Remembering Paul Eshleman

Paul Eshleman

Paul Eshleman, visionary behind the JESUS film and first executive director of Jesus Film Project.

Everyone, everywhere needs and deserves to feel His wonderful, tender, loving, merciful, healing, protecting, empowering and, oh so forgiving touch.”
–– Paul Eshleman

A Message from Steve Sellers, President of Cru

It is with deep sadness and great joy that I want to let you know that Paul Eshleman is in the presence of Jesus. He passed away Wednesday, May 24th, in Southern California.

We rejoice that, today, Paul is experiencing the very thing for which he was created, yet he will be missed by so many of us around the world to whom he was both a dear friend and a model of what it was like to be a disciple of Jesus.

Paul’s great faith in a compassionate, culture-penetrating, reconciling God compelled Him to face innumerable hurdles so the world could hear the story of Jesus. As he told the stories of what God was doing around the world he painted a picture of God’s heart that invited and motivated hundreds of thousands of believers to help fulfill the Great Commission.

God used Paul in so many ways during the course of his years on staff. He and his first wife Kathy were married for 50 years and faithfully served together before her death four years ago. The Lord then brought Rena into his life and they have been married since November 2020. 

While he is best known for founding and leading Jesus Film Project, he will also be remembered for spearheading EXPLO 72, directing the Finishing the Task movement and serving for years as the VP for Coverage within our ministry.

In each of these roles he played a significant part in helping to achieve our vision of populating the throne room of heaven. I am grateful that, today, he is able to see that reality first hand.

As you consider Paul and his life in the coming days, please pray for his wife Rena, his kids Jon and Jennifer and their families.

Steve Sellers
President of Cru*

*Jesus Film Project is a ministry of Cru, often known as Campus Crusade for Christ globally.

Celebrating Paul’s Life

Memorial Service
Date: July 22, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific Time
View the livestream here

Celebration of Life
Date: August 15, 2023 at 1 p.m. Eastern time
Location: Wycliffe Headquarters
11221 John Wycliffe Blvd, Orlando, FL 32832
View the livestream here

“One simply can’t capture in a few words the impact of Paul’s life. For so many of us, we can remember our own lives taking a different turn because God used Paul to call us to something bigger than ourselves. And it was his heart for everyone to know Jesus that compelled him.”
–– Josh Newell, executive director of Jesus Film Project

Paul’s Life and Ministry in Photos

“Nobody can take credit for these kinds of things. Nobody could work it out. God had to simply do it.”
–– Paul Eshleman

His Legacy

Paul Eshleman’s life was driven by a desire for everyone, everywhere to hear about the love of Jesus in their own language. Paul grew up going to church but turned his life fully over to Christ while attending Michigan State University. After graduating with a master’s in business administration, marketing and finance, he enrolled in Bible college in Miami and began sharing the gospel with students at the University of Miami using the “Four Spiritual Laws” booklet. 

In 1966, Paul joined staff at Cru (known then as Campus Crusade for Christ), co-founded by Bill and Vonette Bright. In his early years with the ministry, he led EXPLO 72 in Dallas, Texas—an event that drew approximately 80,000 attendees from across America to learn how to talk about their faith in Jesus. A few years later, he directed the I Found It! campaign, which shared the message of the gospel in more than 200 American cities. 

In 1976, at Bill Bright’s urging, Paul stepped up to lead production on the JESUS film, a feature-length movie based on the Gospel of Luke. The film premiered in the U.S. in 1979 in 250 theaters. Paul spent the next years of his life leading teams into major cities and remote regions of the world previously closed to Christians and the gospel to show the JESUS film. 

As executive director of Jesus Film Project®, Paul spearheaded the initiative to translate and dub JESUS into hundreds of languages. By the year 2000, the JESUS film was in 600 languages! But Paul is perhaps best known by his friends and co-laborers in Christ for his personal yet innovative approach to evangelism. Paul constantly sought out ways the gospel could become more accessible to everyone on Earth, spurring on the development of portable film screening equipment and adaptable dubbing technology. 

Today the JESUS film is the most-translated film of all time. It’s available in more than 2,000 languages and has been shown in 225 countries—many times on equipment that fits neatly in a backpack. And thanks to partnerships with local believers, recording teams can turn out a new translation of JESUS in a matter of days. Jesus Film Project’s library of films holds more than 200 short films designed to spark conversations about Jesus and aid believers in evangelism, discipleship and church planting wherever they are. Many of the films are available in hundreds of languages.

For many years Paul served as vice president of coverage for Cru, providing strategy and counsel and coordinating partnerships between Cru and other Christian organizations. He gave direction to the Finishing the Task Movement, which seeks to engage the last unengaged and unreached people groups of the world. He also authored several books, including The Explo Story: A Plan to Change the World (1972), The Touch of Jesus (2002) and I Just Saw Jesus: The JESUS Film (2016).

Paul died on May 24, 2023, in Southern California. He was 80 years old. He and his first wife Kathy were married for almost 50 years and served on Cru staff together before her death in 2019. Paul re-married in 2020 and is survived by his wife, Rena, two grown children, Jennifer and Jon, and six grandchildren.

Honoring Paul Eshleman’s Memory

Have you been touched or impacted by Paul’s life and ministry? You can honor his memory in a couple of ways.

1. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Animated Story of Jesus, a new Jesus Film Project initiative close to Paul’s heart.

Watch this video to learn more:

Memorial gifts may be sent to:
Jesus Film Project
Living Memorials: Paul Eshleman
27631 La Paz Rd., Suite A
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677-3917

2. Leave a message on our Facebook page. Leave your memories and stories of Paul or share your condolences for Paul’s family and friends.

Video Memories of Paul

Watch to hear powerful stories and learn more about Paul’s life and ministry.

“Only one life, twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
–– C.T. Studd

Thank you for remembering Paul’s life, ministry and legacy with us.
God bless you.