When I joined the World Council of Churches (WCC) as an intern of the Public Information team in 2005, I often struggled to comprehend the “real” value of communicating themes related to ecumenism and peace.
I wondered if a news article about a church’s work on HIV and AIDS actually has the power to spread awareness and save lives. Does a photo of a mother and child at a church-supported hospital can personify God’s imminent love? Does a video of a church leader holding government accountable, urging for justice and peace for communities, really mean something?
After spending more than a decade working for church and development communication, and especially reporting on church action as a WCC news writer, I believe the answer is yes.
However, this happens only when we recognise the true vocation of communication.
We must realise that communication is not only about delivering messages. It holds great power to translate the principles of ecumenism in a language understood by everyone.
Communication has the ability to make churches’ work for peacebuilding visible to all. Also, communication must have the power to critique and question, otherwise what we say is nothing but rhetoric.
Communication has the power to tell stories of people. I happened to witness this power in Jakarta, when I watched members of Taman Yasmin Church (GKI) praying outside the Merdeka Palace, the residence of the former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Under the gaze of police officials, the congregation members demanded their right to freedom of worship.
Taman Yasmin Church, located in Bogor, West Java, is a congregation of one of the member churches of the WCC. The half-finished building of Taman Yasmin Church was sealed off by the local administration in 2008, under pressure from radical Islamic political groups.
That moment made me see the beauty of united churches working for peace. Also, it made me see the beauty of communicating such a story not only to share information but to inspire. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to highlight the human side of our realities as churches and people.
At the Conference of European Churches (CEC), where I currently work, we frequently hear about migrants and refugees in Europe. The stories of people dying at sea are simply heart-breaking. CEC together with the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe works closely on this issue, networking between the churches in Europe, advocating human rights and urging EU to put an end to deaths at the Mediterranean.
In such area of work, where communication needs to be accurate, effective and timely – one has to remember the challenges of communication, along with its power. A relationship of trust between communicators and ecumenical actors is necessary. One must be careful to not start running blindly behind the media, but communicate with honesty, humility and strength.
Treading the path of being a communicator, translating ecumenical and peace-related themes in words, images, and sounds, is not easy. However, we must go on with a Christian conviction, holding ecumenical ideals, listening, learning, educating each other, and finally communicating.