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African communicators meet, share ideas for future

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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, reliable electricity.

For church communicators in many African countries, a pen, paper and even a chair are sometimes hard to find.

Identifying 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 trained communicators.”

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.

“I envision 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.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
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.

The communicators’ 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.

Communicators also 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.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
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

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