Members of the United Methodist Radio Network from eight countries met to consider management strategies, training, experience sharing and fundraising expertise for growing church radio.
Representatives from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, Côte d’Ivoire and the U.S. attended the April 24-26 gathering in Abidjan.
The network began in 2015 with the aim of developing an organization supporting member countries and providing solutions in the future for partner members. The Abidjan meeting was the third at which the network improved on the draft administrative infrastructure developed at a 2016 meeting in Monrovia, Liberia.
Lydie Acquah, coordinator for the network, recalled a conversation she had several years ago with the Rev. Neelley Hicks, former director of the ICT4D Church Initiative at United Methodist Communications, about the need for such a network.
“Today I see that the network is actually born after the Abidjan meeting. If you noticed, when we sang the closing hymn yesterday, I wept,” Acquah said. “Seeing what was happening in Abidjan this week about the UM Radio Network — the presence of Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the Philippines — was, for me, emotional. It makes concrete the conversation we had three years ago in my office.”
Danny Mai, United Methodist Communications’ chief technology officer, said that the agency wants to provide networking and training opportunities to annual conferences interested in creating and developing radio.
One way to do that is supporting the network through events that bring people together to discuss how to help each other. United Methodist Communications will help the network find partners, as well as provide training resources and networking opportunities.
“That’s why we invite people that are interested to come here and learn what they need to know and do even before they start a radio station,” Mai said.
The communications agency is providing start-up support to the network through travel assistance to events, as well as logistical support aimed at helping the network stand on its own. The goal is for the radio network to be able to sustain itself through membership fees and fundraising that would be directed specifically to the radio network. In the process, all the members of the network would come together and develop a bigger case for fundraising so that the network can go to different agencies, annual conferences, other areas in the U.S. or European central conferences and request funding for the network, Mai explained.
He added that the agency initially provided direct support for some of the radio stations but realized that such support was not sustainable.
“If we had an entire network, we would ask agencies to support the entire work of the network in Africa and we would have funding agencies responding. UMCom is not a funding agency,” Mai said.
Acquah listed a number of challenges the network faces in starting radio stations. In addition to institutional challenges like low salaries, limited staff, limited equipment and little support from the conference, there are also laws in some communities that do not permit religious stations to air political issues.
Nigeria and Sierra Leone do not yet have radio stations but are working on radio projects.
Reiner Reyes Puno from Manila, a first-time visitor to Africa, found the discussions and sharing of experience were enriching and said he learned every day. He also observed several common issues in Africa and the Philippines, such as funding challenges and programming content.
“The radio ministry is such a powerful tool in disseminating information,” Puno said. “It’s the most easily accessible information especially in that part of the Philippines. The information flow in radio is so powerful that a vast majority can easily access it.”
Typhoons, volcanoes and earthquakes are common in the Philippines and Puno believes an expanded radio network can be significant in times of calamities and crisis.
“Radio can inform the public about typhoon warnings, about how they can get relief. The radio can also help people outside crisis vicinities on how they can help people who are victims of calamities. The radio can help in disaster preparedness. The usual information about social awareness, about what is going on: the environment, and social issues of concern, the government and the like,” he said.
The team had a lot to learn from La Voix De l’Esperance, the United Methodist Côte d’Ivoire radio station that is now a success story. Team members had a whole day to visit and learn from a typical workday experience at La Voix De l’Esperance by going to the offices and doing a live program.
“I see the Radio Network meeting in Abidjan as a great example of collaboration. It was a great opportunity to learn from each other and share best practices,” said the Rev. Gary Henderson, United Methodist Communications’ chief relationship officer. “Those involved in radio ministry had the chance to share both successes and challenges.”
Ndzulo Tueche, United Methodist Communications’ West Africa field project manager, sees joy amid challenges as he watches the network grow.
“I was part of the beginning here in Abidjan, then in Liberia in 2016 and now in Abidjan in 2017. The feeling of really contributing to bring people together to work in a way that the radio ministry will move forward. That the radio ministry will help The United Methodist Church reach places where the gospel is not yet heard — especially through radio,” Ndzulo recalled at end of the Abidjan session.
Three years on, he says, more understanding of the bigger picture is being established in the different situations under which the network operates. Citing language barriers — member countries come from English, French and Portuguese language backgrounds — and making sure that every participant fully understands the issues was challenging, he said.
“But as we continue to encourage conversation, the message becomes clearer. The ideas become better,” Ndzulo said. “The way we perceived the network at the time and what we wanted it to be, the general big picture is becoming clearer as we overcome differences — different ways of processing information, human resource issues across the connection and network. There have been a lot of changes.”
Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.