LIMA, Ohio - With Easter approaching, many Allen County residents are finding something besides the usual bills and credit-card offers when they open their mailboxes.
More than 25,000 households are receiving videotaped copies of a 1979 movie, Jesus, as part of an effort by a coalition of churches to encourage people “to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior,” said Larry Sheets, who is coordinating the Allen County Jesus Video Project.
Volunteers from about 50 churches across Allen County began mailing the videotapes, which tell the story of Jesus based on Luke's Gospel, last week. Ken Vaughn, a publicity director for the project, said the videos were expected to arrive in local mailboxes between last Thursday and today.
The churches plan to follow up the mailing by sending volunteers to visit each of the homes that received a video, asking people their impressions and answering questions.
“We want to get the message out as broadly as possible,” Mr. Sheets said. “We're not going to be coercing anyone, but we believe God is going to be doing the work that's going to result in some changed lives.”
Mr. Vaughn, a disc jockey on WTGN-FM (97.7), a Christian radio station in Lima, said the project's organizers began last fall with a goal of sending a video to every household in Allen County but have fallen short of raising the funds needed to buy and distribute more than 40,000 tapes.
The Allen County group has raised about $77,000 of the $110,000 it needs for a countywide mailing, Mr. Vaughn said.
Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical Christian group based in Orlando, Fla., sells the videos for $2.50 each, including postage, to churches as part of an ongoing campaign to distribute the movie to every residence in the United States. Campus Crusade claims it has issued 13 million copies of the film, including one to every household in Alabama.
The video distribution dwarfs the audience that viewed the film in roughly 2,000 theaters during its initial release by Warner Brothers.
Mr. Sheets, a member of Shawnee Alliance Church, said the mass mailing in Allen County is aimed at nonbelievers, not members of other faiths.
“We think this is one opportunity to get into the homes of those people that won't come to church,” he said, acknowledging that many of the tapes will go unwatched.
“When you canvass an area, you're going to be putting in the homes of different races, of different religions. That doesn't bother us,” he said. “We're not forcing it on anyone. If they want to trash-can it, they can. We just want them merely to look at this as an alternative. It's just another way of mass-media coverage, I guess.”
Pastors of Lima-area churches expressed support for the video campaign.
“The movie has been around for awhile, and it's a more accurate portrayal of the life of Christ, as opposed to what you might see on the networks,” said Mark Seenarine of the Calvary Temple Assembly of God.
“I have wanted to see something like this done in our community,” said Richard Jueckstock of Cable Road Alliance Church. “You know, when Jesus says `Go and fish for men,' you use different kinds of tools and means to reach people with the truth. It's one way. It's not the only way.”