Christmas, as we know it, will be different this year.
With ongoing social distancing measures due to COVID-19, gone are the Christmas markets, street carolling and musical plays that churches organise to bring about the festive message during this season.
But different doesn’t have to be dreary. As one church has proved, crises can be turned into opportunities.
THE RISE OF THE CREATIVES
In fact, it was Eternal Life Assembly‘s first attempt at a film production.
Dwayne Lau, scriptwriter and director of Longing渴望, a 4-episode web series, shared how his church would usually put up Christmas musicals and theatre productions, but COVID-19 restrictions made it challenging to do so this year.
However, he felt that it was important for the stories that were birthed from this pandemic to be told.
As an actor, singer and playwright, Dwayne himself lost gigs and teaching jobs when the pandemic hit. His own predicament was represented in Longing渴望 by er hu player Jennifer.
But Dwayne also recounts how he had been blessed in unexpected ways.
“During this season, people have availed themselves to be conduits of blessing amidst their own challenges faced,” he says.
“It’s heartwarming to see strangers offer themselves, their skills, and share what they have to better the lives of one another.
“I think that’s what this whole COVID situation has taught us – to appreciate what we have, but at the same time, keep our eyes open to those who may have fallen through the cracks.”
Inspired by similar experiences from his friends, Dwayne wanted to spread the message that people aren’t alone in their struggles, and that there is hope even in the darkest of nights.
Five months ago, he and his sister proposed the idea of a film to his church accompanied by an original song composition.
“And then I panicked because I’ve never directed a film before,” he laughs, recounting this in a separate interview.
But God promptly brought in help.
Sharing the moment when he was approached to be part of the production crew, fellow church member Jireh Tham recalled how his plate was full.
But he remembered a word that the Lord had placed in his heart last year about how He could use the creatives to bring the church to the next level.
“2020 has been a year of uncertainties but, because of that, also a year with a lot of opportunities to groom and equip media people who are interested but never had a platform to do it,” says Jireh, who is a freelance videographer.
“So this film became an answer to the cry where we got equipped in production.”
Sharing how his dream is to see the creatives in church rise up, Jireh hopes that “they will be able to put their five loaves and two fishes into the hands of a God that will multiply them and advance His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven”.
RALLYING THE CHURCH
The project wasn’t just done by creatives alone. With a cast and crew size of over 50 people, the team needed all hands on deck.
“Within a week, Dwayne texted all the actors he knew and the potential cast, and wrote a lot of stories based on real people,” says Jireh, noting that most did not have any prior experience in acting.
Longing渴望 explores the journeys of 10 different families or individuals who try their best to navigate through life after COVID-19 hits.
There’s the character Flora, a nurse who left her home country to work in Singapore and was unable to fly home to visit her sick daughter because of the restrictions.
“You’re taking care of all the patients, but you can’t even take care of your own daughter!” her mother-in-law accused through a video call.
Then there’s Uncle Boon, who was contemplating suicide because he felt lonely and left behind by friends, family and society, a struggle that was exacerbated because of the circuit breaker measures.
“To see the church – the inter-generation congregation – come together has been one of the harvests for this project,” Jireh says.
But there’s more. Not only was it an inter-generational effort, but also an inter-church collaboration.
Jireh jokingly reached out to Joshua Pwee, founder of a production company and a member of City Harvest Church, to ask if he was interested to help as they were lacking in professional equipment.
And just like that, Joshua was roped in as the Director of Photography for the project. In fact, he was so moved during the first script read that he decided to edit the project for them too.
“It was a little bit hard for me to let go at first,” admits Jireh, who was supposed to edit the film.
But he decided to adopt a kingdom mindset and take a leap of faith. And within four months, a miracle was born.
A CALL FOR THE LOST
While the full series is not out yet, the film has already begun to show fruits.
“One of Joshua’s friends whom he roped in to shoot (had previously) left church because he had a bad experience with church,” Jireh tells me.
“But through this project, he got to know our church and said he felt very welcomed.”
They continued to invite him to services, and “he rededicated his life to Jesus again”, Jireh reveals, noting that this was probably his favourite moment throughout the entire process.
Encouraged by testimonies such as these, the team also hopes that Longing渴望 will speak to those who have lost hope during this season.
“We have all asked that question at least once: ‘when will it all end?’ and hence the title. It’s a film of expectation,” Dwayne explains.
“I want the viewers to know that in this Advent and Christmas Season, God gave us his one and only son, Jesus. And through Him, we can have peace, joy, love and hope. Hope for a better tomorrow.”
As someone who has personally experienced God’s grace through these turbulent times, this film is also a personal reminder for Dwayne.
“God is in control and He loves every one of us and is looking out for us. He has us in the palm of his hand,” he concludes.
“Pandemic or not, God’s love for us will never be shaken.”
If you’d like other online resources for sharing the Good News, check out these videos below!
- Which of the characters in the film speak to you and why?
- How has God been real to you amidst the uncertainties that this year has presented?
- How can you be a blessing to others despite your challenging situation?