Stephen Ray: Following in God's Own Footsteps

Stephen Ray has traveled to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Italy and Greece. Along the way, he's been arrested, thrown from a horse and laid in his own casket.

Is he re-enacting the adventures of a real-life Indiana Jones? No — just doing what it takes to produce Ignatius Press’ ambitious 10-part video series The Footprints of God: The Story of Salvation from Abraham to Augustine.

Ray spoke with Register staff writer Tim Drake upon the release of the fourth video in the series, Jesus: The Word Became Flesh.

How did the Footprints of God series come about?

When I took my family to see the Holy Land in 1995, I saw the profound effect it had on them. They came back fired up in their faith and for the Church. When they saw these places where these events took place, they realized that [the Gospel] was true. I joke that there are really five Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John — and the Holy Land.

In addition, one night I awoke suddenly at 2 a.m. and scared my wife, Janet, half to death. I told her we had to do a 10-part video series on the history of salvation from a Catholic perspective. She said, “You're crazy. Go back to sleep.” But I couldn't sleep. I typed out the outline for the series that evening. The next thing I knew, I was presenting the idea to Ignatius Press’ board. With all of the trouble going on in the Middle East, I felt this was a way I could go and bring it back to teach others.

What have been the most frightening moments during your travels?

At one point we had paid the Egyptian Air Force $15,000 to take us by helicopter out over the Red Sea. We were roped into the helicopter so we could hang out the open door getting our footage. At a crucial point, one of the airmen closed the door and said we couldn't take footage because it was a security area. Our camera guy got upset and pounded on the door. When he did so, the window popped out and fluttered down into the Red Sea. The crew turned the helicopter around and wanted to charge us $5,000 for the window, but I was able to use humor to get them to continue the trip.

Another time, while I was riding a horse, another stallion came from the opposite direction. There was an instant fight. My horse went up on his hind legs. I hit the ground with my black Arabian stallion flat on his back next to me.

I understand you were also arrested at one point.

Yes. While filming the Moses video, we went out into the wilderness and used some gasoline to start a bush on fire. The next thing I knew, the police came in a white jeep and took me down to their station. They wrote up a statement in Arabic that said I had broken one law and promised not to break any more. Unfortunately, we didn't have the footage we needed, so later that night we went farther into the wilderness, lit another bush and caught it on tape.

I understand you've also had some moments of divine intervention.

Yes, particularly while filming the Paul video. We had been trying for months to receive our permits and visas from Syria. I had already been to the Syrian embassy in Rome and they told us it takes diplomats six months to receive travel permits. I told them I would be back the next day for my permit. We were filming at Paul's tomb outside the walls and were scheduled to fly to Damascus the next day. The woman laughed at us, saying, “Who do you think you are, St. Paul, that God will do this miracle for you?”

We had been praying, “St. Paul, pray for us,” because we were quite concerned about obtaining the necessary permits to film in Damascus. While we were at Paul's tomb, my cell phone rang. It was the head of the Ministry of Information in Damascus. He said, “I would like to personally invite you to our country and will make all the necessary arrangements. Go to the Syrian embassy in Rome.” We sat there with our mouths hanging open in shock. So, with the minister's blessing, we went back to the embassy, obtained our permits and were in Syria the next day.

You've just completed the Jesus video. Tell me about it.

In the Jesus video I try to give a feel for how small of an area it was where Jesus lived and ministered. In one scene, I have my back to the camera with my hands raised. I say that Jerusalem is a feast for the eyes, but there was once a man who was blind from birth and couldn't see any of it. When the camera reveals my face, I have mud on my eyes, and my daughter leads me a half-mile away to the pool of Siloam.

Our goal is to help people understand what Christ's life was like. We also want to teach what it means for Jesus to be fully God and fully man. At one point I am sitting on a log and ask how Christ could be both God and man. I take a cut-up picture of Jesus and, as I put the puzzle pieces together in the dirt, I explain how the various heresies have attempted to split him apart. Through its definitions, I say, the Church gives us a fuller picture of Christ.

In the Crucifixion scenes we show a whip and a crown of thorns, and I carry a beam. If we do not understand the historical reality of the Crucifixion, we do not understand the price that was paid.

How has making the Jesus video given you a deeper appreciation of Christ?

When Jesus ascended, he went up into a cloud and back into glory. In making the video I became more impressed with Christ's love and humility — that he was willing to, and desired to, leave the comfort and perfection and majesty of heaven to become a human being. He acquired a physical body that he will have for eternity. He created and took on matter and lived here, and suffered, and underwent the humiliation of the cross. He took our sins upon himself and suffered for us. He leapt onto the cross, the battlefield, ready to do battle to defeat the enemy who had marred his creation.

What's next?

We hope to have Paul: Contending for the Faith by April, followed by videos on David and Solomon. We're also releasing the new videos in a DVD format with additional footage.

Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy