One of the main goals of media is to tell stories. The people who create media must search out those stories and spread them to the world. This past summer, audio professor Mark Seignious helped cover a particularly special story.
Seignious spent a few weeks between May and August in Aberdeen, South Dakota – broadcast location of the Christian Worship Hour (CWH) – to film a documentary. The topic of the documentary was the life of Harold Salem, a class of 1944 University of Northwestern – St. Paul graduate and the founder of CWH.
While Salem was the one being filmed and interviewed for the documentary, Seignious said that the documentary is truly “about what God has done through Harold Salem.” After 73 years of preaching and 96 years of life, it’s guaranteed that Dr. Salem has had a spiritual influence. The attitude of both Salem and the documentary reflect Psalm 126:3 – “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”
Seignious’s involvement with the project began with his connection to Slate and Main, a local video production company run by a close friend. CWS was looking for a media production team to create the documentary and found Slate and Main.
The majority of Seignious’ work consisted of getting interviews and formulating the overarching story from them – “they speak it, I assemble it,” he said. He combed through around 20 hours of interview footage and pieced together the main themes, ideas and connecting points. Additionally, due to the lack of pictures of Salem’s life in the 1930s and 1940s, several short vignettes were filmed to fill in the blanks.
The documentary’s story begins in Belle Fourche, South Dakota, where Salem grew up on a farm. Eventually, Salem and his family were evicted from the farm, despite constant prayer. Fortunately, the family’s attitude remained positive – “we’re gonna lose the farm, but we’re not gonna lose our God,” Seignious described. Salem returned to South Dakota after getting his doctorate and began serving at the First Baptist Church of Belle Fourche in June of 1944. He began as a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Aberdeen 13 years later, where he remained until 2010.
The Christian Worship Hour was founded in 1979 for a simple purpose – to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has been broadcasting for over 38 years, on over 50 TV stations worldwide. The humble message of one pastor has managed to reach 90% of the earth. Consisting almost entirely of a sermon preached by Salem and a few worship songs, CWH is still on air today.
Part of the appeal of Dr. Salem’s story and CWH to Seignious is how it is “broadcasting to the ends of the earth from the ends of the earth.” His restless passion for serving the Lord manifested itself through a simple, low-tech ministry hour. “He just wants people to see Jesus,” said Seignious.
During the film shoot, the team from Slate and Main remained on location in Aberdeen, interacting with the family of Salem. A highlight of doing so for Seignious was going out to sit on a hill by some ebenezers (small stacks of rocks, from 1 Samuel 7:12), where “Salem would go up to pray…every time he had a big decision.” It was powerful to look out over “the expanse of the South Dakota land” and let the glory and beauty of God’s creation wash over him. Unfortunately, leaving took on a summer camp-like “I don’t want to go home” feeling.
The film may still be officially untitled, but it is currently referred to as “Shepherd’s Heart.” The image of Christ as a shepherd is reflected in the tireless preaching, guidance, and love put forth by Salem, who grew up as a literal shepherd. He lives simply yet has managed to bring the gospel to countless people worldwide, guiding them and caring for them through the CWS.
The film will hopefully be finished in November.