Communicators in Training in Zimbabwe

The General Commission on Communications of The
United Methodist Church participated in training pastors and other church
leaders in Zimbabwe in newsletter preparation and computer skills.

(This is the third post from Mutare, Zimbabwe where the General Commission on Communications of The United Methodist Church is meeting. With representatives from Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States, this is the first meeting of the Commission (board of directors) outside the United States. The Commission supervises United Methodist Communications, the communications agency responsible for communications services for the global church.)

I’m sitting in a workshop of Zimbabweans who have come to learn journalism skills. Some are inexperienced and untrained. Others are computer literate but haven’t studied writing and editing. They come from cities and rural villages across Zimbabwe.

They want to communicate the stories of the church–stories of hope as well as struggle. Their task is monumental. Some of their audience live in villages so remote they have neither electricity nor telephones. The presence of these students witnesses to their commitment to change these circumstances.

They read aloud a story written by Kathy Gilbert of United Methodist Communications about Bishop Jao Soamane Machado of Mozambique. It is about how he spoke to the President of Mozambique during civil war urging him to negotiate peace. He spoke of the brown water people were forced to drink in the absence of pure water sources. His point was the government was spending valuable resources on weapons of destruction rather than on those things that will make life better for the people. To make his point he tells the President, “We are hungry for peace.”

In this setting, the words leap from the page. They bring a lump to the throat. Gilbert’s writing, says instructor Ezekial Makunike, demonstrate the power of storytelling. A simple drink of clean water in a war-torn country is a luxury. But the wisdom of the Bishop is to ask the President to make peace because the people hunger for clean water. It is a non-confrontational way to engage the President in a discussion of the fruits of peace.

Makunike said the article helped “unlock the mystery of our people” and encouraged the would-be communicators to consider how they can find stories in their own communities that will tell the world the wisdom and strengths that exist in the people with whom they work daily.

This is the value of journalism, he contends. It is empowering. It affirms the value of the people.

The discussion turns to how journalists can help people live well by telling stories about how to develop clean water sources, earn a living wage, construct adequate shelter and have appropriate clothing.

The conversation goes to the heart of why communication is a foundation for self-deveopment and empowerment. It makes clear why this workshop is a form of ministry.

Makunike tells the students they can have the same power to move their readers as Gilbert’s words have moved them today. They set out to write their own stories and find their own voice.

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