Several years ago, my church showed a DVD on a Sunday night called Dispatches from the Front. I was stunned. Moved. Awakened. It was not the typical “missionary video” I was expecting. That happened to be the first episode: Islands on the Edge. Since then, I’ve seen most of the episodes. They’re all good. Really good. You need to watch them.
I love seeing creative media used to point people to Christ and move them toward godliness. That’s why I love these films. They’re not ostentatious. They’re well crafted. They have soul-enriching value.
The films follow Tim Keesee as he journeys to “the world’s difficult places.” The skillful camera work and rich script (Tim’s vivid journal entries) take you right along with him as he traces the gospel’s advance and meets its unsung heroes.
Earlier this summer, Tim took the time to answer a few interview questions:
PK: Briefly, for those who don’t know you or Frontline Missions International, what is Frontline, it’s purpose, and your part in all of it?
TK: My first foray into missions was years ago when I worked on behalf of persecuted Christians behind the Iron Curtain by organizing letter-writing campaigns for Christian prisoners and raising funds to smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union. After the Berlin Wall came down, I was in Eastern Europe with pastors—teaching and learning from them. It was there that I first saw the power of Gospel partnerships. In the early years, our work centered in the former Iron Curtain countries. However, the walls came down and new Macedonian calls were heard in Siberian Russia, central Asia, India, China, and the Middle East. The mission answered these calls and changed its name in 2002 to Frontline Missions International in order to underscore our wider sphere of ministry. You can find out more at www.frontlinemissions.info.
How did the Dispatches series come about? (What’s the story behind it?)
How many films have you made, and what is your latest project?
We have completed 6 episodes of Dispatches from the Front, and the 7th is coming out in July 2014. The new episode, “Day of Battle” is set in North Africa. Here are all the episodes:
Episode 1: Islands on the Edge
Episode 2: A Bold Advance
Episode 3: I Once was Blind
Episode 4: Souls of the Brave
Episode 5: Father, Give Me Bread
Episode 6: The Power of His Rising
Episode 7: Day of Battle (coming in July 2014)
I am very interested in the creative use of media for the sake of the gospel and discipleship. What have been some of the effects (perhaps unexpected) of these films, for yourself, the Frontline team, and others?
God has become so much bigger in my view. Seeing the power of the Gospel at work in so many diverse cultural contexts and seeing the unity and diversity of the Church has been a personal revolution for me. I thank God that He is using these as a Gospel tool to impact the life and vision of His people. We hear from people all the time across America and from other parts of the world who have been deeply impacted by these stories. The reason for the impact is because we are simply telling what God is doing, and people are moved, strengthened, and motivated as they see God at work in the world.
One of the things that first struck me about the Dispatches films was how well-produced they are. The films are modern and compelling in their look, sound, and communication. Do you have any say in the artistic direction of the films (the look, graphics, music, etc.)? Is there any articulated strategy in your (team’s) choices?
While I am involved in the artistic direction of the film, this project would not be possible without Pete Hansen’s extraordinary skill as a videographer. But it’s much more than technical skill—Pete is able to let the story be heard and seen more than his techniques. He is also a very good traveler and has become accustomed to shooting in all kinds of situation—sometimes very complicated ones!
As far as a strategy, I am not sure if this is a strategy, but we made the decision at the outset that these videos would not be used overtly for fund-raising nor promoting any particular organization. The only reason Frontline’s name is on it is because we produce these films, and obviously people need to know where they come from. But we aren’t about using these as glorified “info-mericals.” I believe the Gospel at work and advancing in “every tribe and language and people and nation” is the greatest story in the world. It doesn’t have to be enhanced or over-produced.
Is there a lesson here for Christians to use media in a creative and compelling way?
Different films will have different purposes and will, therefore use different creative techniques. For our series, we want to show life as it unfolds—giving people a “street-level” or “jungle-path” view of life on the Gospel front lines. So our films do not always have tidy conclusions, because that isn’t usually the way life is either.
Who is your creative team on the films?
We are a pretty small operation: myself, Pete Hansen, and Brannon McAllister (who works with us on the package design).
You’ve traveled widely and been a part of many Christian gatherings in cultures around the world. How has your perspective been shaped in regard to corporate worship and the use of music in corporate gatherings? Do you have any insights for our gatherings here in the states?
I have been blessed to see the variety of musical expressions of worship in many different cultures. Music is a very important cultural connector. It’s like language, dress, and customs—one of the important ways we create community. And that’s true whether the community is around the world or around the corner. So it’s beautiful to see this diversity in worship—and yet unity in Who is worshipped and magnified. It is a foretaste of Revelation 5, when people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” will praise Christ, their Redeemer, the Lamb who is worthy!
When can we expect the latest Dispatches film to be released?
The release date is July 20, 2014. It is titled “Day of Battle” and is set in North Africa.
I understand you’re working on a new book with Crossway as well. Can you tell us about it?
The book, Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places was released at the end of May 2014. It is my journal entries drawn from 8 regions of the world (about 20 countries). Once again, it tells of our great God’s unstoppable Gospel! You can read reviews of it here and here.