Elizabeth Schenkel is a leading voice in Jesus Film Project®, screenwriter of the “Rivka” series, and executive producer of the animated short film “Chosen Witness,” an animated film based on the Easter story.
She brings the richness of her life in missions and ministry to each product she creates. Over the years, Elizabeth has written a number of thoughtful Easter messages for the Jesus Film Project® audience. We have compiled them here, and have included an interview Elizabeth did about creating “Chosen Witness.”
Bringing Easter to life in “Chosen Witness”
Holly Newell had the privilege of talking with Elizabeth about how her reflections on the Easter story shaped her work on “Chosen Witness.” This interview is full of wisdom, and some fun behind-the-scenes information on how “Chosen Witness” came together.
Holly: Elizabeth, your heart for those who have never heard of Jesus's love is an inspiration to so many of us. When did you first realize the power of Jesus could change lives?
Elizabeth: God first demonstrated His power to me when He began to change my mother's life. Her struggle with mental illness had alienated me from my family and the church when I was a teenager. I remember the first time she called me after her life had been dramatically changed by Jesus. I knew something had happened before she even told me. Her voice sounded different. She sounded free. I came to faith just a few months later. Although her struggle continued after that first touch, it was of a different magnitude. She walked progressively into health and wholeness and I am forever grateful to have been a witness of her transformation. To this day when I think of her, I have to pause and reflect on the greatness of our God!
Holly: Jesus took special care to elevate women and children while He was here on earth. You have the same passion. What fuels your passion?
Elizabeth: I have been privileged to live and work in a number of countries and cultures around the world. In each place I have gotten to know extraordinary women and men. The thought of those dedicated servants of Jesus, having witnessed their compassion, their commitment, and their sacrifice to bring the good news to their people continues to motivate me. During this season of my life, I want to create the best possible tools for them, tools that accelerate their mission and expand their audience. I love bringing together the extraordinary generosity of American believers, and our Jesus Film donors, with the extraordinary courage of my sisters and brothers serving God in difficult places. Together, we can change the world!
Holly: Your latest project, "Chosen Witness," is a unique look at the Easter story—tell us about it.
Elizabeth: How much time do you have? This is a wonderful project! We are working with two superstars in the world of animation, Barry Cook, the director of Disney's animated "Mulan," and Dom Carola, special effects director of Disney's animated "Aladdin." Together with their talented animators, they have created a vivid nine-minute film about Jesus's ministry, death, and resurrection, from Mary Magdalene's perspective. Isn't it amazing that God chose Mary, a woman, to be the first witness, His "Chosen Witness," to Christ's resurrection! The film takes you to first-century Palestine, with an authentic cast, a rich physical environment, and a moving original musical score. You have to see it! "Chosen Witness" allows anyone to share the substance of the good news in just nine minutes!
Holly: It's been a wild year! What encouragement do you have for the Jesus Film community during this extraordinary season for the church and the world?
Elizabeth: Our God is a Redeemer! He takes everything, the good, the bad, the ugly, and turns it all for good. I would encourage everyone to step back for a moment, take a deep breath, and ask God to open your eyes to what He is doing during this challenging time. We are seeing greater responsiveness on the part of people whom we would normally expect to be closed to the gospel because of the pandemic. God is at work. We just need to discover what He is up to and join Him in His work! He is not fretting or panicked and on the other hand, His compassion and understanding for our suffering and the suffering of those we want to reach is breathtaking. There has never been a better time to be alive and serving God than right now!
Easter reflections from Elizabeth Schenkel
Over the years, Elizabeth has written a number of Easter-focused reflections. Here they are!
The story of Margarette
When I was brand new in my faith, I met an older woman named Margaret. Margaret’s face always seemed to be lit up with the love of God. The light of the resurrection, new life, and hope came glowing through her when she entered a room.
In my youthful naiveté, I assumed that since Margaret was such a joyful person, she must surely have a wonderful and easy life. Imagine my surprise when I learned that she was married to a confirmed alcoholic, a difficult man. I began to look more closely at her face and listen more closely to her words and I could see small signs of her suffering from time to time. I heard it in her prayers for her husband. I saw it in her compassion and activism on behalf of others who suffered. She wasn’t hiding her suffering. She was navigating through her difficult life with faith—faith in Jesus’ resurrection.
Margaret surrendered herself to the light. She prayed, she gave thanks, she even rejoiced in her suffering. Her light shone into the darkness of her husband’s alcoholism and that darkness only brightened the light within her. I pondered about how she could be so joyful in spite of her difficult life.
The nature of the light that is within believers is of the resurrection. We have within us a light that cannot be extinguished by anything in this world. Not even death itself can extinguish this light. Our light is Jesus and He has overcome every kind of darkness and death that the enemy and this world will ever have. Darkness cannot overcome His light.
My family moved away from the town where Margaret lived and we lost touch. Years later I saw a mutual friend and asked how Margaret was doing. My friend was delighted to tell me that, after 20 years of resisting the good news, Margaret’s husband surrendered his life to the Lord and was empowered to stop drinking. God gave Margaret and her husband a couple years of faith together before he died. Through it all, dear Margaret helped countless people come to know their Savior. She is shining today in God’s presence.
Celebrating Jesus here and now
By the time our first Easter in Central Asia rolled around, we had been living there for eight months. We had endured our first winter and were thrilled to see the cherry trees that lined our street begin to bud and blossom. The blossoms promised warmer days but also were harbingers of fresh fruit on the way! One of the biggest adjustments living in the former Soviet Union was the lack of fresh fruit all winter long. We could buy aged apples at the bazaar, or expensive bananas, but no other fruit.
However, we had been harvesting another, more lasting kind of fruit. People had been coming to Christ through the long winter months! As Easter approached, our church planned to celebrate by baptizing the new believers. A friend of ours had a small, square in-ground pool in their backyard and our church gathered in their yard after service on Easter.
We were so moved as we watched a dozen men, women, and teenagers step down into the water, give voice to their newfound faith in Christ, and go under the waters of baptism. Baptism is always moving but proved even more so when witnessing this important moment in a country where a commitment to Christ could cost a person their job, their placement at a university, conflict or even injury at the hands of family members. We were awe-struck.
This was also a joyful occasion! We sang. We clapped. We rejoiced together on that day. We felt we were getting a taste of the angelic joy spoken of in the Scriptures. The potential cost of these commitments helped us see and reflect on the value of Christ’s death and resurrection. The courage and joy written on the faces of our brothers and sisters as they rose up out of the waters inspired us. We were witnesses to the transformation that the good news of the kingdom of God brings.
Around the world this Easter, there will be baptisms like the one we witnessed 20 years ago. There are many places where a profession of faith in Christ is still costly. As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, let’s not forget to pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering persecution for His Name’s sake. And let us thank God for our freedom and take full advantage of it, sharing the good news of new life in Christ with our family, friends, and co-workers in the power of the Holy Spirit and see what God will do!
Why do you seek the living among the dead?
We helped bury so many friends during our eleven years in Central Asia. Reliable statistics are hard to come by in that corrupt environment, but it sure seemed like people died a lot younger there. And they didn’t attempt to gild death. We buried people quickly, usually on the same day, because the body, washed and dressed at home by family members, would begin to stink.
The body could be viewed laid out in a simple pine box before the funeral began. A family member would nail the coffin closed at the cemetery. The coffin was lowered with ropes into a deep hole in the red, sandy soil. All the mourners would file by and throw a clod of dirt on top of the coffin. In the end, the closest male members of the family would pick up shovels and finish filling up the grave.
Death was all very real and un-retouched.
That was how it was when Jesus died. Real. Irrevocable. Devastating. Or so they thought.
But imagine the disciples’ utter shock when they found the tomb empty and then saw the risen Christ with their own eyes! A stunning moment! “Death was swallowed up in victory.” Because Jesus died, just like the rest of us! Just like all of our friends in Central Asia died. And dead is dead. But then he did something unheard of: He conquered death. He was not only resurrected, he remains resurrected. He lives now at the right hand of the Father, interceding…for us!
That is Good News! As they say in Russian on Easter Sunday: Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Happy Resurrection Day!
Check out Chosen Witness
Why not take ten minutes to watch “Chosen Witness” and discover the story of a woman (Mary Magdalene) whose life is dramatically transformed by Jesus.