GNPI: Keeping the gospel culturally relevant
Nanette Domingo Pacoli, regional director of Good News Productions International, says the gospel is best conveyed to different
people by being culturally relevant. Pacoli says the founder of GNPI learned that as a missionary in Zimbabwe.
Ziden in Zimbabwe
Ziden Nutt went to Zimbabwe with a load of gospel teaching materials. They didn’t work. Someone told him, “People can’t understand your God because he’s white. They don’t identify.”
So Nutt made new materials with Jesus Christ as a black man, and people responded. GNPI believes that cultural relevance, rather than imposing one’s own ideas of Christ, makes ministry more productive.
Pacoli says GNPI has branches in Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and India. Cultural relevance comes easy for Pacoli. She has an instinct for what clicks in the Philippines, reinforced by her background in secular television and advertising.
Of her days in secular media she says, “I was at my best, in that I was making a lot of money, but I was also at my worst because I led my life, my way. My friends from advertising could see I was a mess.”
Recently a friend in advertising whom she hadn’t seen in 20 years called her. They agreed to meet, and every day before the meeting, Pacoli prayed that God would give her the words to share the gospel.
“I felt I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t,” Pacoli said. On the appointed date she was taken aback to see that her friend came with someone else. “I had only been praying for one person, but now there were two,” she said.
But the opening came from her friend who said, “you’ve changed a lot.” Pacoli then talked of Jesus. “For me,” Pacoli said, “success in my work isn’t measured by the number of souls you bring to Jesus. If you bring just one, I’m happy. Anything more than that is a bonus.”
That day both women prayed to receive Jesus. The “bonus” concept drives her work. “No matter how hard I work on a television show or a movie, I don’t measure success by the number who prayed to receive Christ, because you can never tell how God works. You just have to fit in his plan,” she said.
Pacoli’s movie, All Things New, won the International Christian Visual Media award in 2009 as Best Drama under a $250,000 budget. ICVM is a body that is committed to encourage and support quality Christian media.
From 2000 to 2003 Pacoli produced the TV documentary series WWJD, introducing to the Philippines for the first time the concept of a weekly TV documentary program.
One episode of WWJD, which was about street children, won an ICVM Silver Crown Award for Best International Film. Another WWJD episode about fatherhood won an ICVM Bronze Award.
Pacoli also produces Asin at Ilaw (Salt and Light), a weekly show that has been running for 16 years, which was awarded the Anak TV Seal, a national award in the Philippines for child and family friendly shows.
Pacoli says Asin at Ilaw is “very Filipino, very characteristic of the local culture in terms of format and presentation. Now that it’s virtual, Filipinos all over the world can watch it for spiritual nourishment and be reminded of Christ’s love.”
GNPI products are loaned to churches, which organize a film showing that is open to people of all faiths. After the film showing there is an altar call. Pacoli recalls one time when a church decided to show the film at The Fort, one of the ritziest malls in Metro Manila.
“The Fort isn’t the normal environment for a Christian film, much less an altar call,” she said. But she was surprised that many young people came, and 59 among them went forward to receive Jesus in their lives.
This year, All Things New was shown at a church in Bulacan, a province in Central Luzon. Some 20 young people received Christ that day. But Pacoli was particularly touched by one man who strongly identified with a character in movie. This man recommitted his life to Jesus and had a new view of Jesus and himself. He also learned to forgive his father.
All Things New has also been shown by churches in New York and Seattle. Pacoli said there aren’t many street children in the U.S., but the feedback was that more people began to organize youth groups to help others.
Her favorite medium is television. The way God uses Asin at Ilaw, for example, always surprises her. A housewife found the program while she was switching channels. The topic was adultery, and the woman had a similar problem. The program led her to church, where she learned a new perspective of adultery. In the long run, she received Jesus.
Aside from running on television, episodes of Asin at Ilaw are also used by house churches. The program is shown, people ask questions, there are bible studies, and so far, in this way, 90 people came to receive Christ.
Pacoli has a hand on every stage of production–creating show concepts, scriptwriting, shooting, editing, directing, and acting. She does everything on a shoestring, and she can make things happen.
A room in her home is her studio where Asin at Ilaw is filmed and edited. She got Sockie Fernandez, an internationally multi-awarded indie director (including one film which was shown on exhibition at Cannes) to do an episode of WWJD, gratis (the award-winning episode on street children). For the film All Things New, Pacoli got professional actors with a following who also worked for free.
If she gets dry on ideas she will gather secular and Christian media friends for lunch and pick their brains. That way she gets timely secular input that she can put a Christian twist to, at no expense, and with everybody having a good time.
Pacoli says, “To see God working up close, and to see how he changes lives–and when he uses you to change lives, is such a privilege, just as much as it is a responsibility.”
For 2011, GNPI is working on several video bible studies series first on idolatry, and afterwards, on parenthood. Of the former
Pacoli says, “The subtleties of idolatry exist in everyday life, and this series will touch on many things. It raises questions about idolatry that are not commonly thought of, or brought up.”
Tackling with a small budget and looking for talent is always a challenge. She has been known to direct, write the scripts, and sometimes, even act when no one else is available.
But at the end of the day Pacoli says, “I have the best job in the world. Even if it doesn’t pay much, the blessing is awesome, overwhelming. You see changed lives because of what we do. You can’t buy that anywhere.”