Europe Communications Forum Goes Global
Not all 120 Wycliffe Global Alliance organisations have the luxury of designated, trained communications staff. But whether communications is done by a trained team, a handful of people with some experience or one person juggling multiple roles, all desire to sharpen their skills and to share ideas and resources with other communications staff around the world.
Pandemic Puts Forum Online
Every two or three years, Wycliffe Global Alliance Europe hosts communications conferences for Alliance organisation staff in Europe, often joined by a few staff from Africa and elsewhere. Attendance was limited, however, by travel budgets and the availability of visas. As a result of the pandemic, and having to pivot to online meetings, the 2021 conference was opened to Alliance participants from all regions. In March, some 60 participants from more than 30 countries gathered online for the Alliance’s first truly global communications forum, “Sharper Tools, Sharper Stories: Improving Your Media Skills for Ministry.”
Participants from 29 Alliance organisations around the world eagerly signed up—not only from Europe and Africa, but also from Asia and the Americas. Staff from SIL and Wycliffe Global Alliance also attended. Many adjusted schedules or sacrificed sleep to join the gathering.
“I am really glad that the workshop was online,” one participant said. “I would not have been able to attend otherwise.”
A Fourfold Focus
The forum addressed four areas of staff development. Organisers hoped that participants would:
- gain a better understanding of good communication practices in global contexts (professional);
- be encouraged in their spiritual growth and in integrating it into their work (spiritual);
- have an increased sense of belonging within the Alliance and a deepened understanding of working with the Alliance’s partners (organizational); and
- strengthen relationships with others within the community of communication workers (community).
Topics included the practical—story writing, social media strategies, how to safely tell stories from sensitive contexts, tips for smartphone photography—as well as the inspirational—theology of story, leading in (and seeing God at work in) uncertain times, and rediscovering wonder. One session focused on communicating about Deaf people and sign language translation. Finally, Phil Prior, Director of Communications for the Alliance, outlined Alliance resources available to all communications staff.
“I have really enjoyed this week and the variety of topics in the sessions,” one participant said. Another commented: “Thank you for all the knowledge and inspiration you shared, and for the friendly atmosphere!”
For some attendees, this was their first experience participating in an Alliance communications conference.
“I was so immersed in the sessions. I loved each one of them,” said Ebby George, Member Care Coordinator and Media Consultant for Wycliffe India. “It was a great learning ground for me. It was a roller coaster of exciting learning experiences.…. Each of the sessions had something I could take away. …I am new to Wycliffe, and starting on a high note!”
Reigniting the Flame of Story
Telling stories is vital to keeping Bible translation organisations connected to the prayer networks, financial partners and churches in their contexts, as well as inspiring others to get involved. A story should take readers on a journey, said Milka Myllynen of FIDA International in Finland, who led a session on how to incorporate good storytelling principles into writing. She talked about principles that touch, go deeper and surprise our audience—that invite them into the journey with us.
In addition to valuable pointers on the how of storytelling—not only through words, but also through photos and videos—a few of the sessions inspired participants to consider the why of telling stories. Through his session on Theology of Story, Jim Killam, trainer and Managing Editor for the Alliance, prompted the group to consider that the purpose of telling stories is to communicate God’s glory. He cited Psalm 96:3 (NLT), which says: “Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.”
As communicators who tell about the challenges and joys of the Scripture translation movement, and how God is at work to implant life-changing heart language Scripture into both Deaf and hearing communities, we become “stewards” of God’s stories to the rest of the world.
Part of being stewards—as Ling Lam, Communication Consultant for Asia-Pacific, reminded us—is making good use of the unique gifts that God has given us as communicators. As 1 Peter 4:10-11 (NIV) says: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms….”
Ling personalized the verse for communications staff, with some added paraphrasing [highlighted in italics]: “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.… If anyone translates, they should do so as one who translates the Word of God. If anyone supports the Bible translation movement through communications, they should support it with the strength that God provides, so that in all things God may be praised.… To him be the glory….”
Or as Jim said in one of his presentations, “Simply tell peoples’ stories. Point people to Jesus. Do your part, then let the Holy Spirit do his.”
On a similar theme, Alliance Strategy Consultant Susan Van Wynen said that in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, God gives us the opportunity to set aside our tendency to rely on ourselves and instead rely on him to lead us—to look for how God is working (it is after all his mission) and how we can participate with him. “This changes everything!” Susan said, “Including how we communicate.”
“I really found that the narrative of storytelling and communication was very effective,” one participant said. “It helped me know whether or not I am on the right track in my work. It also reminded me of why I am here, [and that] what I am doing is in alignment with those things that swim around in my head all day.”
“Thanks, Jim, for reigniting the flame of writing,” said another.
Building a Team Around the Globe
A core goal of this conference was not just building skills, but building community. Strengthening relationships within the Bible translation movement is one of the key values of the Wycliffe Global Alliance, as expressed in its foundational statements document: “Friendship takes place within, and also creates and deepens, community.… The Alliance gives intentional space for the strengthening of friendship leading to greater collaboration, partnership and generosity, as the value of each Alliance Organization [and each staff member] is recognized and affirmed.”
Creating opportunities for building community, such as this global communications forum, is part of that intentionality. Indeed, for several of the participants, meeting people involved in communications from other regions was the highlight of the forum.
“I loved being able to meet some people from other organizations!” one participant said. “To just talk informally and interact on communications together. It feels like my circle of colleagues is expanding, and that’s a gift, both professionally and spiritually/personally. I found myself wanting to find out a little about each person’s story.”
When asked which aspect of the workshop was most helpful, another participant said: “To see faces behind names and get something like a ‘communication team feeling’. As far as that is possible over Zoom!”
“What a fabulous opportunity to get re-energized about our larger ‘team’ and our roles in communications,” another said.
God is indeed building a bigger team of communicators in the Alliance, and yes, even using Zoom. As another person said, “I especially enjoyed the non-formal aspect of this conference. … It didn’t feel stuffy or too formal. Rather it felt more like a place where I belonged and that I could approach any subject or ask any question.”
United Across Cultures
Several participants expressed a longing for more time to get to know each other in a digital context where “coffee break conversations” are limited by distance and lack of intimacy. “I enjoyed seeing so many people from around the world but I wanted to get to know people,” one said. “I know this virtual experience is not the same as face-to-face, but it would have been nice to have a time to actually talk to people from their regions about their work.”
Language also presented a challenge for some attendees. How do you decide what language to use when you have people from around the globe participating? For this conference, English was used—both for presentations and in small group breakout discussions. English proficiency varied, however, so following the sessions and participating in discussions was challenging for some non-native English speakers. Some expressed a desire for more international variety in presenters. (For this conference, presenters were from Europe and the USA.) Also, some participants were not able to show their faces because they work in sensitive regions. And some experienced internet connection issues.
In spite of the challenges, however, most found the workshop encouraging and useful.
One person summed it up this way: “Thank you so much for uniting us and being so supportive to us. This means a lot for my own personal ministry and for my sending organisation. I feel refreshed.”
And someone else said it is “great to be a part of the Wycliffe Global Alliance!”
On the last day, Lene Nielsen, Director of Wycliffe Denmark, echoed the feelings of many: “I loved every minute of it and I can’t wait to do it again!”
Story: Gwendolyn Davies, Wycliffe Global Alliance
Assistance from Jim Killam, Wycliffe Global Alliance, and Bud Speck, Wycliffe Global Alliance Europe
Wycliffe Global Alliance communications resources
Resources from 2021 Alliance Communications Forum
Alliance organisations may download the images from this story.
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