NASHVILLE, Tenn.– United Methodists in developing nations, who for years have lacked basic Christian education materials, are using seed money and newly learned entrepreneurial skills to write and produce their own resources for learning and making disciples for Christ.
Publishing teams in Africa and the Philippines are creating sustainable resources that meet their own needs with the guidance of Discipleship Resources International (DRI), a ministry of the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD).
"The churches in these areas do not have reasonable, affordable access to resources for learning, for discipleship and for leadership," said DRI leader Stephen Bryant, Special Assistant to the General Secretary for Central Conference Resourcing. "They need them badly, and they need them to be as culturally appropriate and relevant as we have in this country. It is the responsibility of the church to make sure that there is at least reasonable access to affordable and appropriate resources in those countries."
DRI partners with episcopal areas in Central Conferences to create publishing teams and to develop their capacity to provide contextual resources for their areas. DRI then backs them with minimal funds and training and promises guidance over multiple years.
Teams are established and ongoing in Africa in Malawi, Central Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Zimbabwe, South Mozambique and North Mozambique, and in the Philippines. Additional teams are currently being developed in Tanzania and South Africa and are in active planning for East Congo, East Angola, West Angola, parts of West Africa, and particular areas in Eastern Europe.
Each team decides what materials their churches and schools need the most, creates a 3-4 year publishing plan, then develops and sells the resulting resources at an affordable price to bring in income for the production of even more materials.
For example in Malawi, which started afresh in 2009, Bibles in the Chichewa language were scarce, and there was virtually no United Methodist Sunday school literature. They did without printed resources or, out of necessity, made use of pamphlets and songbooks from other denominations often with very different beliefs.
One of the first Malawi projects was to purchase Chichewa Bibles from the Malawi Bible Society and sell them for about half their cost to worshipers. The Malawi publishing team then developed a catechism in the form of a very basic and inexpensive question-and-answer document in both English and Chichewa expressing what United Methodists believe, as well as a quarterly newsletter that served as Sunday school literature and a communications tool.
"It will be a while before most of these teams become self-supporting financially," Bryant said. "But they can be sustainable through a partnership with the United Methodist Connection. The net income that they generate, together with seed money that we then invest in their annual plans, enables these operations to continue on and build momentum."
In the Philippines, United Methodist schools and colleges lacked a curriculum for Christian education and values. So the publishing team there is developing content for textbooks to be used for high school, and later for the lower grades, and will begin selling them to UM schools throughout the Philippines this year.
GBOD's role in that particular effort has been to help the team with its business plan and to provide the capital. "Because it's a sound plan and strong team, we're putting up the money to make that investment," Bryant said. "In addition to the ministry value, they'll also realize a net income, which will help fund other projects. … The whole purpose of the way we go about it is for them to get on their own feet."
About $150,000 has been budgeted annually for investing in the development of teams and their plans, Bryant said.
Bryant originated the publishing team concept for stimulating the production of resources locally years ago while serving as world editor and publisher of The Upper Room. He started a similar project in Bulgaria in 1996 using GBOD funds and one in Malawi in 1999 using funds from The Upper Room.
After completing 12 years as publisher at The Upper Room, Bryant was asked by GBOD General Secretary Karen Greenwaldt in 2009 to build on those efforts and to develop a broad strategy to meet the needs of international ministries. Bryant began then to build the relationships and systems for implementing what General Conference 2008 and 2012 called the Sustainable Resourcing Initiative.
DRI also initiated the African Ministry Series, which promotes the publishing of African-authored content for the African church and theological education.
"We started this publishing in 2010, beginning with an invitation to the faculty of theology of African University," Bryant said. "I met with them and challenged them to think about doing this, and they, of course, were very eager. Many of them had for years longed to publish and to write for the church in Africa, but there's not been a means to be published in Africa to benefit the church in Africa."
The first five titles of the African Ministry Series were published in 2011, and two more were published in 2012 on preaching in the African context. More are planned.
"We've also connected with the African Association of United Methodist Theological Institutions now – working closely with GBHEM – and hope to challenge writers in some additional institutions to become authors and begin to write for the church and for theological education in Africa. That would become a part of the series, as well," he said.
The Africa Ministry Series titles are being produced in three of the major languages of Africa – French, Portuguese and English.