Category Archives: TWR

Workshop Benefits Media Teams

Over the past few weeks, my time has been focused on preparing for a pilot workshop for media teams in Indonesia. This workshop, called “Content in Context” was held on Aug 8-10 and is sanctioned under Asia by Media, a network of international media organizations operating in Asia. Offered to teams located in Indonesia, the workshop created  environments for a team to explore their media efforts from their unique perspectives of their audience. It is the first time this framework, formulated during my time in Africa, has been presented in this way. It assists teams to discover meaningful and creative ways of delivering their messages in ways the audience would value.

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Engaging conversations with the team from Heartline FM. They reported excellent progress.

There were four teams from Asia by Media member organizations participating in the workshop. It didn’t take long for the teams to appreciate what they were learning. Brief introductions to tools to help them explore their audiences and evaluate their content set the stage for individual team discussions. Each team then applied the tools to their issues and strategies. This allowed the teams to find answers to the questions most important to them. As I visited each team at various times, it was quite clear the workshop was giving them fresh and valuable perspectives on their content. New discoveries were surfacing, including the need to understand more about their audiences.

The workshop was quite interactive, both within the teams and during sessions when we all met together. Some of the comments heard from participants included:

  • “We need to visit our listeners regularly so that we can learn more about their values and needs.”
  • “Once or twice a month, our team is going to listen to one of our programs from the perspective of our audience.”
  • “We need to review the different programs we produce to evaluate how well they match with our intended audience.” The workshop introduced a tool to help with this.
  • “I realized that I need to know more about my audience.”

There are already discussions starting about conducting this workshop again for other teams, both here in Indonesia and elsewhere around Asia. I’m currently working on a report for Asia by Media to share the results of this pilot. In September, at our steering committee meeting in Japan, we will review these and make some decisions about how to proceed with the concept.

This was also the first time Barb and I had organized this kind of workshop. Barb was instrumental in handling the registration details, coordinating with our hosts, and communicating with the participants prior to the workshop. Her diligence to the many logistic details to organize the event made a huge contribution to its impact on the participants.

For those who have prayed with us about this workshop, please thank God for the answers to your prayers. There was much evidence that God was at work.

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May Migrations

We anticipated being  busy in May. Now that I look back at the month just past, all the places we’ve been, and the variety of people we’ve met, it is no wonder we’re feeling just a bit tired. Barb and I traveled together to Bali and Hong Kong. I made my first visit to Australia while Barb tossed in a trip up to Bangkok in Thailand. So after visiting 6 different airports last month, we’re ready to stay in Jakarta for a few weeks so we can get some focus for the coming months.

The month started off with a visit to Bali, another island in Indonesia. We’ve been there several times in the past so are getting familiar with the place. This time, we spent a few days meeting up with several of our former colleagues at TWR. We built some wonderful relationships with several staff, both in Africa and in Asia. While they were part of  TWR’s emerging leaders’ summit, Barb and I were able to cross paths with them as well other members of the FEBC family who also joined this inter-mission conference. It was encouraging to see younger leaders from the different media ministries working and preparing together.

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Enjoyed my time with brothers from international Christian media ministries here in Asia. It’s important that we continue to work together.

I then paid a visit to the eastern side of Australia for meetings with Asia by Media, a forum of  media ministries in Asia. The two days of planning focused on an upcoming workshop for Indonesian content teams currently scheduled for August. I also participated in a conference on Christian media. This conference was quite helpful as there was a major emphasis on the use of digital media and the networking opportunities available with our audiences through today’s social media platforms. This is a key topic for many of our teams using social media to engage with their audiences.

Shortly after I returned from Australia, Barb took a special trip to Bangkok Thailand to visit with some of her good friends from the Philippines who were part of a Bible study group several years back. The three of them had a wonderful time exploring Bangkok together and encouraging one another.

Soon after her return, Barb and I traveled together to Hong Kong to participate in a digital media conference sponsored by FEBC for content teams focusing on Chinese languages. The teams explored approaches to their online ministry efforts. This conference confirmed a number of principles I’d heard in Australia. I was particularly encouraged to see the steps that our colleagues are taking with volunteers to interact with those contacting FEBC through social media channels.

We have now returned to Jakarta and are prepared to settle in for a few weeks. We need to focus our efforts to prepare for the Asia by Media sanctioned workshop which I will be leading. That will be followed by a FEBC programming directors’ summit in Thailand in September. We will value your prayers for clarity and diligence as I work on the agendas for each conference and Barb assists with the logistics.

Following these upcoming events, Barb and I are planning to return to the US for a few months of home assignment beginning at the end of September. We’ll be in the country through sometime in January 2018. We anticipate a fair bit of travel when we are home but look forward to meeting family, friends, supporters, and churches involved in our ministry.

An African Return

It’s always good to reconnect with the familiar, especially in the middle of a transition. We have been working toward getting ourselves settled in Indonesia for the past three months, but I knew there would be a time when I would have the opportunity to return to South Africa. Earlier this year, I was invited to speak at two workshops as part of the Africa by Radio (now known as AbR Media) Continental Convention that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. So even though we were still waiting to fully settle in Jakarta, at the beginning of September, I departed for that visit, leaving Barb to manage the office and home.

Met up with Rudolf Kabutz of TWR to continue our discussion on the future trends in media

Prior to the convention, I was able to spend a few days visiting offices where Barb and I had worked while living there. During those seven years, we worked with FEBA Radio South Africa and TWR-Africa. Both organizations have experienced changes in the last year. It was encouraging to visit each office and see how God has been at work in their respective ministries.

I managed to re-connect with several colleagues and friends over my time there. Some had been former colleagues at ether FEBA or TWR. I caught up with friends from each of the three churches we attended while living in the country. I met with some musician friends, exchanging stories and perspectives about our shared passion. I was blessed to spend an evening with our most recent home cell group, where we explored together God’s strength and stability. Even though it was a full schedule, I treasured each and every moment to extend the relationships we shared.

The convention provided me the opportunity to reunite with several ministry partners through the AbR network. I was encouraged to meet the project coordinator from Radio Wimbi in Mozambique. This project has been on the air now for two years. The station has received several reports of listeners who, previously uninterested in following Jesus, started visiting some churches in the city. Even though I am no longer actively involved in these media projects, God continues to lead each one to greater effectiveness and fruit in ministry.

I presented two workshops during the convention program. One workshop focused on digital radio across Africa. Regulatory bodies in several countries are now making plans to convert radio broadcasts to digital platforms. I led an interactive discussion about how radio stations should participate in the process and prepare for what will eventually come. The second workshop explored mentoring among media ministries in Africa. Over the years, western mentors have sought to encourage local African media professionals for greater influence in ministry. Our session examined the challenges and opportunities Africans face to actively mentor others in their local contexts. This strategy may be key to greatly expanding the impact of media across this vast continent.

I returned  just in time for the arrival of our personal effects that shipped from South Africa at the end of August. Our agent in Indonesia cleared the shipment through customs such that we were able to take delivery at our home at the end of this last week. All has arrived in good shape. We are now in the process of arranging our home with the familiar sights, sounds and smells of Asia and Africa. This is the final step to establishing our home, so we can now focus fully on the ministry God has for us here.

Thank you for praying with us in this transition. We are encouraged to see what God is going to do next!

Farewell Africa

Over the past few months, our ministry situation in Africa has grown increasingly unsettled. Something in our spirits was telling us there was another change coming our way. TWR was encountering change in the way it would be handling its ministry in Africa. The vast majority of these changes would not require my involvement any longer. At the same time this was happening, some significant changes were also taking place in FEBC. One result from these changes is a request that I join FEBC’s Internatlonal Service Team and consider returning to Asia, where our ministry got started more than 25 years ago. While we aren’t quite sure where our next home will be yet, we do know that the time has come for us to say farewell to our time in Africa. 

As I reflect back over the 7.5 years we’ve spent on this rapidly changing continent, it’s become apparent how God has been shaping and molding us. We’ve learned a number of important lessons about shifting cultures around the world – how change, often considered universal, impacts culture uniquely in many different ways. I have noticed here some similiarites in the approach to relationships in Africa when compared to Asia, but, by and large, there are some stunning and significant differences as well. All of these things have served to shape us and help us become more aware of the people who are impacted by our ministry. 

A spotted hyena greeted us on our final visit to Kruger National Park

Africa, with its wide open savannahs and more temperate climate, brought us many new experiences we never would have encountered in Asia. We’ve learned to appreciate the fine art of the “African Safari”, getting up close and personal with Africa’s unique wildlife in their habitat. We have greatly enjoyed the visits to Kruger National Park to explore the drama and reality of uniquely African species surviving in their own environment. We’ve also adapted to the South African version of the barbeque, called a braai, which has its own unique traditions when it comes to cooking and preparing meat. There were aspects of our life in Asia we missed when we came to Africa. Now as we depart, there will be other aspects of African life that we will also miss. 

Special friends we’ve made in Africa. So glad we could share together before we leave.

Amid all of the details of relocating, perhaps the most difficult part of the process is the loss we feel in the many different and close relationships we’ve developed during our time in Africa. We will take so many people with us in our hearts as we leave at the beginning of September. Whether they be the people with whom we have worked every day at Feba Radio or TWR, our church fellowships, members of the various Bible studies Barb has led, or the musicians and artists with whome I’ve been privileged to collaborate, we take with us a host of memories and valued relationships just as we have done from the US and the Philippines. While it is painful that these relationships have to change, they will endure in our hearts. We will treasure the memories and remember them in prayer as the Lord brings each to mind. I’m grateful for Facebook and other platforms that keep us informed about one anothers’ lives.

So we are in the final weeks of packing up our home and preparing for our move back to Asia via the US. We will leave South Africa for the final time in early September, right around Labor Day back home. There are still several uncertainties to sort out before we settle in our new home sometime around the March 2015 timeframe. In the meantime, we’ll be back in the US, meeting up with many of our good friends based in the upper Midwest and elsewhere. A part of that visit will include our daughter Emily’s wedding. Please pray for us as we travel back through Indonesia and seek God’s direction concerning whether we should relocate to Jakarta following our home assignment. More details on all of that once we get back to the US.

Caring in Crises

Over the past two months, I’ve been walking alongside three of TWR’s national partners here in Africa. Each of them have their own unique issues, but  also struggle to control their expenses amidst diminishing income. As a result, each of them has amassed some significant liabilites that now hover over their mnistry efforts like a growing storm cloud. I’m in regular contact with the  national directors of each partner. Most of those conversations focus around financial issues, how to reduce expenses in line with their current levels of income. Unfortunately, the difference is so large that it will require much more than just cutting a few administration costs.

Leading worship is one way I can encourage others in a time of crisis

The changes being proposed could affect staff in all three partners. Each financial recovery plan includes various measures that impact staff, either through salary reduction or being released from their duties. This can be an especially painful process as many of our staff don’t often have the resources to sustain their families beyond whatever payment TWR can provide. However, if we hope to remain effective in our ministry to listeners in each country, we must address the financial deficit to restore stability to an operation. Please pray for comfort and peace for those affected by the current crises. Please be aware that under the current circumstances, I cannot be any more specific than this.

There has been much interaction with these partners, both in-country and also here in South Africa at a recent partners’ conference. In each of these opportunities, I’ve been called upon to encourage others to turn their attention and focus toward God. There have been some amazing moments when God ministered to local staff and leadership in a time of worship or prayer. I often use music to create an environment for others to focus on God’s character. This has been particularly meaningful for staff in various locations. I’ve also found myself in some counseling situations, ministering God’s comfort and peace in the midst of the storm of the crisis.

I will appreciate your continued prayer for strength for our partners. Ask the Lord to also guide me as I not only work with the partners but continue to minister to many of the staff I meet along the way. My desire is that each affected staff will understand that God has not left them, but is walking right alongside them through this difficult journey.

Who’s Listening?

One of the challenges that media ministries face is the physical separation that exists between a broadcaster who has something to say and the people who might want to listen to it. Most of the time, a broadcaster will sit in a studio or in an office somewhere trying to think of topics of interest to share, selecting music, editing audio recordings, filling out program logs or a variety of other reports about a program. At the end of the day, will there have been any time, let alone a desire, to hear or interact with a listener?

Knowing our listeners is the best resource we have to keep them tuning into their favorite programs

When it comes to effective communication in media, no matter what form or channel, the process starts and ends with the listener in mind. Even as a program is conceived and planned, it must start with some understanding of who will be listening to it. Often that knowledge is incomplete and must be verified or deepened as the program is broadcast. Fortunately, there are many more ways for a listener to tell the broadcaster what he thinks, whether by phone, e-mail, mobile phone text messaging or today’s social media platforms. However, will that listener actually connect with someone who is interested or  involved with the program?

At TWR here in Africa, we are preparing to address these kinds of questions with our partners across the continent. During the first week of March, we will be conducting a partner’s conference with leaders from TWR’s national offices across Africa to discuss how to grow and develop our partnerships. I’ve been asked to prepare a workshop focusing on the spiritual transformation of our audiences. How will we be able to tell if and how God is at work in the hearts and lives of our listeners? How can we observe and even measure the evidence that God is changing hearts among those who listen to the broadcasts? Fortunately, there are steps we can take to learn about what’s taking place in listeners’ lives. This introductory conference will be followed up by visits to individual partner locations to apply these steps directly to programming efforts. I’m praying our partners will gain a new enthusiasm to connect with their listeners, learning more about them, so TWR’s programming can be more relevant with greater impact.

Before that conference, however, I will be traveling to our partner in Maputo, Mozambique to address critical financial and ministry issues with the staff. This partner is struggling financially and finding it difficult to maintain their production schedules. We are working together to evaluate and renew programming to the Lomwe and Makhuwa people in the north-central part of the country. Pray for our discussions and the follow-up actions that need to take place soon afterwards.

The next few weeks promise to be very busy. I’d appreciate your prayers for strength, focus and wisdom as I work with and encourage our vital African colleagues to enthusiastically engage more consistently with their listeners.

A Visit to TWR Kenya

While in Kenya for the 2013 Africa by Radio Continental Convention, I took the opportunity to visit TWR’s operation in Nairobi. Even though it was a particularly busy time for many of the staff who were participating in program development training, I was encouraged to have some very good conversations around ministry with an enthusiastic group of producers and presenters seeking to share Jesus in a region where the gospel may not always be welcomed.

Paul and I had the opportunity to encourage a number of programmers at TWR Kenya’s studio in Nairobi

TWR Kenya is the first of eight national partners established in 1976 initially by TWR’s German partner ERF. The Nairobi studio has been a source of English and kiSwahili programming, not only for Kenya itself but also for stations across the entire East Africa region. In addition to producing Through the Bible in a number of languages along with other Christian programming from the West, they have produced a number of community based health and educational programs as well as a very successful youth program called Africa Challenge. They also produce programs in a number of tribal languages.

While their ministry started out primarily on shortwave, TWR Kenya has expanded its operation in recent years to include a network of five FM stations across Kenya known as Sifa FM. Each station engages with a unique audience. This requires custom-designed program strategies for each location that will meet the needs of their particular audience. While I was in Nairobi, I had several engaging conversations with the general manager for Sifa FM about their strategies. There is one station in particular along the coast of Kenya that finds itself broadcasting in a region where many are not always open to Christian topics. However, Sifa FM is looking to expand its network in the coming years into the northeast corner of the country, closer to the Somali border. This region of Kenya has had its challenges with refugees from Somalia. The first challenge for this expansion is to understand the audiences in this region and design program strategies accordingly. That process is well underway.

Sharing an allegory of the gospel story through music with the TWR Kenya staff

While visiting the Nairobi studios, another colleague of mine from TWR’s Africa Regional Office (ARO) was leading two weeks of program development training. Paul has a long history of experience in FM radio broadcasting and brought a number of skills to share with the staff. I also helped facilitate two sessions, the first on establishing a vision for a station based on the perspective of the audience. I shared a number of tools they could use to engage with a community to discover not only their needs but also uncover the values that impact an audience’s preferences and perspectives.  I was also invited to share during the staff chapel time on Friday, sharing a message of trust and faith delivered through music. I was so encouraged by the sharing with the staff that followed.

While my visit with TWR Kenya was a pleasant one, my departure from Nairobi occurred on the same day the massacre started at the Westgate Mall. This particular mall is located in another part of the city from where I was staying, but I could tell there were serious security issues as I moved around the city. I visited another mall during my stay and found myself subjected to a number of security measures that reminded me of my time when I lived in the Philippines. The tensions will undoubtedly remain high in the city for some time to come as they recover from the terror and tragedy that happened last month.

Tanzania – Crossing into East Africa

One of my first assignments upon arriving at TWR-Africa was to start getting acquainted with the various countries of East Africa. Of particular interest is the country of Tanzania, the home of our international director. TWR-Africa has been broadcasting programs to this country via shortwave radio as well as on local FM stations across the country. I’ve been spending a portion of my first few months at TWR-Africa doing some initial research into Tanzania, trying to find out what the people are like in general. Here are some observations of what I’ve learned so far:

  • Tanzania is one of the fastest growing and youngest nations in the world. It is estimated that 65% of the population is less than 24 years of age.
  • A mother in Tanzania has around 5 children on average during her child-bearing years. This has contributed significantly to Tanzania’s population growth of more than 30% in the last ten years.
  • Across the various religious perspectives in the country, more than 90% of the population feel that religion is an important part of their lives.
  • Radio also plays a significant role in the lives of Tanzanians across all economic levels. More than 90% of Tanzanians in a recent survey indicated they listen to radio at least once a week, far more than television, newspapers, mobile phones and the Internet.

While all of these facts can help gain a picture of what Tanzania might be like, it is still difficult to form an accurate and overall impression of its citizens without spending some time there. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania where I spent several days in its executive capital, Dar es Salaam. The visit came right on the heels of a US state visit to the country. Fortunately, the city seemingly was returning to normal, but there were still plenty of welcome signs up for the current US president.

Discussing strategies to capture listener content for use in interactive broadcasts.

While in Dar es Salaam, I had opportunities to meet with several owners of radio stations in the country. I also had the privilege of meeting several station staff at Upendo FM, operated by the Tanzania Lutheran Church. The studios were located adjacent to Azania Front Lutheran Church, a historical landmark in the city. The church was constructed in 1899 and still holds worship services there today. The staff were very energetic and enthusiastic about their programs. We had quite a lively discussion around a variety of technical and programming topics. I’m hoping to see some of them again at the Africa by Radio Convention hosted in Kenya this September.

Included in our wide ranging discussions about the typical Tanzania audience, were conversations about vision and direction of the radio broadcasting industry as a whole. As I shared some of the possible visions for TWR’s involvement in Tanzania, there was a warm reception toward the idea of TWR helping existing stations capture a clearer vision of how radio could positively impact the country. I shared the need to develop a vision for their broadcasts from the standpoint of the needs of the listeners. The response to this concept was so encouraging that I have been discussing the possibility of returning to Dar es Salaam later this year to conduct a workshop to help station leaders craft a more contextual vision for impacting their listeners.

I will appreciate your prayers as I continue to develop relationships with broadcasters in Tanzania. I’m in the process of following up on a number of those conversations and exploring the possibility of a workshop. I will need assistance from others from the radio stations to help organize it. Pray that the responses will continue to be positive and that there will be enough enthusiasm to enable the workshop to become a reality.

One of Those Days

Every so often, a day comes along that takes a bit more energy to get through it. This was one of those days. Most Mondays aren’t like this (fortunately)!

It started with a trip to Pretoria. I needed to apply for a visa to travel to Tanzania this coming week, where I’ll be working on assessing possible ministry opportunities for TWR in the country. I thought this would be a relaxing trip to the Tanzania High Commission. It didn’t turn out that way.

Our Toyota (left) didn’t quite make it through the intersection as I’d expected.

On the way there, my car (and I) was involved in a minor accident at a busy intersection. While I was stopped for a traffic light (called a robot), another vehicle clipped the rear bumper of my vehicle. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The damage was minimal enough to not affect the operation of either vehicle, but it did mess up my rear bumper. Within moments, the tow trucks (called break-downs), as well as an emergency medical vehicle arrived at the scene. One paramedic came over to my car as I was sitting there sorting out my papers and asked if I was OK. I was fine, just a little frustrated. She said, ” I can understand that.”

An accident like this isn’t too traumatic, but the aftermath will consume a portion of my days for a while. I’ll need to sort out the repair of our Toyota, working with the other driver’s company and our insurance agencies. I’m hoping we’ll be able to settle the claim fairly quickly so I can get the car repaired.

When Barb and I returned home from work that evening, we discovered our video recorder for our TV had gone out. Even though there was power through the cable, I could not switch it back on. So, I added running that appliance over to a repair center to my to-do list. I’m happy to report this is now repaired (after a week’s wait) and installed so Barb can use it while I’m away.

So as I am preparing for a ministry trip to Tanzania, I’ve had a host of other distractions to interrupt my days of ministry with our partners across Africa. I’d appreciate your prayers as I attempt to manage the preparations for the Tanzania visit with less time than what I thought I would have at the beginning of this past week. I’m anticipating my next post will have more relevant ministry information. I expect to leave for Tanzania later in the week.

In the meantime, I pray that there won’t be too many more interruptions.

Some Adjustments Required

In the engineering world, it seemed that 10% of our time and effort was spent on theory, setting our goals and envisioning how the laws of nature could make them happen. The rest of the 90% was then spent trying to get reality to line up with our theory and ambitions. There are just so many factors impacting our reality that, at times, one may wonder how anything can go according to plan.

We’re continuing to work through our adjustment phase here at TWR in Africa. Earlier this month, some changes occurred which impacted my role as the East Africa Area Ministry Director. The Southern Africa Area Ministry Director is currently exploring other ministry opportunities in TWR-Africa. In his absence, I am also being asked to coordinate TWR-Africa’s interaction with national partners in the southern region. This includes the countries of Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Angola, Swaziland and South Africa. I am familiar with several of these countries from my time with Feba Radio. I’ll be filling in until the time a new Area Ministry Director for the region can be appointed.

A good way to get to know the missionaries in Swaziland is grilling together around the braai (barbecue)

In my capacity in this coordination role, I returned to Swaziland earlier this month to meet with national director of Voice of the Church (VOC), TWR’s local ministry in the country. In addition to the broadcasts on the local FM network, TWR-Africa’s shortwave and medium wave facility there serves the rest of the continent. Barb also traveled with me as she met with several of the TWR missionary families in her responsibility of coordinating member care in TWR-Africa.

VOC operates a well-established FM radio network in Swaziland, airing a combination of locally  produced siSwati and internationally supplied English programs for listeners. The national director is interested in producing even more local content that is relevant to their listeners. There were a number of issues that the two of us will be following up in the weeks to come.

I have a number of other items on my to-do list that can use some prayer:

  • I’m coordinating TWR’s involvement at the upcoming Africa by Radio Convention in Nairobi, Kenya this September. In addition to arranging the approach to inform delegates about TWR, I’m also coordinating the technical track of workshops, moderating a technical forum, and presenting a workshop on tools for engaging with listeners.
  • The regional office of TWR-Africa is embarking on some training to assist staff with their project management skills. I’ve been asked to provide some assistance to the chief trainer given my background in managing projects in Asia and Africa.
  • Since my arrival, TWR-Africa has been incorporating more worship through music into its corporate activities. I’m involved in leading worship regularly for the staff in Kempton Park and also have the opportunity to serve at other TWR locations when I am visiting.

I still have much to learn about the processes and relationships within TWR Africa. I will appreciate your prayers as I engage more with TWR’s national leaders in east and southern Africa. I am asking God to give me a clear picture of what these relationships should look like to improve our joint ministry efforts in these different countries as well as empowering local leadership to respond to God’s leading in their own contexts.