From Passion to Mission: The Ministry of Bruce Marchiano
- Eva Marie Everson Contributing Writer
- 2005 10 Feb
I had just entered the world of CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) and my initiation included attending the international CBA Conference, held each year during the month of July. As I walked about the conference floor where hundreds upon hundreds (upon hundreds) of vendors (such as publishing houses, recording companies, designers of religious “hardware”), I couldn’t help but notice the larger-than-life images taken from the recently released movie, The Visual Bible; The Gospel According to Matthew. And, like most folks, I was captivated by the expression of the actor who portrayed Jesus, Bruce Marchiano.
“The Smiling Jesus,” I heard people saying. “He shows Jesus as a man of joy, rather than just the ‘man of sorrows.’” It seemed that this one creative move had set Marchiano apart from the ranks of actors Max von Sydow (George Stevens’s, The Greatest Story Ever Told) and Robert Powell (Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth).
A Personal Jolt
Some time later, while sitting in my usual place at my church, I listened to our praise and worship team while, on the overhead screen, scenes from the above-mentioned movie played. I will remember forever the scene of “Young Matthew,” sitting at his tax collector’s desk, looking up as “Jesus” approached him. The camera zoomed in on “Jesus’” face. It filled the screen…and there was something in the eyes…something that beckoned.
“Follow me,” he said, quoting Matthew 9:9.
My heart leapt as, immediately, “Matthew” stood…and followed. I was left to wonder, “Could I leave everything behind and follow the call of Jesus?”
Read the Book
A few months later, I began showing the movie to our home study group. We studied three or four chapters of scripture and then watch the corresponding scenes from the movie. As a gift, one of the couples gave me a book by Marchiano, In The Footsteps of Jesus; One Man’s Journey (Harvest House, 1997). Reading it, I came to realize that the actor probably understood better than many what it would mean to be in the shoes of the Disciples.
According to Marchiano’s story, it was obeying God’s call to missionary work in Australia that ultimately led to his acquiring the role of Jesus in Reghardt van den Bergh’s movie retelling the Gospel story…but not before nearly washing him up in Hollywood. With the role of Jesus now his to portray and after being out of work for so long, Marchiano wasn’t about to take his new role lightly. He studied the Scriptures as he went to the Lord in prayer, seeking to understand better the One he was about to portray.
Meeting the Man, Conducting an Interview
Having seen the movie and read a couple of his books, I was thrilled when I received the opportunity to meet Bruce Marchiano. Sure, I wanted to chat with him about the role he is most famous for, but even more about his work spreading the Gospel of Christ in Africa, the country in which the movie was shot, as well as his current heavy speaking and writing schedule.
For a few moments we sat at a table, sipping coffee and talking about his newest “passion,” sharing the love of God with a dying world.
Eva Marie: What was your first impression of Africa and how did it change after filming the movie?
Bruce: I just fell in love with Africa…I haven’t really seen much of Africa, just South Africa…but I fell in love with the place. It’s a different way of life; it’s a slower way of life—my speed. It’s changed and just like any change some of it is for the good and some not. It has become a harder place. Corruption is rampant. When I first went there, I thought “I’m going to move here.” If I didn’t have a family, my nephews and niece, I would have. But, not today. It’s just too dangerous. It’s heartbreaking.
Eva Marie: I was reading one of your stories about the day you were transporting a friend’s wife over there, when suddenly your car was surrounded.
Bruce: Yeah, the guys came out of the bush…people were getting killed right in front of my eyes. It’s hard to explain here in America. We don’t understand the level of security we have. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can call the police and they actually come. So, the Lord has had His hands covering me more than a few times in Africa.
Eva Marie: Yet you continue to go back. Have you gone back since that incident?
Bruce: Yeah, as a matter of fact, the last time I was there I almost got killed. I was attacked by two guys with knives and it’s a miracle that I’m alive to talk about it. You know, yeah, I do go back because there’s just nothing like watching a life changing before your eyes. Whether that’s an African life or an American life; a soul is a soul and I’ll go anywhere where there’s an open door…as long as the Lord gives me that open door.
Eva Marie: What did you expect life to be like after Matthew?
Bruce: Gee, I haven’t thought about that. So many years have passed in retrospect. (Ponders for a moment) I didn’t expect to be in this industry. I didn’t expect to be running around, sharing the Gospel of Christ. I expected…see, our plan was to put the whole Bible on film. When we completed Matthew, they asked me if I would be part of the production team as a writer and director, so I anticipated just leaving everything in terms of a secular career and putting the Bible on film. (Smiles) Obviously, it didn’t happen, but that’s what I had in mind.
Eva Marie: How did you know you were called to go back…this time in a different capacity…to Africa?
Bruce: That term, “called.” I don’t know if I ever had a sense of “calling.” I just went with the flow. There was an invitation on the table.
Eva Marie: How long was that after you returned to America?
Bruce: A year.
Eva Marie: And what did you do in that year?
Bruce: (Laughing) Tried to resurrect my acting. We spent three or four months filming Matthew and two months before that getting ready, so by the time I got back…it’s an out of sight/out of mind business. So, when I got back I had to seek the Lord and see what I had to do to resurrect my career. Then I had this invitation on the table to go back to Africa.
Eva Marie: Tell me more about Riekie van den Berg.
Bruce: (A huge smile spreads across his face as he pronounces the name correctly for me) It takes several years to learn to say her name. (Laughs). Riekie is an amazing lady. Riekie just has a heart for women and children, so she began a ministry. Once abortion was legalized in Africa, she began a ministry toward trying to help save those babies…toward trying to help the mothers. Riekie spends all day, every day, rescuing babies. Taking them out of trashcans and adopting them out and leading the mothers to the Lord. And, I teamed up with her for that purpose.
Eva Marie: Do American families come over as well for the purpose of adoption?
Bruce: (Nodding) There are a handful of American families. I don’t know a lot about the adoption process, but it is easier for them to be adopted to the European families.
Eva Marie: You also work with Outreach Ministries. Tell me about the first time someone handed you a microphone and said, “Talk.”
Bruce: I was like, “Duhhhh….” I remember one time I was going to speak in front of a group and I didn’t know what to say. So I asked the Lord, “What should I tell these people?” because I had no experience speaking to people. I’ll never forget this. “Lord, what should I say?” And…I hope I can put this in words…it was like He whispered, “It doesn’t matter what you say. What matters is who you are in front of me. They’re not listening to what you say, they’re watching who you are.” How many times do our messages get lost due to a sense of arrogance? Jesus was very real with the people. He didn’t put on airs. That’s the way I need to be. So, I have got to just be real…
Eva Marie: How much do you travel and speak now?
Bruce: Well, as much as I want to. And, I’ve cut back some. I just got tired of schlepping through the airports and hotels and flying on airplanes and…but you know, then you speak and you see their faces and you know why you do it.
Eva Marie: When did you form Marchiano Ministries?
Bruce: I think we went non-profit about three or four years ago.
Eva Marie: What led you to know that it was time to do so?
Bruce: It was funny. People started sending me money! (Chuckles) I thought: Now that’s a funny idea. And then people were saying they wanted to help with what we were doing in Africa and that was cool. Now people are giving and pouring money into the souls of Africa.
Eva Marie: Okay, on an unrelated/related note…do people ever mistake you for Jesus?
Bruce: Never…especially the people who know me. (Laughs) You know, sometimes I see an expectation in people’s eyes. And they should have an expectation.
Eva Marie: That’s true.
Bruce: Anybody who says, “I’m a child of God,” should be held up to a certain standard. You know, I played the role of Jesus on film, but it’s my job to play the role of Jesus every single day of my life. That’s my job. I just hope I do it well. If I have to “nutshell” my ministry, it’s “the heart of Jesus.”
Eva Marie: What do you think your message is?
Bruce: I hope I don’t have a message. I hope that what I do is reveal Jesus. The day I start beating my drum is a sad day. I hope that people walk away from a meeting and say, “Wow…it’s like Jesus was here.”
Eva Marie: What can people do to help Marchiano Ministries?
Bruce: (laughs) Give money! You knew I was going to say that…
Eva Marie: But, it does take money to make a ministry work. Even Jesus had to have money…
Bruce: You know, I’ll tell you…this may be an unpopular thing to say…but we just supported The Passion to the tune of a half a billion dollars in two months. So, we’ve got money to go to the movies. If we’ve got that, then we’ve got $50 to send to a missionary. I’m not trying to lessen the impact of The Passion, but all of us could change the world overnight. If God has given America any responsibility, He’s given us the financial…you know, African’s have a saying: God has given you the money and us the legs. God has put the two together and there’s no stopping us.
Jesus did one thing His whole life: He gave His life away. So, whatever God has given you…give it back…and we’ll change the world. We will.
For more information about Marchiano Ministries, go to:http://www.brucemarchiano.com/