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Initiative helps communicators build global network

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A UMNS photo by Harry Leake

Central Conference communicators gather together at Africa University.

June 9, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) – Thirty-one representatives from 17 African countries will gather June 15-30 for an intense two-week course of study to build their skills as Christian communicators and help build a global network for the United Methodist Church.

The course is being held at United Methodist-related Africa University and is sponsored by the university and the Central Conference Communications Initiative, a collaborative effort between United Methodist Communications and the bishops of the central conferences — regional units of the denomination in Africa, Europe and Asia.

The 2004 General Conference overwhelmingly approved the initiative, which calls for United Methodist Communications to identify new partnerships or assist with established partnerships among United Methodists in Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States.

Classes will include basic computer, Internet and e-mail training, journalism, photography, videography, video editing, newsletter design, community radio and a special session on writing about social issues such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.

“What many communicators take in two semesters, we’re doing in two weeks,” said Barbara Nissen, leader of the Communications Resourcing Team at United Methodist Communications.

At the end of the course, communicators will go home with DVDs, CDs, a template for a Web site and a notebook with outlines and notes from all of the instructors, Nissen said.

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A UMNS photo by Harry Leake

Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa discusses communication challenges in Africa.

Most of the courses will be taught in three languages: French, Portuguese and English. Instructors from Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ghana, as well as United Methodist Communications’ Media Group, will lead the classes.

Last July, 13 annual conference communicators representing nine African countries held a two-day consultation at Africa University to identify communication challenges and solutions. The findings from that consultation were used to develop the two-week course for this summer.

“I think the initiative is one of the best gifts the church has given to Africa as far as communication is concerned,” said Tafadzwa Mudambanuki, the initiative’s coordinator and a native of Zimbabwe. “It is an initiative that will help people get information about life-saving issues — information to survive, to live their lives and become global citizens.”

Strengthening community

The goal of the training event is to empower sustainable, regional communication offices across Africa and to build a global United Methodist communications network, Nissen said.

Participants in the training will learn foundational conference communications skills, knowledge and equipment application. They will also be equipped to go back to their areas and train others.

The training is about much more than equipment or skills, said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications.

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A UMNS photo by Harry Leake

Tafadzwa Mudambanuki (center) and Barbara Nissen (left rear) facilitate a meeting of Central Conference communicators.

“We are also about understanding how communications strengthens community,” he said. “We are entrusted with the responsibility to communicate in our local communities of faith about the important concerns of faith and everyday activities that make for a healthy and whole life under God.”

Participants will take part in discussions about what it means to be a Christian conference communicator and examine topics such as how public relations relates to the role of the communicator.

Initiative gets under way

The two-week training is the latest step in the initiative that started with a survey of 18 United Methodist bishops from the central conferences in fall 2004. United Methodist Communications staff visited Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2005 and three United Methodist areas in Europe in 2006. Nissen and Mudambanuki also attended the National Association of Filipino United Methodists last year.

“We decided the best thing to do would be to audit communications needs and to determine what is needed to build a communications infrastructure,” Nissen said. “We want to help people tell the important stories that are going on in their church and in their cultural setting.”

The Foundation for United Methodist Communications is working to raise funds for establishing communication centers in each United Methodist area. So far, the foundation has received funds to establish a community radio station in Liberia and conference communications centers in Zimbabwe, Central Congo, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), North Katanga and South Africa.

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A UMNS photo by Harry Leake

The Rev. Elias Zacarias Massicame (left) from Mozambique and Phileas Sapha Jusu from Sierra Leone attend a communicators meeting at Africa University.

The centers will be equipped with computers, cameras, Internet access, radio and video capability and other vital communication tools. Communication networks will include ham radios, handheld radios and community radio stations.

“Nothing can supersede communications in spreading the gospel,” said Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, Zimbabwe. “Communication is the hallmark of doing ministry in all its various facets.”

“We are on a wonderful, challenging and life-enhancing journey,” Hollon said. “We are privileged to communicate God’s love to a broken world in which people feel alone and far too many suffer.

“We seek to bring the healing, reconciling and loving words from God into this world so that people experience this love more deeply and so that they have information to live by.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

Audio Interviews

Barbara Nissen:
"We're doing it in two weeks."

Tafadzwa Mudambanuki:
"Information about life-saving issues."

Liberia Conference close to establishing radio station

African communicators meet, share ideas for future

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Central Conference Communications Initiative

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