After years of self-restraint, Christians in Latin America are embracing mass media to convey the gospel message.
However, faced with slick competition from expanding, professionally produced secular media, Christian television and radio outlets are being urged to produce programs of higher quality.
"We have to put aside the mentality that we are poor, that we don't have the resources," Raul Justiniano, president of COICOM—Ibero-American Confederation of Christian Communicators and Mass Media—told delegates to the annual conference September 26-29 in Quito, Ecuador. COICOM is the Latin American counterpart to National Religious Broadcasters.
"Right now the Lord is giving us opportunities, and we have to prepare ourselves for excellence," said Justiniano, a Bolivian. "In that way we will be a better witness for Christ in the continent."
REACHING THE MASSES: Underscoring the move to expand and improve the quality of communication, the confederation announced a "mega strategy" called the "1,000-Days Plan" designed to place professional quality spots and programs in secular media to reach all of Latin America in the final thousand days of the century.
"Our thousand-days plan is a mass blitz with Judeo-Christian values coming from the Scriptures," said Larry Buckman, the Quito-based executive director of COICOM. "It is intended to reach those who have never heard the gospel."
At every session, the more than 800 delegates in attendance heard challenges to reach out beyond their present ministries and upgrade their quality.
Workshops offered participants the opportunity to hone their skills in television and radio production, in programs designed especially for women and children, plus in technical skills such as automation, digital editing, and using the Internet as a mass medium.
Miami's Christian Internet Radio and Television Network transmitted plenary sessions and concerts worldwide, the first time any evangelical event from Latin America had been made available in such a manner. (All of COICOM's sessions may be downloaded from www.citv.com.)
"The archivability of sound and video files destroys the idea of prime time," said Rick L. Patterson, president of the Internet network. "It's all on demand. You can broadcast a live feed, but it is also encoded so that anyone can access it at any time up until the return of our Lord."
CHRISTIAN MEDIA EXPLOSION: Evangelical television has exploded on the Latin American scene in recent years. Today, according to Justiniano, there are 600 Christian-format radio stations in Latin America, around 100 television stations, nearly 15 satellite radio networks, two satellite television networks, 500 publications, and nearly 5,000 independent producers.
Media specialists are developing new methods of sending out the message. Leaders of a workshop on video told an overflow crowd that television allows evangelism in a nonreligious format, away from the limitations of a church sanctuary and religious language. Chilean producers are distributing features and spots using news programs, music videos, interviews with personalities such as soccer stars, and a "Recovering Values" series of one-minute messages addressing such issues as spouse abuse, human relations, marital problems, nurture of children, and the often taboo subject of Latin American "machismo."
Drama in a region where radio and television soap operas fill daytime and evening hours is also being developed by Christian stations, according to Sandra de la Torre, a producer with HCJB radio in Quito.
"Radio drama can have the same impact as tv drama," de la Torre said. Some stations are already using the Spanish version of Unshackled, produced by Chicago's Pacific Garden Mission.
"Dramatic one-minute spots can carry a strong impact," de la Torre said. "However, drama must be done well, and that takes money, technical equipment, and training."
Christian music from Latin America is growing in popularity throughout the region, according to Juan Valdez, video department director of Arbol Records in Quito. "We are producing CDs, cassettes, and videos for distribution throughout Latin America, and in North America where Latin music is becoming more popular," he said. Some Christian productions are finding their way onto the play charts of secular radio stations.
Other production houses are springing up throughout the continent, including one at Paraguay's Mennonite-operated radio station La Voz del Chaco Paraguayo.
INTERNET OPPORTUNITIES: Opportunities on the Internet seemed to spark the imagination of many conference participants. Celina Ortega, who, along with her husband, Guillermo Olandia, operates Argentina's first Christian Web site (www.logos.com.ar), demonstrated the possibilities for Christian ministries. Included in her Logos Web pages are devotionals, Bible studies, missionary news, chat rooms for Christian workers, and counseling helps for the troubled. Olandia reported more than 16,000 visits since the site began in January.
COICOM leaders said they are excited about the direction Latin media is taking. This year's registration more than doubled the number who attended last year's session in Bolivia.
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