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Culture Documentary

Fai Studios

Fai Studios


Iranian awakening

Sheep Among Wolves Vol. II describes a growing ‘resistance church in the Middle East.’

The new documentary Sheep Among Wolves Vol. II describes mass conversions of Muslims to Christ inside Iran. The film relates this good news amid some production foibles and controversial missiology, yet rightly challenges viewers to self-examination and prayer for the persecuted church.

Successful evangelization among Muslims “flips the script,” the filmmakers say, on Western methods. Instead of winning converts then discipling them, Christians teach nonbelievers how to worship, pray, and read the Bible. Muslims learn they owe submission to Jesus, not Allah. Conversions follow, often reported in connection with visions of Christ. The disciple-making movement (DMM) has thrived in cultures where a strong sense of obedience to the divine already exists. (For more on DMM, read Jerry Trousdale’s Miraculous Movements. Radius International has published a thoughtful critique.)

“Mosques are empty” in Iran, the film proclaims, as Islam’s second-class citizens—women (and blacks in East Africa, I’ve seen firsthand)—are fleeing Islam. Hardship that turns “millions” to Jesus is better than democracy; “spiritual sleepiness” in the West is worse than persecution. The film touts both the decentralized nature of the underground Iranian church and the fact that the “majority” of its leaders are women.

A few minor peeves: subtitle typos, excessive acoustic guitar performances, and little video from inside Iran. Largely, Westerners share information from meetings they’ve held with Iranian church leaders in Indonesia, where much of the film is shot. But a number of Iranians with face and voice disguised do give powerful accounts of coming to Christ. (The unrated film discusses rape and suicide.)

The film (streaming on YouTube) also explores Iran’s relationship with Israel. Iranian Christians are “falling in love” with the Jewish people as well as the Messiah. But there comes an apocalyptic plot twist: God is “raising up a resistance church in the Middle East” that will prevent another attempted extermination of the Jews and provoke them to repentance.

Perhaps. God ways aren’t Western ways.

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Tears on the moors

In Evelyn, siblings hope a series of hikes in Scotland will help their family heal from the pain of a brother’s suicide

Director Orlando von Einsiedel lost his brother Evelyn to suicide 15 years ago, and he and his family find it too painful to talk about their loss. Determined to change this, Orlando, sister Gwen, and youngest brother Robin set off to reminisce by repeating a series of hikes in Scotland they had traveled with their brother.

Viewers might wonder if having a camera crew record your every breath, word, and stride would inhibit real conversation and emotion. This does not seem to be the case for the siblings, who share fond memories along with the tears and struggles that they’ve put aside for many years. They travel through beautiful hills, valleys, and moors, re-creating photos they took with Evelyn in picturesque locations.

Their mother Harriet joins them for the first few days. She raised the family mostly on her own after a divorce. Mom recalls her son Evelyn’s many wonderful traits, but also the dark periods when his schizophrenia began and deepened. When Dad (Andreas) joins a few days later, tension crackles. Some of the recorded conversations in Evelyn (rated TV-MA on Netflix) are raw, with coarse and profane language.

Two of Evelyn’s friends join the three siblings on the trails. Gradually, the hikers reveal that they all blame themselves for Evelyn’s death: They didn’t see the danger signs, didn’t answer the phone on time, didn’t get the right medical treatments.

Director Orlando confesses the trip is harder than he expected: “I’m struggling just to hold it together.” Gwen complains through tears: “All this is doing is bringing a lot of painful and traumatic things back, and I can’t now make them go away ... stuff I’ve had to spend a long time trying to forget.”

Only someone with a heart of stone could watch this documentary without a box of Kleenex nearby. A Christian who loses a loved one to suicide may feel terrible sorrow and guilt, but he has the comfort of a loving Father’s promises of forgiveness and rest. What about those without such hope?

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Midwest medicine

Ken Burns’ The Mayo Clinic explores what makes Mayo great, but the hospital has strayed from Catholic roots

What do you get when an agnostic physician meets a Franciscan nun? No joke—the Mayo Clinic. The unlikely partnership between W.W. Mayo and Mother Mary Alfred Moes launched what now ranks as the best medical center in the country.

Inimitable filmmaker Ken Burns tells Mayo Clinic’s story in the documentary The Mayo Clinic, available on Netflix (rated TV-14 for some medically graphic content).

This “miracle in the cornfield” began in 1883 after a devastating tornado tore through Rochester, Minn., 90 miles southeast of Minneapolis, underscoring the need for a local hospital. Mother Alfred challenged W.W., as he was known, to run one if she could raise enough money to build it. In 1889, the hospital opened.

What transpired over the next 130 years became a model for medical centers worldwide. The concept of teamwork—physicians collaborating to diagnose and solve patient problems—made Mayo the paradigm for patient care. Today patients from 150 countries flock to Mayo for help. Every 24 hours Mayo treats 14,000 patients.

Weaving archival footage with interviews, Burns recounts many medical firsts at Mayo, illustrating what can happen when faith and science unite, when patient welfare rises above material gain, and when doctors join forces in research and medical practice. 

W.W.’s physician sons, Will and Charlie, carried on their father’s legacy of putting patients first. Today, Mayo doctors are salaried to safeguard against medical decisions based on monetary gain.

Sadly, however, Mayo Clinic has strayed from its Catholic influence and the sisters’ motto “to treat every patient like Jesus Christ,” although Franciscan sisters still work there. Today Mayo offers both abortions and sex-change therapy and surgery. Mother Alfred would weep.

Burns doesn’t address those philosophical changes, but one segment of the film alerts viewers to them: A Mayo doctor advises a pregnant melanoma patient that her life might be at risk without an “elective termination.”

The woman declines. After more Mayo medical intervention, she regains her health and gives birth to a beautiful baby.

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