Awakening (Movie Review)

A little over a week ago I received a message in my YouTube inbox asking me if I would be interested in watching and reviewing a new documentary exploring the evangelism efforts of Jews for Jesus in New York City. Normally I am a bit apprehensive of any film coming from a faith-based organization (still trying to scrub everything from Cloud Ten Pictures from my brain). But I had a week of vacation time coming up so I was able to really give some time to watching viewing the film and then thinking through it. And honestly, I am glad that i did.

Awakening opens up with some really nice cinematography. Beautiful shots of New York City after dark, nice driving soundtrack, and an energy that drew me in. The film follows a handful of members of Jews for Jesus who spend their summers campaigning for Jesus on the streets (and sometimes under the streets) of New York City. This is an annual event for Jews for Jesus, and they put a lot of effort and passion into their mission. We are treated to footage of individuals having conversations with people on the streets, Twitter posts from people who witnessed the Jews fr Jesus crowd out and about, and even a look at the dormitory space of Jews for Jesus’ NYC space. Each member is decked out in a very bold Jesus-themed T-Shirt, some are even printed with QR Codes on the back for people to scan which will take them to an evangelistic site/video. They are very direct about sharing their faith, and do not seem to fear anything when asking people if they can talk to them. Yet (at least from the footage included in the documentary) they seem to be very courteous, not trying to shove Jesus onto anyone who is not interested in listening.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. I was intrigued by the story of one member’s brother who suffered from a marijuana addiction. He visited his brother and shortly thereafter started following Christ, joined up with Jews for Jesus, and blazed a new trail out on the streets, sharing about his faith. My heart went out to the individuals who shared about the difficulty of talking to other Jews who do not see Christ as they do. I even laughed out loud at one interview segment as the person on the street declared “I’m not born again, I’m Baptist.” The theme of the film follows the theme of the summer campaign that was filmed for this documentary: Who is Jesus? It sets up some interesting conversations on the street, and possibly for people who watch at home.

There were a few things that I was left wondering after watching. It seems as though Jews for Jesus attempts to reach everyone on the streets, but at least one member states that they are reaching the Jew first, then the Gentile. I wonder how much effort is placed on that effort? Are they really committed to reaching out to everyone (it is obvious in several scenes that they are speaking with Jews who do not believe as Jews for Jesus does) or do they target Jews first? I also wonder about the use of tracts. There is one point in the film where we are told that what Jews for Jesus hand out on the streets are not tracts. To a point, this is true. Some of the ideas I saw were pretty interesting, and they do put more effort into their creation than your typical Chick track (I have yet to see one that was worth the time or resources it took to print). But it is still a piece of paper that people have to read instead of having a conversation. Awakening shows that Jews for Jesus wants the conversation, and they hope that the pamphlet will spark one. But there is still footage of people simply handing them out to anyone who will take one. Can people find Christ as a result? Sure. Is it real evangelism? I don’t believe so. I am glad that getting these tracts out is not the primary goal for Jews for Jesus, but it still is a part of it and I pray they are not spending too much time and effort on this.

The primary goal of these annual campaigns (aside from conversions) is follow-up. They desire to get in touch with people they meet on the street and to continue the conversation. I would have loved to see more attention given to what their process is, and perhaps even an interview or two with people who they had followed up with. But they do show that a big part of the Jews for Jesus movement involves mentoring younger members and bringing them up alongside the current leaders. The viewers are treated to a little bit f the organization’s history, and we see a lot of hope in the current leadership for what the future looks like.

I really only have two complaints about the film. The first is that the filmmakers seemed to try too hard to be “hip” when they showed off their living space. MTV Cribs is out of date, and the segment really did not flow well with the rest of the film. The second is that there were areas that could have been greatly expanded upon (follow-up, conversations with practicing Jews, history and vision for the future to name a few). I know they probably had a time limit, and they need to keep things moving, but it would have been nice to see some of these ideas fleshed out.

In the end, I am glad that I watched this movie. It was informative and it held my attention. I would encourage you to share it with your church, youth group or family, if for no other reason than to see how people who are committed to their faith and to their God share their enthusiasm and their hearts with people who need to know God.

And to be challenged and encouraged to get out there and do the same thing.

Find out more about Awakening by visiting their site here.