Friday 11 February 2011

Communication in Africa

Working in a communications team for a Christian missions movement in Africa is an exciting and ever-changing place. In the peaceful environment of the comms office, it's hard to imagine what friends in Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia or the DRC are going through right now. Yet we have the privilege of getting much closer to the action than most. And I yes I do mean privilege!

Sometimes that manifests itself in a visit to a region to report on the 'action', other times that might mean welcoming people here who have fled persecution or war. Next month we will be sending a reporter up to Sudan to gather data on how the recent referrendum on the separation into two states will affect the people on the ground. I wish I could go too, but as Becky gets closer to giving birth, I think it may not be the best timing!

The passion that the AfriCom team has to discover what is happening across this continent goes much deeper than what stories make headlines on the 6 O'Clock news. We have friends posted in some of the most remote areas of this continent, serving communities in whatever way they can. These friends email and text us updates for prayer regularly. So, when we sit down to pray, we have on our hearts what great things a nation can achieve and we remember our friends who are out there, serving with humble hearts.

It also raises lots of questions when you're reading through personal accounts of a crisis, like the one in Egypt, from our contacts and friends and then contrast that to the very westernised and, sometimes sensationalised perspectives of the BBC or CNN. Of course friends accounts are subjective and limited to their own experiences, but it does give a flavour and a insight that these big media agencies don't always get it right when it comes to accurately portraying the situation on the ground. And it's limited to bad news, because bad news sells newspapers.

Africa is a very diverse and beautiful continent. Its problems and issues aren't small (but whose are?). It's also such a vast place that while one community can be ravaged by war and hatred, another can be living in peace. As we travelled through Angola last year, we met communities who had never experienced war, yet on the road and in the large cities, the evidence of the destructive nature of war was everywhere to be seen.

As we build our communications network, YWAM AfriCom's vision is to support volunteer teams who want to live with and serve communities whatever each village/city is experiencing at the moment. We want to hear and tell others their stories. We will mourn with them at their loss and rejoice with them in their victory.

But we don't want to be sensationalist. Thankfully in our communications team, we are dependant on donations, so we don't have to rely on selling newsapaper/tv advertising to survive. In a media environment that is a great blessing. Our responsibility changes from making headlines that sell to having integrity to use supporters money wisely - and that means we are judged by our ability to be obedient to what we've been called to do: listen, report and serve those working in mission work across this continent. And the result of that is: most of the work of this organisation is carried out under the radar of big media headlines and journalistic spin. AfriCom is practically unheard of outside of YWAM, which is no bad thing. We pride ourselves in being obedient to our vision and valuing those who need our support. If by-standers don't know about us, then so be it.

Some friends will work in areas for their entire lives to see how they can serve, and walk with communities as they are transformed by God's love. That's not a catchy headline, yet it penetrates so much deeper than a sound bite from a president who says something stupid.

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