They came at dusk from the fields and the bushes. Wrapped in thin fabric. Adorned with beads. Barefooted. They came to see and hear "JESUS." Curious, they came to hear Him speak their language, the language of their hearts – Daasanach.
Herding cattle and goats in the desert-lands of Southwest Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan, the Dassanach are a pastoral people. In one hand they hold sticks to prod and guide their herds, with the other they sling AK-47 rifles over their shoulders. They kill one another, clan against clan, shepherd against shepherd, to protect what is theirs. They live in fear, set on revenge.
But last night, they came to see "JESUS." They laid aside their conflicts and watched together. At first they chatted through the movie, discussing what they saw. I noticed they pointed and reacted to the tempting snake approaching Jesus in the wilderness—perhaps because in their lonely way of life, they too, had seen snakes slithering in the desert, looking for a weak spot to strike. And as the movie played, they grew to recognize the man, Jesus, as more than a man. They came to hear God’s heart-call to them: "I want to know you. Come, know Me."
Somewhere near the middle of the film, I started to walk around the perimeter of the crowd of about 600 to snap some pictures. I wanted to catch their reactions to Jesus’ miracles—when He fed a crowd much larger than this with just five loaves and two fish, or when He touched the widow of Nain’s son and brought him back to life, or when He cast the legion of demons out of the man by the lake and sent them into a herd of pigs. I wondered if they would smile or gasp or laugh. They didn’t react like I expected. They stayed still. Eyes fixed. Watching.
But in my walking and snapping photos, I attracted a following. Little Daasanach children approached me with a flurry of words I couldn’t understand, pointing at my beaded bracelets and earrings. I greeted them with a "hello" and an outstretched hand, which they tentatively took and squeezed. I loved the feel of each weathered, dusty hand in mine. They giggled and shrugged their shoulders at my inability to speak words they understood.
I tried to refocus their attention to the screen, wanting them to see Jesus, not me. But they remained fascinated. I was a novelty—a white-skinned woman they could touch and poke. So I tried to interact with them. Pointing to their beads and earrings, I said simple words like "pretty" and "nice," and held out my hands for them to handle. I wanted to know them and wanted them to know me. But language stood between us.
Ultimately, I wanted them to know Jesus.
At the crucifixion scene the crowd became noticeably quiet. And, as is customary in Southern Africa, the national coordinator for Jesus Film in Ethiopia, Fekedu, stopped the film to explain the invitation to come to Jesus. "You've seen Jesus. He's the Son of God. He died to pay for your sins. Do you want to belong to Jesus? Then come forward."
They came forward. The whole crowd. Each one. Just like they came when we set up the equipment as curious onlookers, now they came forward as seekers of Jesus. The local believers among us said with confidence, "We are seeing a spiritual breakthrough in the midst of the village." Fekedu restarted the projector, and the people got to see the power of the resurrection—Jesus is the One who conquers fear and death. And in the end, 79 Daasanach registered their names as those who want to learn to follow Jesus.
What a beautiful night. The Daasanach, a people known by God, most of whom walk in darkness, have now come to the light. They have "JESUS" in their heart language. This is just the beginning. Now the local Christians will get to work, confirming and affirming the seeds of faith, planting churches with the new disciples.
And soon, many—maybe all—Daasanach will come to Jesus.
Jesus Film Project’s® Mission 865, seeks to reach the last 865 languages with 50,000 speakers around the world. The Daasanach language was one of them. You can be part of the completion of showing films in others’ languages, by participating on a Jesus Film Mission Trip™.