When they made it their mission to bring the Bible to the people of Japan, the Christian Broadcasting Network began by researching what Japanese people loved. The answers, they found, were animation and science fiction.
So they created Superbook, the story of Chris, Joy, and their robot Gizmo, travelling back in time to see Bible stories first hand.
The original series, first broadcast in 1981, made the Bible a best seller in Japan. But it also became a hit in many other parts of the world through CBN’s syndication deals. More recently, CBN has rebooted the series for a new generation of fans. Senior producer John Schafer was the perfect person to bring the show into the 21st century.
John was wonderstruck by the original Star Wars when it was released. He says because George Lucas took inspiration from religion and myth, the film tapped into a kind of spiritual truth which exists in all of us, just waiting to be awakened. He says, for example, that there are clear parallels between the story of David, the shepherd, and Luke Skywalker the farm boy.
“Both got plucked out of obscurity. Both knew there was something bigger for them. They did not know what it was or how to get there. And both had so-called that anointing moment. You had the anointing moment with Samuel with David, you had that anointing moment, so-called, with Obi-Wan and with Luke.”
John’s tour of the Superbook studios
John hadn’t been brought up in a Christian home, and at that time, he didn’t believe in God. “If there was this God, He hasn’t done anything for me. That was my attitude.” But following a traumatic experience, he reached out for help and comfort.
I talked to him, and I just said, if you are real, show me. And if you can show me, I will give up all my dreams, my dreams of going to Hollywood, pursuing making movies, I will give everything up.
God didn’t show Himself that moment, the next day, or the next week. Instead, he brought a change to his heart. “And when I started seeking Him, man, He came out of nowhere, and he did something so dramatic in my life. And not only did I not have to give up the very thing I told him I would give up, my dreams and my desires, he put me in the forefront of it.”
Many Christians talk about the difficulty of working in a resolutely non-Christian industry. But John has always worn his faith proudly. “When we’re there presenting Superbook for distribution, I actually ask them if it’s ok if I open up in prayer. These are mainline studios, and you know what? Not one single person ever said no.”
“And the one thing is when you pray, sometimes God will direct you to pray specifically over someone in that meeting, and I have done that, and you can see how God has touched them.”
Just as Christians expect hostility from Hollywood executives, John says some of the people he’s met have imagined Christians as radical, right-wing bible bashers, seeking to “ban everything”.
We change a frozen perception of what they think of Christians.
John says that like him, a lot of the Superbook team are extremely dedicated to the show, sacrificing time with their families to work around the clock. Though many of them have made movies with major studios, they all agree this is their most meaningful work, because it’s changing people’s lives.
God is using us to tell His story. And that is humbling.
John was particularly struck by a story from someone who’d watched Daniel teaching Joy how to pray in the show, and now prays every night for their mother to be healed of cancer. “Our shows are even teaching people how to pray, and to realise that they can talk to God right there
“And so it’s been a cool thing seeing all these testimonies, and all these children, all these young adults, and even adults, come to know the Lord, or rededicate their lives.”
In his conversation with Vision’s Karen Hunt, John also talked about his time working in the air force, and how visiting Indonesia in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami gave him perspective on the value of his work. For all that story and more, listen to the audio below.
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