Review of ‘Dispatches from the Front: Day of Battle’

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First things first. If you haven’t already seen this film, click here and buy it. If you regret spending the money on it, write me afterwards and I’ll buy it off you. The newest installment of Tim’s Dispatches from the Front is the missions equivalent of a starter log. If you find yourself in a pile of seemingly incombustible Christians, this missionary documentary is just the thing you need to kindle a real fervor for the nations.

Second, let me say that I am almost certainly the least objective viewer (or reviewer) imaginable. The missionaries featured in the film are my closest of friends, members of my church, and colaborers on a missionary team. Which means I will inevitably want to write a review of their ministry as much as of the film featuring it! Excellent though the film is, it’s naturally hard for me to feel that it’s quite doing justice to the ministry there (and something tells me the filmmakers would feel the same way!).

But let me try to say some things about the film itself. Like the other Dispatches films, Day of Battle is in a travel-journal sort of format: footage from Tim’s experiences with the missionaries is overlaid with his narration and reflections. This perspective gives the film a slower, contemplative feel. It does mean, too, that we never hear the missionaries speak for themselves. There is also a good bit of focus on what might be called the ‘aesthetics’ of missions. We are afforded glimpses of regional history, geography, culture, language, and cuisine that are worthy of a National Geographic feature. But the real value of the film is in its joyful depiction of a thrilling gospel ministry in North Africa.

So let me give you a few reasons I’m thankful for this film.

1. I am thankful that this film showcases bold warriors for Christ.

For those who stay tuned into missions news from the Muslim world, I think you will find the approach of these missionaries to be startling. These are guys without security protocols and secret codes. These are guys who think it an acceptable risk to share the gospel with strangers, to bring unbelievers to church services, to involve their families in ministry, and to be integrally involved in church leadership. Most staggeringly, these are guys who do not shrink back from calling upon converts to openly identify with Christ and his body even at great cost. Tim drives home the point that God has ordained the gospel to gain ground by daring charges rather than by cunning espionage. An almighty God is not honored by our aversion to risk.

2. I am thankful that this film highlights a dark part of the world.

Much ado has been made in the past couple weeks about seminary grads who can’t find pastorates in the States. Somehow, seminaries and churches are to blame for this. Well, there may very well be a shortage of pastoral positions to go around in the U.S., but may it not be thought for a moment that there is a worldwide surplus of gospel preachers! I pray that this film will help many believers make that connection and see this terrible imbalance. More seminary grads than we have openings for on church staffs here; meanwhile, millions in places like North Africa have no one to preach the gospel to them. I know when I reached the end of Day of Battle, I felt a longing to join my brothers on the front lines there. May God deploy many!

3. I am thankful that this film recounts beautiful stories of redemption.

A missions documentary isn’t worth much if it doesn’t shock and awe us with God’s saving might. In Day of Battle, we hear the testimonies of some formerly-Muslim brothers and sisters and find astounding evidences of God’s grace reclaiming rebellious hearts. I appreciate this emphasis, for even in the world’s darkest places, missionaries must know that their Redeemer’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save. He is not impressed by the size or the ferocity of the forces arrayed against us. The nations imagine a vain thing. Thus, a missionary on the front lines must not hunker down in his trench to wait out the enemy barrage. He charges, confident that the Lord is mighty to save. And he has saved in North Africa. So watch this film to be swept off your feet by the beauties of the Muslim-saving gospel.

4. I am thankful that this film portrays genuine disciple-making.

The guys that you will meet in Day of Battle are firmly committed to the mission. And they believe that the mission is a prescribed work, not just a prescribed result. In other words, they haven’t carved out their own niche in the Great Commission, but have committed themselves to its entirety. So, you’ll see them working to make new contacts and evangelize them. But you’ll also see them at work in churches that they’ve planted. And you’ll also see them at work training some men for a pastoral role. They are a dying breed: the general practitioner of the gospel. But the fruits of their labor speaks for itself. Where there were corpses, there now stand Spirit-animated worshippers of Christ. As the number of things called ‘missions’ grows ever larger, our expectation of new disciples of Christ to appear grows ever smaller. So my last prayer for this film is that Christians would see it and cry out in their hearts, ‘Lord, make me a disciple-maker!’

Now, below are a couple of my personal wishes. It’s not my film, not my experience, but knowing these guys as I do, here’s a couple things I would have loved to see more prominently in the film. But they are meant in no way as a discredit to the filmmakers – their project has birthed one of the most edifying 60 minute experiences I can imagine (and it’s only 60 minutes, after all!). I thank them, even as I thank God for the work he will do through their labors.

  • I wish that more could have been said about what makes these missionaries effective in their roles. I think some may get the impression that they are just normal guys that somehow found themselves on the front lines. That’s true in a sense, of course. They are hardly members of some elite class. But you would be hard-pressed to find young men who worked harder to prepare for ministry. In fact, none of us who have known them are very surprised that they decided to go where they did. The film does drop some hints that these guys do part ways with some of the received wisdom about Muslim missions. How did they get those convictions? This is one concern whenever missions fervor is stirred up: some guys in their passion for the mission blast right past basic training on the way to the battlefield. The results are seldom pretty.
  • Finally, I do wish that more details about their strategy could have made it into the film. Aspiring missionaries tend to glide their fingers over maps with little appreciation about what it will take to actually saturate those areas with the gospel. Thus, the size of a missionary’s aspirations are often in inverse proportion to his time logged on the field! After a couple years on the field, the missionary’s goals are often reduced to simple survival. But my brothers in this film have a vision that is fiercely realistic, ambitious, and biblical. The travel-journal style of the documentary may inadvertently give the impression that my friends are these peripatetic evangelists, drifting from one place to another as time and chance leads them. I regret that, because these guys are some of the most rooted, intentional, and productive ministers of the gospel I know. They plant churches and train men – two things that are rarely accomplished by the drifters, and never on a large scale.

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4 Comments on “Review of ‘Dispatches from the Front: Day of Battle’”

  1. wagardner August 1, 2014 at 9:58 pm #

    good post

    Austin Gardner Vision Baptist Church Alpharetta, GA Every Verse, Every Nation

  2. Becca August 4, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

    I recently purchased Dispatches from the Front: Father, Give me Bread. I’ll check out Day of Battle after that, thanks for this insightful review!

  3. gretmasters August 9, 2014 at 5:25 am #

    A little partial but the “tour guide” is pretty amazing

    • Jake September 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

      He’s awesome, isn’t he?

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