A journey through the land of communication

I harbour a secret love for the railway.

Back in my seminary days, I travelled from B.C. to California via rail several times. It’s a journey that awakens all the senses – the sight of majestic, rugged terrain; the acrid smell of oil and diesel; the sound of hissing, screeching, and rhythmic clackety-clacks; the feeling of constant motion and soothing vibration.

You can imagine my excitement when our family stumbled upon the Lake of the Woods Railroad Museum this past summer.

One of the most exciting discoveries I made at the museum was the story of Father Albert Lacombe, a Roman Catholic priest and missionary revered by railroaders. Father Lacombe’s journey is nothing short of amazing!

Known as “Man with a Heart” among the Aboriginal Peoples, Father Lacombe was first and foremost an evangelist. He began his journey with a clear call from God and, along the way, witnessed Holy Spirit transformation – not only in the lives of individuals (“the conversion that delighted Father Lacombe most was that of his friend, Sweet-Grass, the bravest and most esteemed among the Cree warriors – the Head-Chief of the whole nation of Crees”) but also in larger Canadian society.

In 1885, thanks to the trust he had built within the aboriginal community, Father Lacombe was able to step into a politically tense situation and negotiate a deal with the Blackfoot First Nation, allowing the Canadian Pacific Railway to lay track through aboriginal territory and continue across Alberta. Had Lacombe not stepped in as a peacemaker and witness to the gospel, Canada may never have seen the completion of the railroad.

Father Lacombe’s story is part of CPR history – but also a signpost of Christian faith and faithfulness.

The speed of travel increases

My journey with the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren churches has taken me through various terrains across Canada (some rocky and some majestic, others unassuming, and a few barren), leading to the discovery of amazing stories of faith and transformation, and always in constant motion.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve witnessed many changes in the field of communications. The speed of communication has accelerated exponentially, providing almost unlimited access to information.

Consider, for example:

  • There are 5.9 billion searches on Google every day – 100 times more than in 2000.
  • The number of text messages sent every day is double the population of the planet.
  • It took Instagram just 2 years to reach a market audience of 50 million, whereas it took radio 38 years to reach that many people.
  • In 2014, there were 10 billion internet devices on planet Earth. (Compare that with 1,000 in 1984.)
  • The platforms on which we communicate have also changed.

Social media has given rise to “many-to-many” communication, where multiple users can both receive and contribute information. Rather than being primarily consumers of information, users now share their ideas and perspectives with multiple other users – instantaneously.

How “tweet” it is

This two-way conversation changed the face of CCMBC communications when, in October 2011, the MB Herald flew into the world of Twitter.

In those four years, we’ve posted nearly 2,000 tweets to more than 900 followers. Twitter allows us to highlight special events as they happen, share news from our churches and conferences, and engage with people who may not regularly read our paper magazine. We receive immediate feedback about what people like and what they don’t like, and are able to answer questions quickly.

We also follow some 700 other Twitter users, tracking with our churches, ministry partners and the broader Canadian culture.

Rocky or smooth terrain?

We’ve discovered that Twitter, like all other social media platforms, has benefits and pitfalls.

As Mennonite Brethren, we value community and believe spiritual discernment is best done with the whole body of Christ.

Social media provides a wonderful opportunity to interact with a wide variety of people on multiple issues – both the mundane and the controversial. It’s crucial to listen well to all the voices within the Mennonite Brethren in order to strengthen our faith and invigorate our gospel witness.

On the flip side, the immediacy and transience of social media can result in people responding out of pure emotion (fear, anger, sadness) rather than prayerful consideration of their words.

As Christians, we must always seek to use the tools God has given us with wisdom and love, in order to edify the body of Christ.

As communication continues to change, the journey also continues. What kind of terrain is ahead? What new platforms will become available for our use? Which forms of communication are useful, and which ones should we ignore? What type of content will land in the paper magazine, and what type of content is better shared via social media?

How will we use these communication tools in order to foster community, bring clarity to denominational issues, and further our mission of multiplying churches to see Canada transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ?

In the midst of these challenging questions, I’m encouraged by the fact there will always be stories to tell – stories like Father Lacombe’s – discovered along the journey, told as enduring signposts of faith and faithfulness.

Laura Kalmar 2012web—Laura Kalmar

Note: this was Laura Kalmar’s last editorial as editor of the MB Herald. See news release on her resignation here.

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