What happens when people encounter Jesus in their own heart's language?

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Nelson Mandela once said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart."

Mandela's quote resonates deeply with our vision at Jesus Film Project, where we aim to translate the JESUS film into the heart language of every community. Our hope is for everyone, everywhere to encounter the gospel and embrace Jesus as Savior.

There are approximately 7,000 languages spoken across the globe. Just 23 account for over half of the world's population. A person's heart language is typically the first language he or she is exposed to; it's the language in which we think, dream, and pray. That's why communicating in someone's heart language is more meaningful and compelling to them than in a secondary language. Sharing the gospel with someone in a heart language moves beyond sharing a story; it expresses respect, recognition and value.

In cultures where most people share a common language, it can be difficult to fully appreciate how language helps shape someone's personal and cultural identity. The aspects of culture we think of first, such as food, clothing, customs and festive celebrations, are all tied together with the threads of language. More than a way to communicate, language is a vital tool through which we express our values, beliefs and traditions.

In a nation like India, where there are 121 languages and many more regional dialects, or in Nigeria where over 500 languages are spoken, a person's heart language also represents geographical and family ties. This is true even though many people in both countries speak two or more languages.

When it comes to sharing the gospel, we align with Jesus' heart when we prioritize heart language – he died and was resurrected for people from every tribe, language and nation. And no medium is more powerful to share Jesus with people than a film based on His life from the Bible. This is true no matter the community or culture – the true story of Jesus in someone's heart language is compelling.

In a country known to be difficult for Christians, a man named Jassa* began a journey that would eventually lead him to Jesus. In Jassa's home country of Yemen, the majority of his countrymen and women are from a different religious background, making it difficult not only to learn about Jesus but to hear about him in the first place. Jassa wanted to know God more deeply and was determined to seek after Him.

Jassa's search for God led him to Saudi Arabia, the seat of his religion. After driving a 1,600 mile round trip, he did not find God, and the emptiness inside his heart was greater than when he started his trip.

Back in his home country, Jassa had a dream one night. In it, he found himself in a church on a high mountain. He saw Jesus, who stretched out His hand to him and said, "Follow Me, I am your Saviour. I am the beginning and the end."

The memory of that powerful dream stayed with him, but Jassa didn't know what it meant.

Eventually, Jassa had to flee the turmoil of his country, seeking refuge in Europe. There, some local believers he had met invited him to dinner and a movie. These believers showed him a film about Isa, "The Great Prophet." Jassa could hardly believe it! The man from his dream was in the film. Jassa watched the man, Jesus, perform miracles, and he heard the Word of God, Jesus' words, exactly as written in the New Testament Gospels.

The God whom Jassa had whole-heartedly sought was before him, portrayed on the screen — in love and power — speaking the language of his heart. Finally, he had found the One he sought.

Within days of choosing to follow Jesus as Saviour, Jassa was baptized and began his journey of discipleship. The ministry caring for Jassa has shared that he is so courageous and faithfully shares Jesus with others from his country.

People like Jassa are why we continue to do the work we do. There are many more like him who are seeking the God who speaks their language.

Last year, Jesus Film Project announced that the 1979 JESUS film had officially been translated into 2,100 languages. But we aren't stopping there. In 2025, we plan to release a re-imagining of the JESUS film. This animated family production will reach new generations for years to come.

Everyone, everywhere deserves a chance to understand Jesus's teachings in their heart language. As we press on toward our mission, you can keep an eye out for our upcoming animated family film, JESUS, at our website, Jesus.film.

*name has been changed for confidentiality

Josh Newell is Executive Director of Jesus Film Project.