Game-changing set frames lives transformed by Jesus

The third season in the popular Jesus the Game Changer video series harnesses the artistry of the set-builders for the Lord of the Rings films to create an amazing replica of 12th-century London church, St Dunstan-in-the-East.

In the first two seasons, host Karl Faase travelled to 14 countries interviewing more than 80 faith leaders about the life and teachings of Jesus, and how people braved danger and death to spread his message over all the earth.

But locked down in Sydney last year, the irrepressible CEO of Olive Tree Media came up with the idea of recreating St Dunstan’s beautiful interior in Sydney as a way of framing interview material left over from the first two series.

“My wife had taken some photos of it and we gave the photos to a group called GregSets. Now, people from GregSets have worked on shows like Lord of the Rings and they build massive sets. So they built a set that was about 12m long and 4m wide as a reproduction of the windows and sandstone walls of St Dunstan,” Faase tells Eternity.

“And that became the set to do all the links for the new season. So each episode tells the story of one or two people we’d already interviewed but retelling the story of their life and their experiences of faith.”

“Here are stories of a whole bunch of people who, one life at a time, have been changed by Jesus.”

The new series, called One Life at a Time, reflects the reality that Jesus changed the world one life at a time. “And here are stories of a whole bunch of people who, one life at a time, have been changed by Jesus.”

All inspiring and courageous testimonies, they include Billy Kim from South Korea; Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, who were jailed in Iran for distributing Bibles; Hassan John, a church leader from Nigeria; and Eddie Arthur, a Bible translator from the UK – all game-changers in their various fields.

Having the beautiful set allowed the producers to do something new in adding extra overlay in photos and pictures on the set’s three plinths.

“So while it looks like a 12th-century church, there are all these modern images on these plinths as well,” says Faase.

These innovations came in useful while telling the story of Jessie Fubara-Manuel from Nigeria, who related the work of Scottish missionary Mary Slessor in her home country.

“I said, ‘Look, the church has exploded in Nigeria. What happened?’ And then she said, ‘Well, after the civil war,’ and then just goes on to answer the question, but she never actually says what the civil war was about. So, because we add pieces-to-camera in the middle, I was able to give a background to the civil war – when it happened, why it happened, that it was one of the bloodiest civil wars in global history, in which a million people died.”

The story unfolds that when Mary Slessor arrived in Nigeria in 1876, she was horrified to discover the traditional West African superstition that saw twins as evil, which meant that twins would often be abandoned in forests.

“So Mary Slessor would go out of Calabar, which was a safe city that all the missionaries tended to stay in, into the northern parts, into the smaller villages and basically go into these forests and drag out twins to save them,” says Faase.

“We interviewed Jessie Fubara-Manuel in Edinburgh, where she was doing a PhD in theology. And as she tells a story of Mary Slessor and her own story, I’m able to fill out the story a bit in pieces-to-camera.”

A remarkable example of a life transformed by Christ is that of Billy Kim, who acted as translator for legendary American evangelist Billy Graham when he went to Seoul in 1973 and spoke to one of the largest crowds ever gathered – 1.1 million people.

“The key about the Billy Kim story is that he grew up poor and he would hang around with American soldiers and became one of their houseboys,” Faase explains.

“They would clean their boots and then they gave them chocolate. Anyway, one particular soldier, Sergeant Carl Powers – who wasn’t a Christian – took a shine to Billy Kim and decided he wanted to pay for him to go to America, to give him an education.

“So he said to one of his mates, ‘If I sent him to a school in America, where should I send him?’ And one of the GIs said, ‘Oh, [evangelist] Bob Jones has started a school. Why don’t you send him there?’ So he ends up in the Bob Jones school, which is a very conservative Christian college. He becomes a Christian at the school, gets married and goes into ministry there, but then goes back to Korea and there’s his whole life story – he’s had this huge influence across South Korea and it’s a beautiful story.”

“She found herself running in thongs, with her disabled father in a wheelbarrow, for months and months and months.”

Another extraordinary tale is the “impossible love” of Craig and Medine Keener. Craig, an American writer and Bible commentator, met Medine from central Africa while they were both students at Duke University in North Carolina.

“She went from there to finish her PhD in Paris. And then she went from Paris back home to Congo Brazzaville, but she landed in the middle of a civil war,” says Faase.

“She ended up writing Craig Keener a letter, just as a friend, saying, ‘Pray for me – the rebels are at the edge of my building. I’m really not sure what’s going to happen.’ And then she found herself running in thongs, with her disabled father in a wheelbarrow, for months and months and months to save her life and to save her family in danger.

“Imagine going from studying a PhD in Paris to that! Craig Keener was desperate to find out what had happened to his friend Medine and he just couldn’t find out. He even said to friends, ‘I should go over and look.’ And they said, ‘That’s a really dumb idea, don’t do that.’ Anyway, about 18 months later, he gets a letter. ‘I’m Medine – I’m alive!'”

After that revelation, the pair started talking via the new invention of the internet, which led to their eventual marriage and shared life at Asbury University, outside Lexington, Kentucky. Together they’ve written a book called Impossible Love.

“We’re redeeming some of the people like Richard Johnson, who was on the First Fleet, and Lachlan Macquarie.”

As enthusiastic as Faase is about this third season, he’s most excited about the one he’s filming right now, which he calls possibly his “favourite child”.

Faith Runs Deep is shot around Australia and tells the story of the Christian influence in Australia including some of the great stories of faith within our nation. It is intended to have an evangelistic tone rather than being aimed at Bible study groups,

“Hopefully, we’re redeeming some of the people like Richard Johnson, who was on the First Fleet, and Lachlan Macquarie, some of the early missionaries like Lancelot Threlkeld and Indigenous missionaries, all the way through to modern-day stories as well.”

Production of this series, which features the iconic 6-litre V8 black ute as a linking “character”, was going well until Delta pandemic lockdowns put a halt to planned filming in the west and north of the country.

“We’ve actually stopped filming and we’ve got enough for 10 episodes. So we’re going to release six early next year and then the rest in about April.”

Jesus the Game Changer Season 3 is only available on the new Watch+ streaming platform which is part of Olive Tree Media. The series is available to stream here.