Well, another Thursday, another blog about an advertisement. I just can’t help myself. I love commercials! This one is for Unitel, an African cell phone provider based in Angola. You can thank me later for introducing you to it, because it’s fantastic. The music for the ad was done by Hanan Townshend, the same fellow who did the music for Apple’s Your Verse commercial that I blogged about a month ago.
Since I would bet that the vast majority of you haven’t seen the ad, I’ll give you a quick summary. It begins with a close up shot of a young African man. Above the tense soundtrack, he begins telling his story: “Once upon a time, I missed her so, so badly. I realized I couldn’t spend one more minute without talking to her.” With that opening line, he embarks on an epic trek across Africa in search of his beloved. The scenery is stunning and the tension in the music only builds as one otherworldly landscape is replaced by another. After crossing deserts and mountains, jungles and rivers, he finally arrives at his destination. As he walks slowly towards the building, he sees his mother coming out. She sets down what she’s carrying and they run towards one another. They embrace and as tears of joy run down her face you hear his voice again: “Today when I can’t visit her, I call.” And then the caption: Get Closer.
There are many reasons why I love this ad. One of them is its simplicity. It’s focused on the journey. Very few words are spoken, yet the emotions of both the mother and son are felt keenly. Another is how well the ad is executed. Every shot is beautifully composed and lit and the locations were chosen impeccably. Even the sparseness of the landscapes serves to heighten the tension in the journey.
But there are two other reasons that I love the ad and they dovetail perfectly with what we’ve been looking at so far in our sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The first is the emphasis on relationship. Whereas so many ads are targeted to what’s new and exciting, what you can do with the product or how it will change your life, this one focuses on something much more fundamentally human: the relationship between a mother and son.
Even the final line, “Today when I can’t visit her, I call,” is beautiful because it still places the emphasis on the face-to-face relationship. Yes, it’s nice to be able to talk on the phone, but we all know that it’s not the same as being with someone face to face. We see the same thing from Paul in his letter. He’s happy to hear from the Philippians and be able to write them concerning his situation. But he longs to be with his friends again. He longs to encourage them and pray with them and share in their struggles and triumphs. It’s certainly possible to maintain a relationship over great distances, but it’s hard. It’s innately human to crave the intimacy of physical proximity.
However, what I love most about this ad is one of the things the man says about his journey: “This is a simple story. It begins with a step and ends with more than a walk.” The reason I love that line so much is that it’s a perfect description of what we’re called to in following Jesus. He doesn’t ask for much in starting out, just the simple admission that he is God and I am not. But that admission ends with transforming our entire way in the world. Our lives are no longer our own. Our dreams and aspirations are transformed. And when we look back at the road we’ve walked, it will be unrecognizable.
Although the Christian life begins with a step, it ends with more than a walk. Jesus never promises that following him will be easy. In fact Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, reminds us that suffering for the sake of the gospel is a gracious gift of God to us. We are not to avoid the hard road. We are not to seek out the comfortable. We are to seek Christ. We all think we know what we’re getting ourselves into when we take that first step, but we don’t. Because it will always end with more than a walk. But it’s in the midst of those otherworldly landscapes, both more challenging and more magnificent than we could have imagined, that we meet Christ.