By now you’ve probably seen the video. Simple text overlaid on sweeping and beautiful natural vistas set to a serene — but determined — instrumental soundtrack. Subtle stylistic choices: the use of lens flare, vintage film effects, and mirroring; the use of just enough motion graphics to make a point without being distracting. Beneath it all, a translation in Arabic script for the intended audience. Together, it forms the most potent and moving message I’ve seen addressing the rise of the Islamic state. It cuts through the noise, and offers the reality of God’s love and the opportunity for salvation to men who have chosen what can only be described as demonic savagery:
The video is confrontational in the best sense of the word. It is also mysterious. The website listed at the end of the video does not yet exist. The message itself is Christian, but non-denominational (as is its creator). Still, it speaks the truth on a bare-bones level of fundamental faith that is reminiscent of Lewis’s Mere Christianity. As it began its viral journey across the Internet yesterday, people were left to wonder: “Who made it? Who is behind it?”
It wasn’t us.
The creator of the video is a young Los Angeles filmmaker by the name of Michael Chang. He reached out to me yesterday to thank me for posting the video here at 1P5. This gave me the opportunity to interview him about this remarkable piece of Christian media, which cuts across political and doctrinal lines to confront the Islamic world with the most important information they will ever receive: “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (Jn. 3:16)
1P5: Who is Mighty LA? Where are you based?
MC: Mighty is a media company based in LA. Our vision is that Christians would have a strong and consistent voice in online media.
1P5: How old are you?
MC: 26 turning 27 next week!
1P5: Happy birthday! What’s your story? How did you become a Christian Filmmaker?
MC: I prayed a simple prayer in high school that if God would let me go into video making, I would do it for His glory. I think God really took that prayer seriously, probably more serious than me (laughs). There was also an article I read that impacted me a lot. There was a man who quit his six-figure salary job to work for, I think, a nonprofit. He had a conversation with God and God asked him, “Do you know why Christian media is of such poor quality?” “Why?” the man responded. “It’s because my people have given their best to the world.” That phrase has haunted me for several years. The American dream is a nightmare and I don’t want to waste my life living comfortably when eternity is at stake. Like Jeremiah says in the Bible, “His Word is in my heart like a fire – a fire shut up in my bones; I am weary of holding it in.” There is so much God wants to say to this generation. There is so much I want to say. And the best way is through media – the most underused tool in the Christian arsenal. I quit my full time job two months ago to pursue this till the day I die.
1P5: How did your video, your letter from Christians to ISIS, come about?
MC: I want to make relevant videos, and ISIS is relevant. I watched their gruesome video where they beheaded twenty-one Egyptian Christians. The video addressed the Nation of the Cross -so it was for Christians around the world. They captured, beheaded and insulted all of us. And I thought to myself. Someone has to respond to ISIS on behalf of christians. How can we stand silent when such a force comes against us? You know what’s crazy is that ISIS is better at leveraging media than Christians. We need to establish a voice in online media and that’s what Mighty is seeking to do – God willing.
1P5: I think this video has all the makings of a viral hit. It’s compelling. It’s moving. It’s got a polished aesthetic, from the motion graphics to the subtle video effects, your choices are made manifest in countless directorial touches. Was it designed to serve as a counter to ISIS propaganda, which a lot of commentators have pointed out is professionally-produced?
MC: Thank you for that encouraging feedback (laughs). I think as an artist, we’re always criticizing our own work and seeing what we could have done better. But yes, that’s exactly the point. ISIS has a media team and they’re leveraging it so well. And I think we as Christians should produce the best content we can possibly produce. Just because it’s for God doesn’t mean we give less than our best.
1P5: Are you trying to start a movement? Should Christians be making more of this in response to the tidal wave of videos showing the brutality happening right now in the Islamic world?
MC: As the video mentions, the horrors that ISIS is committing is awakening the Middle East and the world is responding with hate and retribution. Justice is definitely important but I think as Christians we have the ability to respond in a different way. A movement of love has begun starting with Christ. We love because Christ first loved us. We were received an unconditional, radical, one way love. 1 John 4:10 says, “This is love, not that we loved God but that He first loved us.” ISIS and this war on terrorism is different from any other war we’ve faced. We’re up against an ideology. The only way to conquer an ideology is with another ideology. This is a war against Islamic extremists and only the Gospel can change them.
1P5: I have to be honest with you, I found myself getting choked up while I was watching it, and I watched it more than once. The writing in particular was extremely compelling. Was this all your work? What did you draw from to craft your message?
MC: I cowrote it with my friend Jeanelle Fu! She’s an amazing writer/poet.
1P5: There were some phrases that really hit like hammer blows. “The People of the Cross come to die at your gates”; “If you won’t hear our message with words, then we will show you with our lives, laid down.” This is profound. It taps into one of the hardest aspects of the Christian ethos to embrace – the joyful acceptance of suffering and death that Christians have taken on from the very beginning in imitation of our Divine Savior. Do you think this is a message that has the power to break through to those who consider us their enemies?
MC: I was actually weeping while I wrote those few lines. It’s embarrassing to admit I realize but, for a brief moment I felt the Lord’s love for those that are persecuting Him so strongly. Love was coming after them. From the corners of the earth the Lord was sending His messengers to love them to the death. Pure raw unadulterated love pursuing and chasing after them throughout the corners of the Earth. Love is the only thing that can break a hardened heart.
1P5: One of the most well-known early Christian writers, Tertullian, famously wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” It was the witness of the early Christians, the dignified manner in which they endured the most undignified deaths, that conquered pagan Rome. What at first appeared to be weakness came to be understood as strength – the strength, the courage to die for what you believe in. I’ve already heard some reports that the witness of today’s martyrs who have died at the hands of the Islamic State are leading to Christian converts from Islam. Do you see this as an opportunity for conversion?
People dying for their beliefs is noble. A lot of people do that. But people dying for their enemies…that’s almost unheard of. This kind of love is what drew Christians to adore Christ in the first place. A kingdom is conquered in one of two ways. Either by force or by winning over the hearts of the people. Jesus won our hearts over. And it’s the opposite of ISIS is doing now – conquering by force. I don’t like the term conversion, but yes, the blood of our martyrs speaks louder than teachings, and I believe God will save many ISIS members through them.
1P5: Do you think that the martyrs’ witness, along with messages like those in your video, can lead people from, as an old Catholic prayer consecrating the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus used to say, “the darkness and idolatry of Islamism”?
MC: I hope so. I am praying for it. The People of the Cross are praying for it. But it begins not with a fear of Islam but comes from a heart that genuinely loves them.
1P5: You don’t pull punches. You accuse the members of ISIS of slitting throats and raping women, but you tell them of God’s forgiveness. Of a brotherhood in the Cross. You highlight the fact that the most a Muslim can ever be is a servant of Allah, but God makes us sons – and that they can be counted among us. How are people receiving this when many believe these sins are unforgivable?
MC: Thinking that your sins are too great for Christ to forgive is actually very selfish. You are undermining God because you think He is too weak to save. But our God is mighty to save! I remember something my college pastor would always say. After breaking the bread and pouring the juice he’d say: “This table is for sinners. This table is for liars, cheaters, fornicators, adulterers, murderers, pimps and prostitutes. If you feel like you are not worthy to come to the table, then you are half ready.” I was stunned at how blunt he was each time. But I needed to hear that. I needed to know that the worst of me was surpassed by the best of Christ. If you feel like you’re unworthy to come to the table or that your sins don’t deserve to be forgiven, you’re right. We are completely undeserving of this kind of a gift. That’s the beginning of understanding grace.
1P5: What do you say to those who believe that this message falls short? To those who want to take arms and protect the innocent Christians being persecuted by ISIS? Martyrdom offers a powerful witness, but it is also a great evil on the side of those doing the killing. Is it truly right to do nothing? Should Christians not stand up and defend themselves?
MC: This message does fall short. To try to send a comprehensive, all encompassing message to ISIS all under four minutes is impossible. God has so much more to say to them. And he will find a way. Should we fight back and defend ourselves? If you’re called to be a witness for Christ and to be a missionary to these people then lay your weapons down and love them to the death. But if you’re called, lets say to the US Army and you’re sent to fight ISIS, then submit to the authority of your country and fight. Be faithful to what you’re called to. Ecclesiastes 3:8 says there is a time for everything…a time of love, and a time to hate, a time for war, and a time for peace. God values life. Governments were created to preserve life. Sometimes in order to preserve life, governments have to go in and wage war.
1P5: What are your future plans? Do you have more projects you’re working on?
Yes many more! I quit my job for this and this is my life calling so I’ll probably be making videos till the day I die. The hard part is finding time to make them. In order to support myself, I still have a freelance business where I make videos for my clients.
1P5: It looks like your website, Mighty.la, hasn’t gone live yet. Is there somewhere people can go to find out more about your work?
A temporary website should be up very soon, actually! But for now, please check out our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/teammightyla
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.