It's Time to Quit Talking to ourselves
CARROLLTON, GA (ANS - March 13, 2017) -- It was good to see an article in a recent issue of the Guardian Weekly (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/12/my-neighbour-murdered-my-family-now-we-are-friends-rwanda-genocide) which pointed to the pioneering work being done by Prison Fellowship Rwanda to bring reconciliation to that country which still suffers the psychological pain of a mass genocide 22 years ago.
What was refreshing, in addition to the delicate but successful work of the agency, was the recognition by the Guardian reporter that the efforts are being carried out at the hands of a Christian organization.
The two villagers form part of a pioneering community of 54 families living in the reconciliation village of Mbyo, one of six set up in Rwanda's rural regions by a non-profit Christian organization to promote healing after the brutality of the 1990s.
The project was launched by a local NGO called Prison Fellowship Rwanda (PFR), which identifies people and families in need of housing, regardless of their actions during the genocide.
All too often when I read religious news I find that it is critical or skeptical or just down-right condemning of the church and Christian beliefs and practices. Seldom do I read an article that reports positively on the efforts of the church worldwide to serve the needs of others, improve society or reach out to troubled, lost individuals.
Instead, I read either news pertaining to the on-going cultural wars, or self-serving public relations which primarily serves as a way for the church or Christian organization to pat itself on the back (and, not so coincidently, to raise funds). What these press releases amount to is Christian churches and organizations talking to themselves about what they are doing, rather than reaching out and letting the public know what God is doing through their ministries.
And, with the exception of the occasional excellent article in community newspapers highlighting the work of churches to reach the homeless, hungry or addicted, most of the actual news concerning Christian ministry goes unnoticed.
With that, then, comes the perception that churches aren't doing much to alleviate the concerns of the poor, the persecuted, the refugee or their more traditional evangelistic outreach.
While many will blame the media for overlooking or ignoring the good work of Christians around the world, much of the blame must lie on us for our negligence in letting the world know.
Bruce Buursma, who was a religion writer for a number of newspapers including the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Chicago Tribune, once said that religious news that media outlets are looking for occurs where the interests of the religious community intersect with the interests of society.
That is the key for those of us who serve congregations or work for a mission or Christian social service agency. What we do is of interest to the media, and does intersect with the needs, concerns, struggles and interests of society. But reporters aren't mind-readers. Someone has to let them know.
And that's the job of the church or agency -- to be proactive at sending news-worthy information to local and national media outlets; to be thinking about an angle that those media would want to see that would attract them to cover your work; to begin to discern what we are doing as a church/agency that is different, addresses societal needs, and does meet the intersection of society's interests and concerns.
Does it work? Yes, but not most of the time. However, during the five years that I was writing about what the Lord was doing in Latin America through missionaries of the Latin America Mission, while I never had one of my articles published by a major news organization, I did receive inquiries from such places as the Associated Press, the New York Times, The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times, several Los Angeles TV stations, the Canton (Ohio) Repository, and others. Each was seeking contact information for missionaries who could help them as they wrote their own stories.
While 90 percent of what a church or agency sends to secular media outlets will likely not be used, that which is used will go a long way to informing the skeptical, secular audience that followers of Jesus Christ are relevant to the needs of society, and are working to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our Lord. (Micah 6:8).
Here are some articles that provided excellent coverage and could have been sent to media outlets as a lead for them to develop their own coverage.
These two were written by my good friend, Ralph Kurtenbach, an excellent journalist working with Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB) in Quito, Ecuador.
The first demonstrates the ground-breaking work of a missionary doctor (https://calloftheandes.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/ecuador-second-country-to-eliminate-river-blindness/) in helping to eliminate river blindness in several South American countries.
The second reports on the on-going struggles in the indigenous tribe in Ecuador (https://calloftheandes.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/spearing-attack-in-ecuadors-jungle-leaves-waorani-man-dead-woman-wounded/) that made news in the 1950s through the murder of five missionaries.
And, here is a recent piece from a daily news service which shows Christian ministry in a war-torn part of the world (http://www.christianheadlines.com/blog/aleppo-church-working-to-restore-hope-by-providing-aid-and-encouraging-families.html).
Should security concerns permit, more Christian groups working under such difficult circumstances should be actively making their labors known.
Photo captions: 1) Laurencia Niyogira and her next door neighbor, Tasian Nkundiye. (Photograph: Amandas Ong). 2) Young boy in a Rwandan graveyard. (http://endgenocide.org/learn/past-genocides/the-rwandan-genocide/). 3) Ken Fleming, brother of the late Pete Fleming, with Waorani people (left to right) Paa, Dawa and Kimo. Kimo was one of the six who speared to death five missionaries, including Pete Fleming, at "Palm Beach" on the banks of the Curaray River in Ecuador in 1956. Kimo, a Christian, is one of the four surviving attack participants. (Kindly supplied by Ralph Kurtenbach, Writer- Reach Beyond Latin America Region). 3) ANS founder, Dan Wooding, pictured with Minkaye Enquedi, a Waorani man, during a visit that Minkaye made to Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa to tell his story. Minkaye was one of the six who speared to death five missionaries at "Palm Beach" on the banks of the Curaray River in Ecuador. Minkaye, now a Christian, is one of the four surviving attack participants. 5) Kenneth D. MacHarg.
About the writer: Kenneth D. MacHarg has served as the pastor of nine international churches in seven countries (Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Kyrgyzstan, Panama and the Bahamas) and is the author of the book "Singing the Lord's Songs in a Foreign Land; Biblical Reflections for Expatriates." He lives in Carrollton, Georgia, and can be contacted at either of his e-mails: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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