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Fingers Point People to the Gospel in Spanish Video Series

November 16, 2012

Guatemala Deditos actor lr
Shooting crowd scenes using finger puppets presents unique challenges.

(Nov. 16, 2012 - by Ralph Kurtenbach) With names like Eve, Abraham and Jonah instead of Pinkie, Tall Man and Thumbkin, the finger puppets of Deditos, a Spanish-language video series, present biblical accounts of God's involvement in human history.

As digital media eclipses older technologies, John Gowan focuses on the digits of the hands-the fingers. (A literal translation of Deditos is "little fingers.")

The HCJB Global missionary is an actor, director and producer. He taught theater arts at Westmont College in California before beginning mission work in Ecuador. During the course of two decades there, he worked with the mission's Televozandes video production team and also instructed communications students.

Coaching fingers to act, however, is quite another matter. Nearly four years ago Gowan became involved with Deditos, a production of the Guatemala-based Viña Association, a nonprofit ministry birthed by the Central American branch of SIL International. He brings to the job such experiences as the Ecuador-based film adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. More recently he accepted the challenge of dubbing into Spanish the vegetable characters of VeggieTales in Latin America.

Guatemala Gowan Embera lr
John Gowan, who played the character Major Nurnberg, with Emberá actor José Caizamo, who played the role of the Waorani warrior, Nampa, in the movie, End of the Spear.

Then the 2005 movie, End of the Spear, offered Gowan the opportunity to coach the Emberá people of Panama whose movie roles portrayed them as primitive Ecuadorian Indians in the 1950s. He also acted in the film as a U.S. Air Force officer who informed five missionary wives in January 1956 that rescue efforts revealed their husbands had been speared to death by members of the Waorani tribe whom the missionaries had tried to evangelize.

At a seminar to Quechua-speaking Peruvians recently, the 6-foot-2-inch missionary towered above his students. The lanky Gowan walked tall in other ways as well, observing that "they treated me like a visiting celebrity because of my participation in End of the Spear and my book, Cristianos: Hagamos Buena Televisión (Christians, Let's Make Good Television). I'll admit, I enjoyed seeing their eyes light up when they saw on screen what inexperienced indigenous actors (the Emberá) were capable of doing with the proper training and preparation."

Deditos was begun in 2004 by the Viña Association as a pilot project for children. The Guatemala media group conceived and produced a video on the biblical account of David and Goliath in a format and style especially designed to appeal to young people.

Guatemala Deditos set lr
Shooting a Deditos video in the studio with a scene set in an Israelite camp in the desert.

"There are reportedly 3 million children in Guatemala between the ages of 4 and 14," declares the association's website which then laments the dearth of teaching materials geared for this age group. The children must endure lengthy church services or perhaps are allowed to "escape outdoors and play till the service is over," according to the website.

The David and Goliath program was written by members of a Guatemalan indigenous group, the Cakchiquel, with young viewers in mind. After that, Viña complemented the project with a program with a series of Sunday school lessons.

This year the production team completed the story of Joseph, shot the account of Moses, and scripted several other biblical accounts including the destruction of Jericho and the struggles and triumphs of characters such as Gideon, Samson and David.

"I am working through requests for permission to dub, broadcast or distribute Deditos for ministries in Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Romania, Germany, Italy, India and Indonesia," reported Gowan. "I am adding significant work as we expand into international broadcast and distribution partnerships around the world. Also, we will be doing significant training of indigenous groups wanting to dub Deditos into their own languages, something I especially enjoy."

He quoted the association's website which estimates that "50 to 55 percent of a person's worldview is formed before age 5, and 80 percent by age 12. So these are important years in which to internalize biblical truths."

Deditos episodes can be viewed online at http://vimeo.com/deditos.

Sources: HCJB Global, Viña Association




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