When it comes to videos from missions agencies or relief organizations I must admit to being something of a skeptic. It's not that I doubt the value of missions work (I'm married to a daughter of missionaries!), but that these videos are often poorly executed and produce ineffectual guilt.
Given my negative inclinations, I was dubious about a recent opportunity to review Dispatches from the Front, a series of DVDs produced by Frontline Missions. Put simply, my misgivings were completely demolished. Rather than feeling emotionally manipulated, I was stunned by the beautiful simplicity of the videos and the stories they tell. Instead of walking away hardened, I was surprised to find myself encouraged and filled with joy. I was left marveling at the goodness of God, firmly convinced that these DVDs are an incredible---indeed, unique---gift to the church.
Because I know I'm not alone in my suspicions, here are several ways a skeptic like me was moved---at times to tears---by these videos. This series:
. . . turns abstract concepts into concrete realities.
Rather than communicating incalculable glorious truths, terms like "gospel transformation" or "kingdom advance" end up populating a growing list of Christian clichés that have been stripped of their meaning and significance. I too struggle with this innocuous "Christian-ese." But these episodes give "gospel transformation" a face, a name, and a story. I was given a front-row seat to the bold advance of Christ's kingdom around the world as the gospel reaches people groups for the first time. These videos are "our way, in our day" of seeing Jesus Christ at work in the nations.
. . . magnifies God, not man.
We are prone, I think, to make much of missionary pioneers and their legacies rather than fixing our gaze on the works of God revealed through them. Yes, we should admire the people presented here, but these episodes point beyond missions. I found my gaze continually and firmly fixed on the beauty of Jesus Christ. The primary goal of this series is to make much of God and his glory. Watching them with family and friends was a unique act of worship, returning us again and again to the shocking wisdom of the cross and the unexpected power of the resurrection. These videos put the glory of God, not missions, at the center.
. . . grows passion for global missions.
It took me nearly 28 years to realize that "having a heart for global missions" doesn't necessarily mean packing up everything I own and re-locating to a foreign country. These videos have helped me pray more specifically for the needs of missionaries. They challenged me to understand the work of missions and evangelism not as series of Damascus road encounters, but as a long, slow, and difficult process of friendship, prayer, and conversations about Jesus. I was confronted with the normalcy of these brothers and sisters. God doesn't always choose to use the brightest and the best, but when God is at work none of that even matters. These videos produced a heartfelt joy for the day-to-day realities of the mission field and the simple formula of prayer + conversations about Jesus + more prayer---a formula that seems startlingly effective in any country or context.
. . . bolsters confidence in the power of God.
I do a generally poor job of outreach and evangelism, in part because I fail to properly reckon with the power at work in the gospel through the crucified, risen, and exalted Christ. While their focus is singularly on the work of foreign missionaries, these videos strengthened my confidence that our God is mighty to transform lives both overseas and in my own backyard. The conversion of an African tribesman or an Albanian refugee is incredibly powerful, but no more so than what can take place in my own neighborhood and community. These videos reminded me that the gospel is sufficient to save. Indeed, from the bustling cities of Asia to the desert plains of Ethiopia, our God truly is "the LORD of the earth" (Ps. 24:1).
. . . helps us to love what Christ loves.
These videos are not trite or manipulative propaganda but theologically robust narratives that set forth the work of God in expanding the boundaries of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. As one reviewer notes, "The stories are powerful because the gospel is powerful." I was deeply and powerfully moved by each episode to cherish Christ more deeply, love the church more boldly, and pray more earnestly for the extension of its borders.
I wish that everyone would watch these DVDs and be strengthened, encouraged, and challenged by the present power and work of God in our world. I cannot commend these strongly enough. Take it from a former skeptic, you won't be disappointed.
Starting today---Tuesday, June 12---WTS Books is selling Dispatches from the Front episode two (A Bold Advance: Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro) for $5 (66 percent off) and the complete set of five DVDs for $30 (60 percent off). The sale ends Friday, June 15. You can watch the trailer for A Bold Advance below.
Finally, consider this recommendation from Don Carson, co-founder and president of The Gospel Coalition:
Dispatches from the Front is a thoughtful, moving, understated, and ultimately convicting series of videos depicting the work of the gospel in some of the most challenging corners of the world. Far from glorying in celebrity missions, the stories in these videos depict the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, sometimes in the teeth of virulent opposition. Here are brothers and sisters in Christ who in God's grace display faithfulness and transcendent joy, unflagging zeal to share the gospel, and an unfettered allegiance to King Jesus. To watch the kingdom advance in the teeth of these challenges is to learn humility and rekindle contrition, faith, and intercessory prayer.