...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Everybody knows of missionaries. We may support them financially, with prayers, or maybe are friends with some who visit during their rare breaks from the field. But amid the plush comforts and seemingly self-sustaining culture of the U. S., it’s easy to forget the work of these servants of Christ.
People say the world is shrinking and international awareness is in vogue, but Americans, perhaps more than the people of other cultures, are still lost in their own world, defined by the borders around their land of plenty—plenty money and religion. Americans need a wakeup call, and Dispatches from the Front offers just that.
This documentary series of seven episodes (each 50-60 minutes) features the experiences of Frontline Missions’ Tim Keese as he travels the world, visiting missionary outposts. As Keese says in his introduction to Episode 1, the ambassadors for the Gospel that he meets on these dark continents aren’t only engaged in “a war on poverty and persecution.” Even more, their work is “God’s kingdom going forth” and “shattering darkness.”
If doing missions is fighting a battle in the war, then Dispatches is a strategic attack on the enemy. Presented by the laid-back Keese, the narrative of his journeys is subtly hard-hitting, despite his soft delivery and thoughtful language. This film series stands above other similar documentaries thanks to Keese’s writing, which is articulate and surprisingly poetic.
No dry or merely factual account here, as Keese narrates the videos of his travels in his own words, which are those of creative nonfiction, an art form that Keese exemplifies well. As a result of Keese’s creative skill, the documentary comes to life like a compelling story, but one that is unforgettably real.
Because Keese shares personal thoughts, reactions, and even doubts as he travels, the detachment that is often easy for viewers to maintain when watching a documentary is rendered impossible. Viewers go with Keese as he plunges into the often-frightening world of the people the missionaries serve. The children, war victims, abused women, destitute immigrants—these and others for once become more than these descriptors, emerging as individuals with faces, names, and stories, images that will be indelibly fixed in the minds of viewers.
The impact and smoothness of Keese’s narrative is enhanced by solid camerawork and a few embellishing techniques in editing. The minimal soundtrack is also of high quality, and the filmmakers use it sparingly, maximizing the impact when music does support the action.
It’s due to Keese’s writing, however, that this film doesn’t fall into being so dark as to end in despair. While seeing the grim problems that exist in the world is necessary and helpful, Keese balances those realities with constant reminders of the hope of the Gospel.
There is sadness for Keese when he sees the hurting, but it’s contrasted with his great joy at meeting brothers and sisters in Christ who are working to alleviate suffering and further God’s kingdom. Nevertheless, the issues that are confronted in this series (including sex and drug trafficking) are intended for mature audiences, so parents should carefully consider whether or not their kids are ready for such topics.
Perfect for small groups or Sunday education classes (each DVD includes a discussion guide), Dispatches doesn’t just make missions more real, it brings the world closer and renders its impoverished, depraved, Gospel-thirsty people as vital and reachable as your next-door neighbor.
Without overtly asking for anything from viewers, Dispatches sounds as a battle cry to join the advance of God’s kingdom. The battle is the Lord’s, and we are called to fight in it, not thoughtlessly from the distant safety of our air-conditioned houses, but from the very front lines.
Check out these similar titles:
Beyond the Gates of Splendor (Bearing Fruit Entertainment, 2002)
Eric Liddell: Champion of Conviction (Christian History Institute, 2007)
Agent Abbey (Vision Video, 2005)