Informing, teaching, inspiring: PNG workshop teaches video storytelling for language communities

For a married missionary couple, Bible translation work in a foreign culture leaves them tired and on edge. At home, they get into a loud argument.

Wife: Why are you always blaming this on me?! Why don't you do something?!

Husband: I'm so busy! Do you know how many things I am doing?! And you know how important this meeting is!

Wife: Stop blaming me!

The couple’s gardener, Josh, hears it all. Then he re-tells it to a friend, Joel who happens to be a key translation team member.

Joel confronts Josh about his gossiping habit. Then tensions escalate. Josh wrongfully accuses his friend of involvement in sorcery connected to his uncle’s recent death. The two end up in a fist fight.

Later, upon discovering the truth—that his uncle died of a heart attack—and receiving wise counsel from a pastor rooted in the Word of God, Josh seeks forgiveness from those he has wronged.

•••

That is the plot summary for the 20-minute film, Yu Go Tok Sori Tu? — which in the Tok Pisin language of Papua New Guinea means “Did you go and say sorry?” Christians from diverse backgrounds grapple with sin as they work together, and the challenge proves all the more difficult in a culture where apologising is uncommon. The film served as an example of the blessings that come from seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.

The video is one of four projects crafted and produced by participants of the International Media Services (IMS) Video Production Workshop, held at SIL Papua New Guinea from 6-15 February. Participants came from diverse backgrounds, ranging from leaders and pastors to missionaries and individuals dedicated to Bible translation and its related ministries.

Yu Go Tok Sori Tu made its debut on the final day of the workshop. The premiere night at a church in Ukarumpa, Eastern Highlands Province, was attended both by locals and by missionaries from various countries serving in Papua New Guinea.

After that, it was uploaded to YouTube and became accessible within the community and beyond, not only through social media but also through file sharing via cellphones.

Participants used the workshop’s WhatsApp group to communicate feedback they received. One wrote:

‘I had three local people at the market this morning (who didn’t come to the premiere) say that they loved the movie we made. I asked how they saw it, and they said someone file-shared it to a friend’s phone. And they asked when there would be another one. There is a BIG interest in these kinds of movies in PNG!’

Another wrote: ‘Amen! (A) Few of my friends who watched from YouTube also said we should continue on such movies. To God be the glory!’

One of the workshop trainers messaged:

‘This morning in the Tok Pisin church service a Papua New Guinean translator gave a sermon all about forgiveness. The whole thing was about how PNG culture is all about making restitution to put an end to the disagreement, but neither side ever seeks forgiveness nor forgives, and that the wrong is always held in the back of the mind to be brought up later. It made me think about our conversation while coming up with the story for the film, and that it really was an important issue to address.’

Translating the Bible into Media

The video workshop was designed by Andreas Ernst, Director of Training at IMS SIL International. The idea grew from the belief that translating the Bible into multimedia will help promote Scripture engagement.

‘Communication is not a one-way street’, Andreas says. ‘In the same way, Scripture engagement is about conversations that draw on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people we serve. This course builds on the example of Jesus, who through questions, conversations, and using local narratives, allowed his audiences to discover God’s love and presence in their lives. In my opinion, this approach is not used enough in SIL, so I was very excited to find interest in this approach among SIL missionaries and partners in PNG.’

Andreas Ernst demonstrates interview techniques to the students while using a green screen for video production. Photo: Susan Frey

The workshop was initiated and organised by Susan Frey, a media specialist from SIL Papua New Guinea. Cathy Miedes, a translation and video coordinator from Wycliffe Global Alliance, co-facilitated the course alongside Andreas and Susan. Students learned to present the gospel and related truths through video genres including short films, image-based Bible story videos, music videos and interview-based, ‘talking-head’ style informational videos.

Susan Frey provides hands-on instruction to a student, demonstrating the use of a video editing software. Photo: Andreas Ernst

As video and other digital media become more ingrained in daily life everywhere in the world, they are no longer an option or an add-on for ministry, Susan says. People expect them.

‘In Papua New Guinea, many people still have a strong preference for oral communication, regardless of their level of literacy”, she says. ‘Video can be a very effective and powerful tool for informing, teaching, and inspiring communities.’

‘One of the strengths of this course is that it taught participants to use video in an ethical and locally-rooted way. I hope that it will help us move past the tendency to tell stories about the communities we serve and move toward equipping those communities to tell their own stories.’

Cathy Miedes leads a session where students practise framing shots and proper camera movements. Photo: Susan Frey

Stewards of God's Stories

Apart from learning the skills of video production, the workshop emphasised how media production—even for non-specialists—is a key ingredient in the mission of God. An Alliance-produced training video, Stewardship of Story, stressed that we all have a responsibility to report stories of what God is doing in our midst.

‘When this video was shared with the group, I felt that the message resonated with the participants in an extraordinary manner,’ Cathy says. ‘Those who had initially expressed concerns about completing the course due to other commitments chose to stay and found ways to attend the classes on time; some even remained after the sessions ended to finish their projects. It seems they grasped the essence: We are all stewards of God’s stories.’

Each participant displays a piece of video equipment used in the Video Production Workshop. Photo: Andreas Ernst

Story: Cathy Miedes, Wycliffe Global Alliance

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