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book review

Changed Lives: Miracles of 'The Passion'

By Chris Carpenter Producer - ANAHEIM, California -- According to a Barna Group research survey conducted last summer, 10 percent of the viewers who saw the movie “The Passion of the Christ” said that the film inspired them to change at least one aspect of their faith. Conversely, less than 0.1 percent said the movie led them to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior.

For all the talk that “The Passion of the Christ” was not a movie but a cultural phenomenon came these sobering statistics. Numbers don’t lie but can certainly be manipulated and molded into whatever one wants them to say.

One crucial aspect and perhaps the most telling one, is that the startling Barna survey does not place a human face upon the research. Yes, just 10 percent changed some aspect of their religion and only one tenth of one percent accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior due to the movie. But just how many people does that translate to? Crude math tells me that 0.1 percent could represent upwards of 750,000 to one million people who accepted Christ as a direct result of seeing “The Passion of the Christ”.

Award winning producer and documentary filmmaker Jody Eldred has successfully spearheaded a project designed to explore the powerful impact of Mel Gibson’s cinematic labor of love. Eldred has written a book, “Changed Lives: Miracles of 'The Passion'” (Harvest House), that is based on his documentary film of the same name. Each project’s sole intention is to highlight those people whose lives were remarkably changed after experiencing the power of “The Passion”.

At first glance, “Changed Lives” is a book from a documentary that is based on a major motion picture. But the book is so much more than a carbon copy rendering of what transpired on screen. Each story Eldred shares in the 169 page work is supplemented by his valuable commentary as well as various everyday people who weighed in with their thoughts via the Internet after watching his documentary.

At its core, “Changed Lives” is designed to be a book about miracles. Many skeptics question the potential for a movie such as “The Passion of the Christ” to even have the ability to perform miracles. Eldred agrees.

“Nothing can create a miracle except for God,” said Eldred, in a recent interview with “He is the creator of miracles. Just like someone who prays for healing for another person, they are not doing the healing. God is doing the healing. They are just the instrument. Likewise, the movie “The Passion of the Christ” is a vehicle for miracles. It is a mechanism that God is using to touch peoples lives, to change peoples lives.”

Serving as the book’s centerpiece is the amazing story of a young man who confessed to his girlfriend’s murder as a result of seeing “The Passion of the Christ”. Dan Leach had been carrying the enormous guilt of snuffing out another human life for several months. But he likely would never have been caught as the local authorities had all but ruled his girlfriend's death a suicide. After seeing the movie, Leach had a life changing encounter with God. The movie resonated something within him as he watched the thief who was suffering on the Cross beside Jesus. Dan was riveted as he watched Jesus say to the thief that despite all of the sins he had committed, because he believed, he would soon be with Jesus in paradise. Dan Leach wanted that. He too wanted to be with Jesus in paradise despite the horrendous sins he had committed. He asked God to change him. On August 13, 2004, Leach was sentenced to 75 years in prison. However, the almighty power of God, using “The Passion of the Christ”, has changed his life forever.

There are many other stories in “Changed Lives” that are just as powerful. Eldred was particularly moved by a story of several women in a Florida penitentiary who saw “The Passion of the Christ” during Easter weekend last year. Once again, lives that were thought to be broken and beyond repair were restored by the almighty hand of God reaching out to them through a movie.

“Just to see what has happened in these cold women’s lives, and when I say cold women’s lives I mean that they have made bad choices,” explained Eldred, who collected more than 70,000 stories of miracles that came from “The Passion”. “These women are murderers, robbers, and people with evil in their hearts. But they are people who Jesus died for. They are people just like me and you. They are in such terrible circumstances of their own making and to see them being able to have freedom even behind prison bars is just absolutely astounding. If God can do that He can do anything.”

From a personal standpoint, Eldred believes the process of shepherding a documentary and book project (both projects consumed just five weeks) based on such incredible acts of God changed him just as much as those he featured in “Changed Lives”. Despite spiritual warfare that pounded at his door each and every day, Eldred acquired a new sense of urgency in his faith through it all.

“I became really a lot more desperate for God,” shared Eldred. “Jackson Senyonga, a very famous African pastor has talked about a large problem in America. He says that we are not desperate for God. The church in Africa is growing so much because they are so desperate for God. We are not. I just really took that to heart. I decided that I want to be desperate for Him, like a man who is dying and He is the only one I can appeal to. This new way of living my faith has been just great … just to see His hand in my everyday. It took this project to help me realize this.”

I recommend this book for several reasons. First, as I have already mentioned earlier, Eldred places a human face on all the hype we have been hearing about in regard to “The Passion” for the last year. There has been much written and pontificated regarding the film’s impact or lack thereof during the recently concluded “Oscar Season”, most of it negative. Eldred provides readers with the real story -- remarkable, living testimonies that are refreshing to read. Secondly, I appreciate Eldred’s no-nonsense approach to storytelling. He does not get caught up in complex theology. Instead, he provides readers with the basic principles of the Gospel message while wrapping it around very real stories involving very real people. And finally, it is clear Eldred has not written this book for money or a desire to be loved by readers. He has written “Changed Lives” for one reason: to have God use him as a vehicle to do what his book title says … change lives.

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