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Spanish soap operas save souls in Americacomment (0)

January 6, 2000

Saving souls with soap operas? It’s happening. Spanish speakers throughout North and South America are coming to Christ through “En Familia” – a video series produced and directed by a Southern Baptist missionary.

“En Familia” (In Family) is making an impact from New York to Florida to Houston to Uruguay and Argentina.

“It is being used to open doors to secular people, to evangelize and to start new churches,” recounts John Magyar, International Mission Board (IMB) missionary in Cali, Columbia.

En Familia consists of 12 short dramas that explore and expose some of the most serious problems families face today. They are done in the style of telenovelas, which are popular TV viewing fare throughout Latin America.

“It is produced at about middle-class to upper-class cultural level,” said Magyar, who hails from St. Louis, “and because of its soap opera quality, it has appeal to all socioeconomic groups.”

The average En Familia segment runs10 – 12 minutes. Issues dramatized include abortion, aging parents, AIDS, child discipline, divorce, drugs and homosexuality. Small groups gather weekly to watch a segment, and then discuss what they have seen.

“This opens people up,” Magyar said. “If they’ve had a recent death in the family, for example, they begin to share their feelings. Without exception, you have the opportunity to witness in these small groups.”

Problems portrayed in the video segments cause strong reactions.

“It’s one of those things when people see it they might get angry or defensive,” Magyar said. “It cuts to the quick. They walk out, saying, ‘I’m not going to take this.’ Then they’re back with their spouse and friends the next week."

Eneried Romero and her pastor husband, Isai, have used En Familia extensively as an outreach to non-believers around their church in Cali. She said the four themes that have impacted women the most are spousal abuse, divorce, child discipline and communication between husband and wife.

In the segment on spousal abuse, a “macho” husband heaps hateful insults on his wife. “Many women identify with the woman in this video and cry as they see their lives reflected in the drama,” Romero said.

In one case, “a woman left the group with the realization that she is really someone of value before God and that Christ gave His own life to save and heal her.”

Spousal communication has been a controversial subject among couples who attend the sessions together, Romero added. “Most men think that their free time is only for themselves.”

Magyar’s assistant, Paula Sanchez, wrote the scripts for En Familia from actual case studies provided by psychologist Herbert Palomino, an IMB missionary now on stateside assignment in Temple, Texas.

A native of Cali, Palomino worked in the Baptist hospital in Asuncion, Paraguay. Ministering to terminally ill patients and their families, he had opportunities to do counseling. “Most situations in En Familia were around the cases I saw at one time or another.”

Filming the series was done in a two week period in 1997 in Cali, using 46 professional actors.  Custom music was added a the Baptist International Communications studio in Cali, where Magyar is general director, and the film was edited at IMB headquarters in Richmond, Va. The entire project cost $36,000. “We got a lot for our money.”

Nearly 600 sets of En Familia materials- which include the videos, a leader’s guide and viewer’s guides – have been distributed in 18 countries.

Hayward Armstrong, a former missionary to Peru and Chile, headed the committee that conceived En Familia. Originally, the series was designed as a training tool for laypeople, he said, “The Lord has used it more evangelistically.”

Work has begun to produce a parallel evangelistic guide for En Familia group leaders. It will help them to direct responses to the gospel and to pose questions that go beyond social needs.

Jason Carlisle, the IMB’s director of Hispanic mobilization, has followed the spread of En Familia as a resource in his assignment of mobilizing stateside Hispanic churches toward missions.

The timing is right for En Familia in the Spanish-speaking world, Magyar said.

 “People are just hungry for Christ. They’re hungering for something different.” (BP)

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