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Becoming “Disciples In The Moonlight”

Written by Brett Varvel on Jul 05, 2024 12:00 PM

Staring at the monitor, tears flooded my eyes, overcome watching an incredible performance. But I was also experiencing a moment that had previously only lived in my head for seven years. A moment I had dreamt of seeing became a reality. I dropped to my knees, joining Josh Strychalski on the ground. Not only had he just delivered the incredible, emotional performance, but he was also the man that wrote the dialogue. We looked at each other. Neither of us said much. The tears spoke more than words. “Seven years,” I said as I grabbed him and hugged him. We both cried as our dream was becoming a reality. 

In 2013, Josh came to me with an idea at a meeting of local filmmakers here in Indiana. As Josh pulled me aside, he had a glint in his eye, and I could tell he was excited. He explained that he had recently had a vision. While listening to the song “Clair de Lune,” he heard the sound of cornfields rustling in Indiana during autumn. The cornfield was bathed in moonlight when suddenly, he saw people running through it, chased by dogs and officials with guns. His vision transitioned to a group of people standing shoulder to shoulder in a line, silhouetted against the moonlight. After hearing gun shots, a simple question crept into his mind: “What if they were smuggling Bibles?”

Chills ran up and down my spine as Josh shared his vision. I was hooked. I wanted to see more. I wanted to know more. I encouraged Josh to chase the idea and see if it developed into a story. The next time we were together, Josh had not only developed the idea, but he now had a story with seven characters: “Disciples In The Moonlight.” The premise was simple: “What if the Bible was illegal?” 

Josh asked me to join him in bringing this story to life by serving as the director of this what-if scenario. It was an easy “yes” for me. Not simply because we were creating an action/suspense thriller. Not simply because it was a cool idea. But what made me want to be a part of this story was the question that crept into my mind after reading the script for the first time: “How would I respond?” 

I’ve been a follower of Jesus since I was five years old. I have been vocal in my career as an actor/director about my faith because Jesus transformed who I am. Granted, it’s easier to express your faith in the United States of America where we have the first amendment and religious freedom. I’m free to express my beliefs with absolutely no fear of persecution. The same cannot be said for others in parts of the world where they could be imprisoned for declaring that they are a Christian. Where they could be separated from their family for having a copy of the Bible. Where they are threatened by death because they won’t denounce the name of Jesus Christ.  

So, there I sat after reading Josh’s script, feeling incredible conviction. I couldn’t help but feel like my faith wasn’t as real or vibrant as people who face persecution. Philippians 1:27 says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.” This passage, which I have declared as my life verse to live by, resonated with the themes in “Disciples In The Moonlight” and challenged me to examine how far I would go for my faith.  

Finding Truth

For days after reading the script, I couldn’t shake the thoughts and questions. Maybe persecution will come to America one day; maybe not. But in other parts of the world, my brothers and sisters in Christ face these situations on a daily basis. Their response? Bold faith and joy. Joy to be considered disciples of Jesus. Joy to suffer in ways that Jesus suffered. Joy to carry out the gospel of Jesus no matter the cost.  

And then my focus shifts back to the American church and my heart breaks. I see such apathy. Suddenly, a new desire came flooding into my heart: to create this story as a love letter to the church of Jesus Christ and to introduce Jesus to those who don’t know him. To lift high the Word of God as absolute truth. 

I believe this movie needs to be seen by millions of people around the world as a way to examine their own faith: do I treasure the Word of God? Is there objective truth and objective morality? If so, where is it found? How far would I go for my faith? Now, some might think, “What you believe is what you believe. Keep your faith to yourself.” However, we are seeing a rise of Relativism in our culture. We are seeing a shift where people are trying to redefine truth. This is what Pontius Pilate asked Jesus just before Jesus’ crucifixion.  

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (John 18:37-38

Jesus is declaring that HE is truth. In John 1:1 it says, “In the beginning was the Word.” Throughout that chapter, the phrase “the Word” refers to the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Word, is truth. I believe that the entire Bible, which is ultimately a narrative of Jesus Christ and his desire to save humanity, is the source of all truth.  

If a society has no objective truth, then people can do whatever seems right to them. If there is no objective truth then who is to say that stealing is wrong, that lying is wrong, or that murder is wrong? In John 18, Jesus is reiterating to Pilate that He came to testify to what is true.  

So, where do we find truth? That’s right … the Bible. I believe the Bible is God’s love letter to humanity. It is how we can know how to navigate this life we have been blessed with. It is where we discover that because of our sin we are hopelessly lost and in need of a savior. It is where we discover that there is hope despite our dire circumstances. It is where we find there is a God who loves us and wants to give us eternal life!  

From Faith to the Screen 

This is why Josh and I were so passionate about this story. Sure, we put our creative spin on it, creating a movie we want to see with lots of action and suspense. But we also put a lot of heart into the story.  

Each day I would call to attention WHY we were making this movie. Not everyone on the set shared my faith and convictions. But they bought into the idea that this story delivers hope to people. We worked through our exhausting schedule knowing we were a part of a thrilling story that is bigger than us. It’s about the greatest story that’s ever been told—the gospel of Jesus Christ. For seven years, this story lived in my head and my heart.  

Being both in front of and behind the camera gave me a unique perspective throughout the making of this movie. I witnessed how my cast and crew were responding to the story, getting a glimpse at how it can impact people’s lives. I saw lives beginning to change. I saw people who didn’t believe start to become curious. I saw long-time followers of Jesus respond with a newfound gratitude for the Bible. I saw a community of people unite under a common goal to bring light and hope.  

And that is just the beginning of what I think audiences will experience. This is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. People say they forget they’re watching a “Christian film.” But what blessed my heart even more than audiences responding to the quality of the movie was seeing them ponder the truths they heard. I’ve heard about audience members wrestling with questions, characters, and situations days after seeing the movie.  

That night on set where Josh and I hugged and cried is one I will never forget. I knew we captured something that will outlive us both. This could be the start of a movement in our culture. An awakening where people would treasure the Word of God, where they would desire to live their life to know and glorify God. I believe non-Christians will also enjoy this movie as it asks questions that all of us must face before we leave this earth.  

Ultimately, I made this movie as an act of worship to my Savior. On the title page of our script, Josh quoted from Revelation 1, “For the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” We have done our best to steward this story and bring it to life. I pray that inspires people from all walks of life to encounter the life-changing power of the Word of God. 

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