North Africa (MNN) – “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” ~ Marcus Garvey
This quote from the Jamaican-born publisher sums up the importance of heritage and self. Knowing where we’ve come from helps us understand better who we are. Our history anchors us to our identity, our society and our world in order to inform how we might act to shape our society in the future.
Understanding the history of the Church is as important as understanding our genealogy. For Denise Godwin, executive director at International Media Ministries (IMM), this concept is what’s driving The Heritage Project.
Conceptually, IMM wants to get Jesus on every screen throughout the Middle East and North Africa. They’re using lots of different media to get there, but there was a question to answer that is as old as what to work on first in Bible translation: how do we connect?
Challenge #1: How to do it?
In North Africa, a connecting point is the story of the past. Godwin explains that for the first 400 years following Christ, North Africa was the powerhouse of Christianity. However, over time, these faith stories have been lost to the local culture. “Our first audience is people living in North Africa who think maybe their culture has always been Islamic, and that there is no other choice, that that’s what they are and who they are. We want them to know that they had a history before that.”
The Heritage Project consists of eight 30-minute stories (four stories in 2017 and four in 2018) from the first five centuries after Christ walked the earth. It’s about people whose influence on Christianity is still seen today. She says, “It was Roman times, then it was times of the Visigoths and it was a very interesting time period before Islam arrived in North Africa. We are telling these stories so that the Christian history of North Africa can come to light and be known again in the region.”
The names in the stories read like a who’s-who of a pastor’s reference guide: Cyprian, Victor, Tertullian, Perpetua and Felicitas, Scillitan Martyrs, Antony, Quodvultdeus, and Augustine — these were people who lived in Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia, before Islam was a thought. It’s a three-year project that’s closing in on a deadline, says Godwin. “We’re hoping to have the first four stories, which we actually recorded last year, completely done by June of next year. Then, these four that we’re recording this year, hopefully we’ll have done by the end of the year, next year.”
Challenge #2: The details
The first season is not completely finished, but it is in post-production right now. Filming has already begun on the second season. Last month, the production team was on location in the desert of southern Spain working in the same location that Lawrence of Arabia was filmed—to tell the story of Anthony, Desert Father of Egypt.
“Born into a wealthy family, Anthony followed Christ’s instructions to the rich young ruler. He sold all he had and gave it to the poor. Living in solitude in the desert, Anthony modeled self-sacrifice. He ministered to persecuted and imprisoned Christians. When many Egyptian Christians were swayed by Arianism (a heresy that said Christ was created and not divine), he journeyed and championed the truth of Christ’s deity.”
Presenting the regional history of Christianity tends to lend credibility to the Gospel for people in North Africa—if only to say that following Christ is not a Western ideology, and one that isn’t as foreign as many people assume. It’s also why the project has been carefully researched. Credibility opens the door for more conversations. “There’s lots of details that go into it, but all those details add up to an authentic story. We don’t have to get everything perfectly right for every bit of history, but the more authentic a story can feel, especially when it’s based in history, the more important and believable it is for the local audience to really resonate with it and believe that this really happened.”
Challenge #3: Spiritual warfare
Godwin says while the end goal is exciting and greatly anticipated, getting there is not without its challenges. “We really need prayer. It’s incredible when you challenge darkness, when you challenge the lies of the enemy that are out there, the moments of spiritual pushback that we experience.” She goes on to ask people to pray for cast members in the project. Some of them aren’t Christians. “We spend a lot of time talking about the character’s motivation and the Scriptures that motivated these people. They spend a lot of time basically talking about God, and who God is, and why these people served Him like they did, so we’re excited for what that’s going to mean for the actors and their lives.”
Header photo courtesy International Media Ministries.