Cleary is the maker of Tortured for Christ, a feature length film screening Friday at the festival, and he shared his journey to finding the truth about how the Lord used the torture of Richard Wurmbrand to transform lives. After he read Tortured for Christ, he sought out The Pastor’s Wife written by Richard’s wife, Sabina, but he couldn’t get his hands on a copy. He added it to his prayer list and when he began volunteering at Voice of the Martyrs, God answered that prayer when he opened up a whole box of Sabina’s book as part of one of his first assignments — the menial task of moving book boxes.
“Our mission begins with and is fueled by the unique testimony given to us by God for His glory,” Cleary declared as he began to share his own testimony.
Wurmbrand’s book impacted him so deeply that he tried to find a way to go hear Richard speak. He called up the mission and Richard wasn’t available, but a gentleman named Tom White was. In trying to organize events with speakers like White, he rented out theaters and tried to get people to come. Opening night, 24 inches of snow fell in Maine and nobody showed up. At one meeting, there was a mere 8 people.
“It was completely depressing. I had spent my life savings to do this. What I really learned was an incredible lesson,” Cleary explained as he described what happened next.
His pastor came up to him and asked, “How much did you lose?” The church heard the meetings didn’t go well and the church wanted to repay him.
I replied, “I didn’t lose anything. How do you lose when you do something for God?”
So I refused the money and I said to God, “‘Okay now you owe me.’ I didn’t want to be indebted to man, I wanted to be indebted to God.”
Cleary gave us this principle: Failures are faith builders. Let God carry your debts.
“I wasn’t looking for credit. I was looking for a ministry.”
So a few weeks later, White called him up and offered him a position at the mission, Voice of the Martyrs. First day on the job, they handed him the phone and it was Richard Wurmbrand. What followed was an incredible journey where Cleary traveled with the Wurmbrands for five years and then the next five years, he ministered to them on their deathbeds as they passed from this life.
“I honestly don’t know which years were more valuable,” Cleary pondered.
“I wonder what would have happened if I had accepted that $3,000 check from my pastor that day. If I hadn’t allowed God to repay my labor,” Cleary questioned.
He went through some personal struggles and ended up in Celebrate Recovery. His sponsor, Robert Fernandez, became a lifelong friend. One day they were sitting around talking about work and the future and Cleary decided, “Let’s make a movie.” He wanted to make Pilgrim’s Progress. Thus began his venture into Christian film. He started a studio, Cat in the Mill Studios, and Revelation Media. He learned the painstaking task of becoming a filmmaker — having to raise money, talk to investors, deal with finances, advertising, etc.
What he discovered were two very important things: 1) 85% of Christian films lose money and 2) The vast majority of Christian films do not translate well to the mission field.
“We all want to be media missionaries, but what films are actually making it to the mission field?,” he asked.
“I wanted to quit at this point. I had an investor who had offered to put up $1 million back out,” Cleary recalled.
But one night he had a dream and felt the Lord was clearly calling him to make a movie, stick with it, that it would be big, and that no one would understand why he was doing it. We decided our mission is to take films to the mission field. What they quickly learned is you cannot serve two masters. You can’t necessarily make a mission movie and still have it be commercially viable in America.
“You can do a film that makes money and you can get it to missions, and that’s great. Or you can do a film for missions, but you can’t make money your master. You can’t or it won’t work. You have to pick one,” Cleary concluded.
“One will rule the project. Money or missions will rule the project,” Clearly proclaimed. “Return on investment is one thing, but we learned return on impact is greater.”
“We now meet with more missions than hedge funds, and more donors than investors. We now meet with more missionaries than we do filmmakers.”
So he began a project called The Animated Bible Series using motion comic animation. It’s actually the first time an animated series is the actual Bible narrative, which is 90% scripture. The first of the 50 episodes is done. Preparations have begun to translate this into the top languages of the world.
He shared the trailers for it, Tortured for Christ, and the upcoming, Pilgrim’s Progress, coming out in spring 2019.
He pointed to the story from Matthew 25 about the parable of the talents. He feels like he only has one talent.
“I won’t bury or sell my talent,” Cleary promised.
He encouraged attendees to tithe their talents, and consider making films whose primary destination is the mission field.
He encouraged everyone, when they buy 10 tickets, set aside one for missions. Commit to sending some of your films to the mission field.
“Just tithe it. Tithe your time. My challenge to filmmakers is to tithe your talent.”