New program will text GC2016 news to Africa

A new text-messaging program will allow United Methodists outside the U.S. to receive General Conference news even if they have no Internet access. 

United Methodist Communications launched the system, which each episcopal area in the central conferences in Africa will use. Staff in the episcopal areas will receive news briefs via Internet and email and relay that information via text. The database is currently set up for clergy, although some laity are included.

“It’s easy to email clergy in the U.S., but we’re not set up for the central conferences,” said the Rev. Neelley Hicks, director of ICT4D (Information and Communications Technology for Development) Church Initiatives at United Methodist Communications. “This is bridging the gap between web and non-web users.”

Hicks said the church’s involvement in sending health information via text message during the 2014 Ebola crisis highlighted the need to maintain a system to transmit local and connectional news to areas with no Internet.

“We’ve built so much of our communication focus around the Internet, but now we have databases of clergy information from around the world, and we can text them information,” she said.

Pierre Omadjela, director of communications and development for the Central Congo Episcopal Area, proposed the texting program.

“In the past, United Methodists in the central conferences may have to wait three or four weeks after General Conference to learn what went on there,” Omadjela said. “This texting system lets us convey trusted and verified information quickly.”

Priscilla Muzerengwa, a United Methodist communicator for the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference, is helping to set up and staff a command center that will distribute content via text.

During General Conference, the command center staff will meet every day to select the most relevant messages to share with their community.

The introductory messages will run one message per day from Friday, May 6, to Monday, May 9, Muzerengwa said. “When the General Conference starts, we will send four messages per day.” 

General Conference, the church’s top legislative body, will meet May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon. During General Conference, updates on petitions and news of the day will be transmitted via text. The system will remain in place after General Conference so that the episcopal offices can share connectional news.

Hicks said that is also important because “it means the news won’t always route through Nashville. The episcopal area can choose to transmit what’s most relevant to their people.”

Ndzulo Tueche, who works with the West Africa Central Conference and the United Methodist Radio Network of Africa, said a benefit of the texting system is two-way communication.

“The bishop’s office can send out the information, but churches may have questions. This gives us an opportunity to see people’s concerns and address them,” he said.

The texting program is the latest in United Methodist Communications’ efforts to expand its global reach by offering resources in multiple languages. In April, the agency launched a French-language portal at UMC.org, the official website of The United Methodist Church. The site provides resources, history, news and other information about the denomination. The French portal joins existing sites in Spanish and Korean.

“Over the next quadrennium, we are committed to growing in our support of ministries in all of the official global languages of The United Methodist Church," said Dan Krause, chief executive of the denomination's communications agency.

Butler is a multimedia producer/editor for United Methodist Communications. Contact him at newsdesk@umcom.org or 615-742-5470.

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