Paul Eshleman, Founder of the JESUS Film Project, Dies at 80

Photo from The Jesus Film Project on Instagram

Paul Eshleman, Founder of the JESUS Film Project, Dies at 80

By Movieguide® Staff

Paul Eshleman, best known for founding the JESUS Film Project, died on May 24, 2023. He was 80.

JESUS is now known as the most-translated movie in history since its founding in 1981. Eshleman began his career in evangelism as a staff member of Cru, previously known as Campus Crusade for Christ.

Cru reported:

In his early years at the organization, Eshleman directed EXPLO 72 in Dallas, Texas—an event that drew approximately 80,000 attendees from across America for training in sharing their faith in Jesus Christ.

A few years later, he directed the I Found It! campaign, which shared the Christian message with more than 200 American cities. An estimated 85% of all Americans were aware of the unique campaign and its message of spiritual hope.

But for Eshleman, these early successes were not enough. At that time, there were about 5,500 languages spoken on Earth and billions of people who had never been exposed to the Bible.

Eshleman stepped up to lead production of JESUS, a feature-length film based on the Gospel of Luke to convey the life of Jesus. After a nationwide debut in theaters, Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Cru, charged Eshleman with a goal to translate and dub JESUS into 163 languages. Today, the film is available in more than 2,000 language translations.

“Paul was a champion for the cause of Christ and challenged the Church to consider innovative ways to evangelize,” Steve Sellers, current Cru president, said of Eshleman.

Eshleman was also awarded two Movieguide® Awards by Movieguide® founder and publisher Dr. Ted Baehr for his work to share the gospel through the medium of film.

The original JESUS movie debuted in 1979 and has now been watched by over 10 million people of all different nationalities and tongues.

The renowned, award winning, Jewish filmmaker, John Heyman, was producing a visual translation of the Bible as several movies called the Genesis Project with Dr. Ted Baehr’s input and teamed up with Ted’s friend Bill Bright to edit out the JESUS FILM for theatrical distribution. Ted’s friend Barry Reardon, EVP of Distribution at Warner Bros. agreed to distribute it which saved Warner’s bottom line in 1979 and 1980. The Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala has honored The JESUS FILM several times, including when it achieved 1000 translations. Ted even got the pleasure of showing the movie to a remote Hmong tribe near the peak of the highest mountain on the border of Laos and Thailand. Ted notes, “The JESUS movie has led many people to Jesus Christ and has been accompanied by many miracles. I am grateful to have been able to have several connections with it over many years.

“We praise God for what He’s done through 2,000 translations of JESUS. Above all we look on with excitement at God’s boundless message and what He’ll do moving forward,” the Jesus Film Project website reads.

Eshleman is survived by his wife, Rena, two adult children and six grandchildren.

“We are strategists for Christ, thinking of new ways to reach people with the message of life.” –Paul Eshleman

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