Paul Eshleman, Who Brought ‘Jesus’ Film to the Ends of the Earth, Dies at 80

“We are strategists for Christ, thinking of new ways to reach people with the message of life.” –Paul Eshleman

Paul Eshleman, best known for leading JESUS to become the most-translated film of all time, passed away the evening of Wednesday, May 24, in Southern California. He was 80 years old.

Eshleman’s life was driven by the desire for everyone—everywhere—to hear the message of Christ. A graduate of Michigan State University with a master’s in business administration, marketing and finance, Eshleman was determined to use his education to advance the Gospel. In 1966, he became a staff member of Cru, known then as Campus Crusade for Christ.

In his early years at the organization, Eshleman directed EXPLO 72 in Dallas, Texas—an event that drew approximately 80,000 attendees from across America for training in sharing their faith in Jesus Christ.

A few years later, he directed the I Found It! campaign, which shared the Christian message with more than 200 American cities. An estimated 85% of all Americans were aware of the unique campaign and its message of spiritual hope.

But for Eshleman, these early successes were not enough. At that time, there were about 5,500 languages spoken on Earth and billions of people who had never been exposed to the Bible.

Eshleman stepped up to lead production of JESUS, a feature-length film based on the Gospel of Luke to convey the life of Jesus. After a nationwide debut in theaters, Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Cru, charged Eshleman with a goal to translate and dub JESUS into 163 languages. Today, the film is available in more than 2,000 language translations.

For many years Eshleman also served as vice president of coverage for Cru. He spent the last two decades providing strategy and counsel for ministries of Cru involved in mass evangelism, often coordinating partnerships between Cru and other Christian organizations. He also continued to inspire and encourage fellow Cru staff to “see who hasn’t gotten the (Gospel) message yet and get the message to them.”

“Paul was a champion for the cause of Christ and challenged the Church to consider innovative ways to evangelize,” says Steve Sellers, current Cru president.

In addition, Eshleman gave direction to the Finishing the Task Movement, with the goal of synthesizing data toward tracking and engaging the unengaged and unreached people groups of the world. He also chaired the Strategy Working Group for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.

He authored several books, including The Explo Story: A Plan to Change the World (1972), The Touch of Jesus (2002) and I Just Saw Jesus: The JESUS Film (2016).

Eshleman is survived by his wife, Rena, two grown children and six grandchildren.


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