Dunkirk and the Power of Story

I recently caught Dunkirk, the Christopher Nolan movie that tells the story of the daring rescue of Allied soldiers in the early days of World War II. When Nazi Germany invaded France in May 1940, they began to push English, Belgian and French forces to the sea. The British Expeditionary Force made the decision to evacuate the troops near Dunkirk, on the northern shore of France. Some naval ships were dispatched, but officers were not willing to risk the entire fleet to marauding German bombers and prowling U-boats. The evacuation began at a painfully slow pace, but when the word got out of the dire situation, civilian sailors came to the rescue.

A flotilla of yachts, fishing boats, motorcraft and merchant marine ships braved the mine-infested waters of the English Channel to make the 30-mile voyage to Dunkirk. When the evacuation began, Churchill was hoping that 30,000 men could be ferried back to safety. By June 4, 1940, over 338,000 soldiers had been evacuated. The prime minister hailed the operation as a “miracle of deliverance.”

I grew up hearing war stories from my dad, who was a B-17 copilot. When he told me about the Dunkirk evacuation, I remember how impressed I was. It was a personal lesson in bravery: ordinary men risking their property and lives to save soldiers whom they didn’t know.

Of course, I knew the outcome of the story before I sat down in the theater to watch the movie. Still, the masterful storytelling of Nolan grabbed me from the start. As my oldest son, who caught the flick before me, remarked, “I paid for my entire seat, but only used the edge of it.”

Once again I am reminded of the power of story to stir mind and soul. I would venture to say that most Westerners know the story of Jesus. They know that He taught ethics in the Sermon the Mount. They have heard that He gathered 12 disciples, who were to carry out His mission. And most everyone knows the most crucial elements of this story, that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and raised on Easter Sunday.

Yet even the Greatest Story Ever Told can be told as “old hat.” How many preachers drone in the pulpit every week as if this tale were as exciting as a shopping list? How many folks turn off the story in their heads when it starts to be repeated, unconsciously believing that it has nothing new or powerful to say?

The Gospel must be told in fresh, dynamic, heart-gripping ways. That’s why I do what I do: embody the story in dramatic fashion. It seems to grab attention, including that of children and the hard-to-impress teenager. Drama is not the only way to tell the Gospel story, of course. The church has many creative channels at its disposal, including poetry, sculpture, dance, art, music, photography and film. Jesus Himself used creative arts when He taught spiritual truth in parable form.

Perhaps the greatest tool at our disposal is our own passion for the Story. Do you believe the Gospel is the “power of God unto salvation”? (Romans 1:16). Then tell or show it in your own way – but do it compellingly, remembering that this Story has changed (and is still changing) you.

There are an estimated 2.2 billion Christians in the world. That’s over two billion stories reflecting the One Story that binds us together. And that leaves over 5 billion who need to hear, see and experience the Story for themselves.

It’s up to us.

It’s up to you.

How will you tell the Story today?


  1. Reply
    Sidney says

    Mark, this is awesome! Your visual stories will forever be remembered by ALL who witness them ♡ I know this to be true: YOU ARE ONE OF A KIND STORYTELLER! May God bless you and your Ministry as you bless others.

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