Ken Beckley hopes to reap today what his parents faithfully sowed for nearly 40 years. With the help of the JESUS film, that dream may soon become a reality.
Along with his wife and 4 children, Ken serves with Evangelical Baptist Missions in Mali, the same western African country where he grew up, the son of missionary parents. His dedication to tell the Songhai people about Jesus has remained strong despite only seeing a handful of individuals make decisions to receive Christ.
Desiring for that to change, Ken embarked on a nearly 6 year journey.
Growing up in Mali, commonly known for its central city of Timbuktu, Ken was aware of the challenges of telling people about Jesus in a country mostly closed to Christianity. His love for the Songhai people compelled him to return, first as a single man and later with his wife.
With few followers of Christ available, the church lacked sufficient volunteers to give people the chance to know about Jesus. "We're limited to what we can do because we don't have a lot of people to be involved in evangelism," Ken says.
The language barrier also created challenges. Of the available materials, including audio and visual resources such as the JESUS film, all were in French, and useless for a Songhai audience. "People would come to watch the pictures, but they weren't getting the message," Ken says. "We even tried standing next to the film, translating with a microphone, but it was very confusing and hard to follow."
Ken had already embarked on translating the Bible into Songhai. However, with a large percentage of Songhai people being illiterate, an audio/visual resource still held the most promise.
People began to suggest that Ken pursue a Songhai translation of the JESUS film. Part of the vision of the JESUS Film Project®, a ministry of Cru, is to equip local churches throughout the world with a practical tool to communicate the gospel to people who speak even the least common of languages.
And that's exactly what Ken's ministry needed.
After completing his written translation of the book of Mark, he started on Luke, which is the book of the Bible used for the JESUS film. When he was finished, he contacted the JESUS Film Project, headquartered in the United States.
The process, however, wasn't easy.
Costing nearly $37,000 to fund a new translation, Ken was relieved to see the financial aspect provided for through generous contributions by the Christian Motorcyclists Association and other sources.
Yet from the time of Ken's initial desire to translate the JESUS film into Songhai, it took over three and a half years to get the official green light, locally and with Cru. That time required a strong faith and determination to persevere through red tape, local politics and logistics.
Even after the appropriate permission, the progression hit several more bumps along the way.
After the initial recording was made of the entire film, Ken and his team tested it among some of the locals. Each time, the audience would laugh when Mary announced she was a virgin. "That wasn't supposed to be a funny line," Ken says. "We began to inquire, and it turns out that the phrase she had used is a colloquialism. A proper young lady would never use it about herself."
Making that minor change delayed the project again. The woman who had voiced the part of Mary in the film lived in a remote area, far from a recording studio. Multiple attempts to re-record and preserve this continuity failed until nearly a year later.
Once the problem was fixed, the film was ready to be dedicated during its first official showing. It marked an exciting milestone, not only for Ken and his ministry, but for the Songhai people. "As far as I know, this is the first film ever done in Songhai," Ken says.
In November of 2007, a small team showed the film to nearly 2,400 people in Mali. Chris McQuirk, a regional manager with the JESUS Film Project, recognized the significance. "There are people who've never really understood who Jesus is that are now going to get to understand that," says Chris.
For Ken, the difference was obvious.
"When we did film showings in the past [in French], people were having trouble following along because there was so much noise going on," says Ken, "people carrying on in the crowd, talking and gossiping. But when we showed the JESUS film in Songhai, we had crowds of 500 and 600 people, and you could hear a pin drop."
Ken knew why there was such a dramatic change. "They were glued to that screen because they were hearing it in their own language, understanding every single word. It was incredible."
Now he anxiously awaits what God will do through the film. "One of our other missionaries [with Evangelical Baptist Missions] has a copy of the Songhai JESUS film. He showed it in another town we didn't go to, and they had 4 decisions that night," Ken says. "That is huge in [an area closed to Christianity] to have 4 people publically come up in front of the crowd and say, 'Yes, I want to pray.'"
After the many years his family has invested into this region, it will be a welcomed sight to see others choose to follow Christ.
The Songhai language is not the last that needs to be translated.
The JESUS film can bring the gospel message to people of any walk of life. Give a donation toward another translation or take the gift of a new translation to people in need.
For more information about the JESUS Film Project, visit www.jesusfilm.org.
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