Since the colonial ages, many have dubbed Africa as a “dark continent” that is teeming with savagery and sickness. Even today, Africa is often connected with terms such as ‘HIV/AIDS,’ ‘malaria,’ ‘civil strife’ and ‘poverty,’ and news about the continent often deals with such grievances.
To offset these negative overtones, twenty five leaders of nine Baptist associations in Africa gathered together on March 22-26, for the “Conference on Church and Modern Communication,” in Nairobi, Kenya, where they agreed to launch a newspaper for Baptists by April 2005, that would share the good news and reconciliatory works of Christians in the continent.
“Who are we as African Baptists?” asked Douglas Waruta, professor at the University of Nairobi and Baptist World Alliance vice president for Africa. “We are Baptists but we are African Christians.”
Waruta urged the leaders to introspect and recognize who they are before they discuss the communication challenges they face.
“We need to set our own agenda,” Waruta said, “or there won't be real commitment from our people.”
Waruta explained that it was time to stop the identification of Africa by “outsiders” such as colonialists, slave traders and missionaries, and time for “insiders” to develop the continent’s identity. Waruta emphasized that while Africa has many problems, there are many more strengths that are often overlooked.
“We are full of communities of hope that are very hospitable. Our cities are teeming with life and joy and dance. Many people are coming to Christ, building their churches.” As I travel around Africa, I don't see a dying continent,” Waruta said. “We must stop the attitude of helplessness and dependence on others.”
Wendy Ryan, Communications Director for the BWA, agreed with Waruta, as she encouraged the African Baptists in their media work to “do something, start slowly” on any media they decide to use. Ryan challenged them to share what they had learned and the resources they had been given with others, especially anyone who is working for them in communications.
In Ibadan, delegates expressed their concern about “the crippling problems of poor communications between local churches and their national conventions and unions, and between these national bodies and the All African Baptist Fellowship.”
They asked the 49 member bodies in the AABF to look into the possibility of acquiring modern communications facilities to strengthen communication and “maximize the use of existing media to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Faced with political oppression, corruption, poverty, war, health and environmental concerns, “we need to be informed and committed to praying for and assisting each other,” they said.
Jack E. Brymer, professor of Journalism at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, encouraged the workers, saying that while it may be hard, their efforts will help the “people who are looking for work of hope.”
“Work with all your heart, have courage, maintain your trust and keep your eyes open,” said photography teacher Jim Veneman, professor and photojournalist at Union University, who sent the group out on the streets to practice their newly acquired skills.
Frank Adams, general secretary of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship, and Claire Brocklebank, editor of Baptists Today for the Baptist Union of Southern Africa, will serve as the editor and producer of the April 2005 publication.
Mauka Mathe Bulalo who leads the Baptist Community in Central Africa, said the conference for the newspaper was one of the most helpful he’s ever attended for his ministry.
“I could never imagine before this conference how important it is in our ministry in the church and that it can be a strategy to promote the Gospel message among the population and in our environment,” said Bulalo.
“This conference came at the best time,” said Peter Kuria Kasanga, a pastor in Kenya , who said that Kenyan Baptists had recently discussed launching a newspaper in their city at their annual general meeting.
“A mustard seed has been planted this week in the room,” said Frank Adams, AABF executive secretary, “and we are going to begin in a small way but one day, Africa will get to hear the African story to motivate us. There is power in communication.”
“It is my prayer,” said G. Olan'g, president of Mount Meru University, Arusha, Tanzania, “that as Christian communicators our communication will aim at bringing a total and holistic transformation of the African person … and we will help open the eyes of Africans to the resources that God has given us and be willing to share equally and use them for God's story.”