in the final script by the end of 2017. From there the producers took over.
It was decided to shoot the movie in Morocco. The shoot took place this year for 10 days, at the end of January and first part of February. This choice of location was a cost-effective way to produce a high-quality production. There is so much high-end television and film these days, people expect a certain level of production quality. A second-rate project would not connect with audiences as well.
Morocco might seem like an exotic locale, but the choice to shoot the movie there was actually based on very practical nuts-and-bolts issues. Many Bible-based films are shot there, so the sets have already been built, the extras are readily available, and crews are cost-effective. The scenery is beautiful and appears "biblical." The region is home to people whose faces truly represent the vast tapestry of God's people — a way of emphasizing that the gospel is for people To the Ends of the Earth.
Indeed, there were technical challenges. The first snowstorm in 25 years blanketed the area just as production began. But God melted the snow quickly and we proceeded without incident, though the weather was unusually cold throughout the shoot. An ongoing "challenge" was ensuring everyone's pronunciations were correct. We were delighted with the many accents of the actors and actresses, many of whom spoke English as a second language (again, it was a great reflection of the diversity of God's people). But occasionally we needed to coach how to say something in the clearest way. At times, it was an eye-opening exercise in just how complicated English can be. For example, one line had "cloth" and "clothing" in the same sentence. We are so used to pronouncing the "O" in those words very differently, but-on the page-it looks like they should be pronounced the same. That kind of thing tripped up our actors and actresses occasionally (and sometimes created a bit of humor).
Following the movie shoot, the producers spent six months carefully editing the video (25 hours of raw video were boiled down to 38 minutes for the movie's final version). Visual and sound quality were adjusted. Sound effects and music were added. A master DVD was produced and on September 1, 2018 the movie was released. The first public screening took place at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry.
Using the Movie
Since the movie focuses on mission activity, congregations may have made good use of it initially in connection with the Mission & Ministry Sunday that the WELS Conference of Presidents encouraged all WELS congregations to observe this fall on October 21. Movie resources have been developed for use in connection with Mission & Ministry Sunday. There are also resources for groups and individuals to study the messages of the movie and apply them: two adult Bible studies, children and teen lessons & devotions, an Advent by Candlelight program. Additionally, congregations are encouraged to use an Evangelism Bible study based on the movie for encouraging members to invite people to Christmas services this year — see C18 program.
With past movies, congregations gave DVDs to worship service guests and distributed them at outreach events. Also, members used the movie and helpful resources to discuss the importance of the Savior with someone they know who needs Jesus. Currently, over 600 congregations have ordered more than 50,000 DVDs through special bulk pricing (100 DVDs for $200 plus shipping), to use To the Ends of the Earth similarly in their outreach as the previous three movies.
The movie will be used even more widely in world mission fields. Making excellent use of technology, To the Ends of the Earth has been dubbed in Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin. Workers in Spanish speaking areas of our country and in our Latin America mission field plan to make significant use of the movie. Missionaries in Hong Kong will also be using the movie in the mission work there. And like our first three outreach movies, plans are to provide the movie in other languages, all with the goal of taking the gospel To the Ends of the Earth.
The Medium of Movies
With striking visuals and vivid sound, a good movie effectively engages an audience and powerfully communicates a message. What greater message is there than the gospel of Jesus Christ? And look at the massive audience of people to whom God wants his good news delivered — the world! This is the reason for ten years of work on four movies — to use the medium of movies to tell the message of salvation to many people.
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