Film Brings Thousands to Faith in Malawi

Posted on April 3, 2013


By David Ettinger

Caption: Sandy Mahone shares a moment with some Malawian women.

When First Orlando members Bob and Sandy Mahone, along with fellow member Barbara Jordan, were looking for a part of the world to help reach, Malawi was a natural fit. “The three of us, as well as a couple from Iowa [Ernie and Marlene Bruns], prayed about being a part of a new [translation] of the JESUS film,” said Bob, who along with Sandy is an associate staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ, the maker of the JESUS film. “Instead, the opportunity arose to be a part of a translation of a film called Magdalena in the Chichewa language.” Chichewa and English are the official languages of Malawi.

The movie, Magdalena: Released From Shame, is the story of Mary of Magdalene and what she may have experienced walking with Jesus during His public ministry. Through her eyes, this film portrays how Jesus values women by focusing on historical accounts of His interactions with them. In 2007, Magdalena debuted in 22 countries with more than 300 showings in theaters, churches, private homes, city centers, remote villages and prisons across Central Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. Magdalena is an adaptation of the 1979 JESUS film, which has been viewed more than 6 billion times.

Though Magdalena had already been released in about 15 languages, the Chichewa translation is the first for East Africa. The Mahones, Brunses and Barbara Jordan financed the dubbing and the overall translation of the film into the Chichewa language. The recording took place in Malawi and those used in the recording were Malawian Christian women leaders. The recording was then brought back to Orlando for post-production.

Caption: Malawian Christian women’s leaders praise God before the showing of Magdalena.

For Sandy it was evident that God was in every step of the project. “Not only did we pray for the film and language we were going to be a part of, but we also prayed that God would provide the exact people He wanted for the voices,” she said. “We felt it was very important that the women who did the voices were women who loved Jesus. It was amazing seeing God’s hand in this.”

Beyond sponsoring the film, the team of five also had the privilege of attending the premiere of the newly translated Magdalena in Malawi’s capital city of Lilongwe in November-December of 2008. “The launch was in a large auditorium with several hundred dignitaries as well as church and organizational leaders,” Bob said. “The women who did the voices were also there.”

The launch was exciting, but it was what happened over the next few nights that highlighted the Mahones’ trip to Malawi. “That’s when we went out into the villages to show the film,” Sandy said. “People came from all over.”

Audiences ranged from 300 in a night to 2,000. “The people were everywhere, and they responded positively to the film,” Bob said.

In fact, on the first night alone, 155 people came forward to make a commitment to Christ. “The amazing part is that those who came forward were equally divided among men, women and children,” Bob explained. “That surprised us because the film focused on women.”

There is a reason for the film’s feminine vantage point. “You have to realize that in many of these countries, women are not treated as they are here [in the States],” Sandy said. “The whole purpose of the film was to show these women how special they are and that God loves them as much as He loves men. During the film you could actually sense the men thinking to themselves, We’ve treated women like that [badly]. All those men coming forward … it was just amazing.”

In fact. the reaction to all the showings was amazing. “There was such an openness toward the gospel,” Bob said. “Many Christian women’s groups in Lilongwe had been working for weeks preparing people for the film. Over and over again the women doing the organizing kept making one comment in particular: ‘This is just what we needed.’ ”

“I had never seen so many women on fire for Jesus and coming together as one,” Sandy added, regarding the Christian groups who prayed for and helped organize viewings of the film. “Because of their zeal to reach the unsaved, we saw tremendous things happen.”

Caption: From left, Ernie and Marlene Bruns, Barbara Jordan, and Sandy and Bob Mahone present the Chichewan translation of Magdalena to a Campus Crusade For Christ leader in Malawi.

And “things” didn’t stop when the Americans returned to the States; Magdalena has continued to be shown throughout the country. “Since we’ve been home, we have been receiving great reports,” Sandy said. “In fact, the week after we left, the film was taken into Mozambique — we just thought it was going to stay in Malawi. It was clear God had other plans.”

Those plans included continued outreach in Malawi, but on a much larger scale. “After we left, the women’s groups planned for months for a huge women’s outreach in June,” Bob said. “It was called the ‘Magdalena Outreach’ and lasted for three weeks. They showed the film at night and led studies during the day. The film was shown throughout Lilongwe and the surrounding villages. When the outreach was over, more than 120,000 women had seen the film!”

Caption: Organizers set up the screen for a showing of Magdalena in a Malawian village.

Of that number, 89,000 made professions for Christ. “When we heard that, it completely choked us up,” Bob said. “We consider this project one of the greatest things God has allowed us to be involved with.”

“But you know what?” Sandy added. “It doesn’t stop there. We keep getting reports about great things happening. The reception of the people who see the film is amazing; God has prepared their hearts and they have been responding.”

The level of Malawian acceptance of both the film and the gospel is something the Mahones could not have conceived when they first caught the vision for the small East African nation (20 percent smaller than Pennsylvania geographically). For Sandy, it was a lesson learned about the power of God. “Once God puts something on your heart, go for it! Don’t ignore it. We know we could never have done this on our own; this was something only God could have done.”