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'I have never typed my name,' says communications trainee

Greg Nelson teaches the Rev. Gertrude Makombore computer skills. A UMNS photo by Linda Green.

By Linda Green
Jan. 8, 2007 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

When the Rev. Margaret Mukundu, 41, sat down at the computer on opening day of a communications training exercise, she typed her name for the first time.

“I have never even used a typewriter,” she said. “I managed to type my own words, my own name.”

Twenty-nine members of the Commission on Communications, including staff from United Methodist Communications, are meeting in Africa Jan. 4-11. The commission members traveled to Zimbabwe to explore how they and United Methodist Communications can be helpful to African communicators.

During the training, they provided instruction on basic computer skills, use of e-mail and the Internet, PowerPoint presentations, news writing and editing and newsletter editing. Two journalists from Zimbabwe led the writing instruction.

A member of the United Methodist Zimbabwe East Annual (regional) Conference, Mukundu writes her sermons and other documents in longhand. She said she appreciated the training opportunity as well as the patience of the commissioner providing the training. “We are the learners and this is our first time. They have very big patience.”

The Rev. Margaret Mukundu types her name for the first time. A UMNS photo by Linda Green.

She and at least eight others attending a communications training and skills development course had never used a keyboard or a typewriter. They are among 30 United Methodist pastors and laity from across Zimbabwe who participated in the Jan. 8-10 training experience at Africa University.

Eight members of the governing board of United Methodist Communications, with diverse skills in computer technology, media and communications, led the training.

Following opening exercises, the commissioners divided the group into skill levels to give participants the attention they need. The guidance was sometimes reminiscent of Typing 101.

Mukundu plans to use the experience as a stepping stone for more training to improve communication with others. “This training encourages me to take more classes to do better than I am doing,” she explained. “Communications means communicating with others in Zimbabwe and out of this country.”

Other commission members participated in a mission volunteer exercise at the Zimbabwe Orphanage Endeavor, where they unloaded food for distribution to schools and mission entities.

Mike McCurry, a commission member, communications expert and former press secretary for President Bill Clinton, provided the trainees and the commissioners with his five “secret Cs” for effective communications.

He told the pastors and laity to have:

  • Credibility. Be reliable and accurate in communicating;
  • Candor. Be honest in admitting the shortcomings in the system and “have the ability to tell the truth when difficult things happen.”
  • Clarity. “A clear message that will break through distractions and reach people.”
  • Compassion. – Strive for “authentic dialogue with those who are skeptical” or critical.
  • Commitment. “Stick with it.”


Domingos Antonio

Domingos Antonio of Luanda, Angola, wore two hats at the training event. As a member of the commission, a journalist and radio program producer, he taught pastors and lay people. He also was trained by his fellow commissioners.

“When you don’t use computer skills often, you forget them,” Antonio said. “I am here to learn. I am here to revive my skills on the computer and to help others.”

Playing a dual role is exciting, he added. “When we teach, we also learn. My double role here makes me more humble because I think I can get more in learning than by teaching.”

Greg Nelson, a commissioner from Salem, Ore., journeyed to Zimbabwe for two reasons: to learn about the realities of communicating in Zimbabwe and to show the people of Africa that the Commission on Communications “is part of their United Methodist Church and is not just an institution in the United States.”

Nelson told United Methodist New Service that if the denomination is going to continue its journey towards becoming a fully global entity and enhancing the participation of delegates from outside the United States at sessions of General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, then boards and agencies must meet their needs as well.

Acknowledging that cultural and economic differences make it challenging and common ground needs to be found, he said, “we need to find the right way to reach those cultures and economies where they are on the ground. Jesus met people where they were at and the United Methodist Church needs to do that, too.”

Antonio believes the church cannot be global “if some people are too high and the others are too low.” Africa, he noted, is behind in communications technology.

“As I see here, some of the participants have never seen a single computer and some don’t know how to write,” he said. “Africa must be helped in developing communication technology, in improving writing skills, so that we can work together as members of the same church.”

Antonio said he appreciated the training event in Zimbabwe and is requesting that United Methodist Communications continue this type of training across the continent.

Gift Mudambo, a member of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference, attended the training “to understand how to communicate with one another in different languages, cultures, and to understand tradition.

“This training is a privilege,” he said. “To be able to teach others about how my church drives me from one place to another using others from overseas is a privilege.”

The Rev. Gertrude Makombore, also from Zimbabwe East, said she “came to get knowledge about communicating to other people. This is important because you can know people you did not know before. It is a program of transport.”


Gift Mudambo

Martha Matharuka, Zimbabwe West, sees the training as a tool to enhance her ability to pass knowledge on to others. “I hope to take the training back to my district in Bulawayo…so that we can all communicate from the top to the bottom.”

She was grateful to United Methodist Communications for providing a start to enable her to communicate with people in rural areas. As others do across Africa, she sends mail on a bus and hopes that it reaches the intended recipients after days or weeks of travel.

The Rev. Tafadzwa Mudambanuki, coordinator of the Central Conference Communications Initiative at United Methodist Communications, told those at the gathering that they “have been called by God to exceed limitations. You have been set apart to be the prophetic voice . . . to proclaim the good news to the people of this area.”

The training will help local people respond to “those off the grid,” have beneficial information for their lives and be connected to others for sharing and problem-solving, he added.

Mudambanuki also said he expected participants would overcome any limitations – such as a “can’t do attitude” or fear of what others think – to become effective communicators. “You can do all things through Christ. Liberate yourself,” he told the group.

During the commission meeting, the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive at United Methodist Communications, bemoaned the familiar story lines of diminished budgets and membership decline that often are used to describe the United Methodist Church and other mainline denominations in the United States.

“I do not accept this as the only story line, not even the one that must be used to tell our story,” he said. “It is a search for death. I am interested in life.”

There is a clear indication that people are “hungry for a vital, life-giving, life-sustaining expression of the Christian faith, one that is spiritually mature and relevant to the concerns we face in this new century,” Hollon added.

In addition to Antonio and Nelson, other commissioners providing training were the Rev. Alvin J. Horton, Richmond, Va.; the Rev. Cynthia Harvey, Houston; the Rev. Thomas Clemow II, Oneonta, N.Y.; Candis Shannon, Fairbanks, Alaska; Paul Black, Springfield, Ill., and Bill Norton, Raleigh, N.C.

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


News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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