African communicators meet, share ideas for future
|A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert
Communication in African countries is often done with the help of schoolchildren.
Aug. 19, 2005
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)
— Most United Methodist communicators in Africa work without access to a
working landline phone, Internet, transportation and, in some cases,
For church communicators in many African countries, a pen, paper and even a chair are sometimes hard to find.
communications challenges and solutions was the subject of a two-day
consultation held July 20-21 at Africa University. The meeting was the
first to bring together 13 annual conference communicators representing
nine African countries — and speaking three languages — to look at ways
to advance communications.
The meeting was
sponsored by United Methodist Communications, in cooperation with the
university, as part of the Central Conference Communications Initiative
approved by the 2004 General Conference.
The United Methodist
Church’s legislative assembly approved the initiative to develop
communication structure in the conferences outside the United States.
Working in partnership with central conference church leaders, United
Methodist Communications is helping those areas not only meet their own
needs but also the needs of the larger church “for hearing, embracing
and sharing life-transforming stories,” said Barbara Nissen, director of
UMCom’s Communications Resourcing Team.
“The leaders of the
church in Africa have told us their ministry is hindered by the
inability of church leaders and members to communicate with each other
in a timely and accessible way,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top
executive of the communications agency.
“The need for the
church to share information about a whole range of its concerns — from
day-to-day to emergency circumstances — requires more effective
communication ability,” he said. “We are working with the African church
to create a reliable, efficient communications infrastructure with
Nissen and fellow team
member Tafadzwa Mudambanuki led the African communicators through
problem solving and dreaming about what it would mean to have a fully
functioning communication center on the continent.
communication centers established throughout the United Methodist Church
in Africa, Asia and Europe, and the entire church would be connected
globally, all part of one family,” Mudambanuki said.
Barriers to communication
During the two days,
communicators shared their frustration with trying to cover large
conferences without proper equipment or budgets for financing
newsletters, newspapers or other forms of communication.
|A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert
The Rev. Konah Parker, Liberia, participates in communication consultation.
“Everything has stopped
because of the war,” said Manisha Marve from Burundi. “There are not
even any roads.” Burundi has been plagued by tension between the
dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority since independence in
1961. The government and the United Nations are working to disarm
thousands of soldiers and former rebels.
dreams for a functioning center include proper equipment, Web sites with
links to each country, a system of getting information to flow from the
local churches to the conferences and then to the global church,
well-trained personnel and financial stability.
agreed on the need to emphasize the importance of the “ministry of
communication” with bishops and other church leaders.
“Leadership needs to
place a value on communication,” said Andra Stevens, communications
director for Africa University. “Communicators need to help leaders be
sensitized to the value of communicators.”
Sharing the gospel
Africa has a “culture
of communication,” Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa told the communicators at the
end of the meeting. Nhiwatiwa is bishop of the church’s Zimbabwe Area.
“It is part and parcel of the gospel to go and share,” he said.
“In Africa, don’t despair; be creative, be resourceful.”
During the next four
years, the initiative will identify and begin responding to central
conference communications needs. “One size will not fit all,” Nissen
said. “Through the initiative, we have begun to work with conference
leaders in each episcopal area to identify needs and approaches to
building and enhancing communication infrastructure in the church
“From what we’re
hearing in Africa, we hope to help equip each area with the tools and
training needed to run a viable communications center or workstation,”
Mudambanuki said. “At the same time, we’re looking at how community
radio or ham radios could strengthen the outreach of the church.”
Consultations with other central conferences, including those in Europe and Asia, are being planned for 2006.
Training workshops are
being planned in Africa to provide skills in computer software,
journalism, writing skills, public relations, desktop publishing,
photojournalism, Web design, newspaper design, newsletter design, video
editing skills, radio ministry and television ministry. The first
workshop is scheduled for next summer.
“It is exciting to hear
about the possibilities of having communication offices in all our
episcopal areas,” said Gladman Makwenya, Zimbabwe. “It is my prayer that
God will continue to open possibilities.”
|A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert
Zimbabwe's Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa said Africa has a "culture of communication."
“We are talking about
basic needs; we are just starting,” Mudambanuki reminded participants.
“We want to challenge you to go to your annual conferences and your
partners in United States and Europe and ask them for help. Exchange
ideas and communicate your needs.”
Communicators were also
asked to go back home and look for qualified African teachers who could
teach workshops in English, French and Portuguese. UMCom will look for
computer software and other teaching tools in all three languages.
“Since we have been
here, I have noticed the spirit of God,” said Arthur Mpoyo Mbuya, North
Katanga Annual Conference, Democratic Republic of Congo. “Even though we
are from different countries, we have similar needs and issues.”
The Rev. Louis Loma of
the Central Congo Annual Conference agreed. “God is going to give us his
blessing in Africa and through the world.”
*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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Phileas Sapha Jusu, Sierra Leone communicator
Communications association formed in Africa
UMCom adopts plan to lead church into digital age
Central conferences communications initiative approved
United Methodist Association of Communicators
Communications Resourcing Team
Episcopal Areas: Africa