[notice]In April Jeff and Anneen Davies left behind their comfortable suburban life in Cape Town and began a motorcycle safari through Africa and the Middle East to make a documentary film about Muslims and the Gospel. Yesterday, and 21 000km later, we conducted a Q & A with them (via email) in Kenya.[/notice]
Who are Jeff and Anneen?
I’m just like every other middle class South African churchgoer. Before we started on this adventure I was involved in my home church, played bass in the worship team, homegroup, my social circle was largely based on church friends. I worked a 8-5, Monday to Friday job. Newly married, enjoying weekends away with my wife. Sometimes we build a comfort bubble around ourselves.
I spend most of my life in Cape Town, but also some of my childhood in the UK. I studied at UCT and settled into a career in the IT industry but over the years developed a passion for film production. A few times flirting with the idea of maybe starting a production company or finding other ways to devote more of my time to film making.
Back in 2013 I followed my girlfriend to East London and convinced her to marry me.
I grew up in East London, RSA. I have always loved being outside, being sporty and trying new things. I grew up dreaming about travelling the world and imagining doing strange and wonderful things. I think I decided I wanted to be a missionary when I was about 16 years old. After I finished high school I lived in Israel for a year and then returned to RSA and studied geology at Stellenbosch University. After graduating in 2008 I had a string of jobs in the industry until I resigned to do this project with my husband. Although I enjoyed being a geologist and find it very interesting, I was never really fulfilled in my career and was always looking for something more.
How did the adventure start? And how far down the track are you?
About 5 years back I tackled my first longer format film project. Looking back the end result is a little embarrassing, but everyone has to start somewhere. Since then my passion for film production has grown and I’ve had some great opportunities over the years. I suppose I’m fortunate in that as my passion grew, technology became much more affordable and many barriers became less significant. Over the past 2 years specifically I’ve been grappling with how film is used in the Kingdom. I think it’s often under-utilised and there is a massive potential for growth. Film has the potential to speak to someone in ways that sermons and lectures cannot. People naturally gravitate towards a good story and for me, at least, film is the ultimate way to tell a story. I want to see Christian filmmakers using their gifts to speak to people, to encourage people, to get people off their seats… This is what this project was born out of. In a way it’s me telling God I’m willing to take his calling seriously.
At the beginning of 2014 I started, with Anneen, scripting a few different concepts for a long format documentary aimed at mobilising the church. At the time we probably didn’t really know what that meant so we spent a lot of time asking God what it means to mobilise the church and asking Him what was the message that He wanted to bring. I think in total we outlined about 12 different potential topics and tried to develop them to the point where we could decide whether it was feasible or not. We tried to seek guidance from God and also sought advice from trusted mentors.
In the end we settled on the topic “Do Muslims come to Christ?”. I think there is currently a lot of fear of Islam in Christian circles and it’s a group that people are too afraid to engage. I think fear is something that cripples people. It does exactly the opposite of mobilise. Through this film we want to show people that there is no need to fear Muslims. God doesn’t fear Muslims, He loves them. That should be our response too.
We really wanted the film to show what God was doing on a more global stage. So we really felt like we needed to travel a bit in order to do the topic justice. This film would probably fall into the no-budget or micro-budget indie film category so we didn’t really have a budget to fly around to the various destinations we wanted to. So we decided to marry the project with another passion of ours. We decided to overland across Africa in order to reach the various destinations that we had hoped to visit. The result is a route starting in our home in South Africa and ending in the Middle East. Again for, predominantly, financial reasons we are travelling on small (Honda XR125s) motorcycles. It is prohibitively expensive to take vehicles into Egypt. The cost is linked to the value of the vehicle. As a result we opted for the cheapest bikes that we thought would make it.
We have currently traveled about 21 000km, visited 11 countries and filmed in more than 20 locations. We’ve had opportunities to meet many Muslim background converts, missionaries in primarily Muslim areas, Imams, Sheikhs and experts in Muslim evangelism. We, ourselves, have learnt a lot about Islam and the culture surrounding Muslims.
Currently we’re in Kenya and we hope to settle in Israel for around 4-6 months to focus on post-production. We’re also hoping that that will be a convenient base to visit some of the Israel friendly Islamic countries in that area. Our original route had us passing from Kenya to Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and then Israel. But issues in crossing from Egypt into Israel have meant we are now considering other options, such as passing Saudi Arabia. It would be really interesting to visit the home of Islam (Saudi Arabia) and also the home of Christianity (Israel), although if you’re familiar with the politics you’ll know that there would be issues in doing so.
What have been some of the greatest challenges/highlights/transformational moments?
There’s been many! I think from a film production point of view I don’t think people realise how much work goes into the project behind the scenes. For each interview there’s been a number of emails and face to face meetings trying to establish whether this person is willing to appear in our film. Just this week we spent time with a professor of Islamics in a university here in Nairobi. It was great to meet him and spend time with him but unfortunately coordinating schedules don’t always work. Is that wasted time? I don’t think so, you still need to pursue every opportunity. Also we’ve met up with one of the police officers first on site at the Westgate Mall shooting back in 2013. He’s happy to be interviewed by us but first we need permission from his supervisors. I’m still not sure if that interview will come through. Not to mention all the work that needs to go into fundraising and promoting our project. All of this can be challenging while on the road.
From a more personal point of view this project puts us in touch with a number of people in very difficult situations. It can be very difficult to consolidate my duties as a filmmaker but also my duties as a human being. Sometimes we would love to be able to reunite a family after someone has been rejected because of converting to Christianity or help a refugee get a visa but in reality there is only so much we can do. That being said I think it’s important for Christians to be in situations that take them out of their comfort zones and makes them more reliant on God.
A transformational moment that comes to mind was when we were in Pemba spending time with Iris Ministries. We were lucky enough to be there whiles Heidi and Roland Baker where there and I was excited to shoot some footage with them. They are quite busy, so the only time we could shoot with them was over a weekend. However that weekend also marked the end of Ramadan. We had another opportunity to spend time with some Muslims and celebrate Eid. In the end we had to forfrit the opportunity with Heidi and Roland. At the time it was really disappointing as the opportunity to have someone famous in the film could help raise the profile. But God reminded me that it was His message that He wanted to bring and that He might choose to use Heidi to bring the message or He might choose a homeless person to bring the message. That was a revelation to me. In the end we did manage to shoot some footage with Heidi, but just not what we had in mind. Sometimes you need to realise that God is in charge and not you!
For me personally the motorcycle started out as a challenge. I got my full motorcycle driver’s licence the day before we left East London. Needless to say I was not the most experienced rider. We had some tough riding early on in the trip. One day particularly comes to mind where we had to ride 70km through thick river sand. It was the first time I ever rode in sand, it was very hot, we were running out of water and I had been vomiting the night before. It was a really tough day. There were a few moments that I thought I would just lie down and give up but I made it and it is actually now one of my favorite memories from the trip so far. I am a much better rider now as well :).
A highlight for me was visiting Iris Ministries in South Sudan. Just being in South Sudan was incredible. The country is a war zone and it is so underdeveloped. People really suffer there. It was so humbling to see how people get on with their lives in those conditions and it was really great being at the Iris Children’s home. Spending time with the kids was very special and I really enjoyed learning about the history of Sudan. I felt really enriched by the experience and I cannot wait to visit Sudan as well next month.
To some extent the entire trip has been a transformational moment for me. There have been a few areas that I have really been focusing on in my personal life but I think the two things I have really been learning about this year is humility and trust. I feel like I have really been pushed to trust God and to discover what it really means to trust God. I have found that it is really easy to say that I trust God when I have a comfortable life that is set up and I get a salary every month (and I am really relying on myself). It is quite another thing to trust when there is no safety net. It has been a real adventure and I have seen time and again how faithful God is and how he provides everything that we need from food and accommodation to contacts.
Tell us more about the film?
“A Narrow Path” is a documentary film that looks at whether Muslims ever convert to Christianity and if they do what are the consequences that they face. Furthermore, the film explores the role that the church has to play in reaching Muslims as well as in supporting converts from Islam.
The film will be about 90min-120min and is an independent documentary. We’re not working for any particular organisation, but have partnered with a few missions organisation including Operation Mobilization, Iris Ministries, Equip Mozambique, Trans World Radio, Scripture Union and a few others. Although we have spent time with each of these organisations the film remains independent. The project is self-funded, mainly from our own savings, although we have received some donations from supporters.
The film will have three parts that play out simultaneously. The first is a type of travelogue of our experiences travelling through Africa, the people we meet and places we visit. We have labelled this part “Holy Spirit” as it is quite impromptu and as our plans change and adapt as we meet new people and God opens new doors for us.
The second part consists of formal interviews all shot in studio. We have labelled this part “Father God”. It tends to deal more with concepts, ideas and academics and explains and gives context to some of the experiences described in the first part.
The third part is a fictional narrative that we have labelled “Jesus”. This will be a story about a young Muslim man who is introduced to the Gospel and how that influences his life from there. This story will be based on some of the stories that we have heard along the way on our trip and in a way will mirror the documentary, bringing it to life in a way.
How can people get involved with the project?
We love it when people get involved and support what we are doing. People can get involved by following our progress on our Facebook page: http://facebook.com/anarrowpathmovie
We also have a website anarrowpathmovie.com
People can visit our website and sign up for our blog/newsletter that we usually send out once a month. This will keep that up to date with where we are and what has been happening. People can also feel free to email us directly.
We really appreciate prayers and seeing people interacting with the content that we post via Facebook and our website.
We have also been trying to raise a bit of extra funds over the last month to finish the project. It is possible to make a donation through our website or if you read this before midnight on the 1st of November through our crowdfunding campaign: http://thundafund.com/anarrowpathmovie
You can also pre-order the film and buy merchandise on our website.
Otherwise you would be really helping us by spreading the word. We believe we have a message worth sharing and hope to find an audience with it.