February 2005 Archives

The Farewell Note is "Peace"

Was awakened by a flood of loud waililng prayers from about 6 LOUD loudspeakers atop mosques in downtown Yogyakarta. Sometimes the prayers are taped and sometimes they are live. This happens 5 times each day, at 4:30 AM; 12:30 PM; 3:30 PM; 6:30 PM and 8:30 PM.

This my third day in Yogyakarta was really a whirlwind day, since I had to visit four WACC members before my 6 PM departure. I am now aboard the flight which will take me to Jakarta, then Singapore, then home to the US.

This will be my last blog entry from Asia. Hard to believe that I’ve been hopping and been gifted with friendships and best wishes in 5 Asian cities.

My first visit was to the Media Village whose director is Rev. Yosef Iswarahadi,SJ. Called Puskat Audiovisual Studio, it is a grand complex of video studios, digital editing suites, sound studio, conference center, with sleeping and dining accomodations, two outdoor stages for dance and other musical perfoamces --- and a beautifully designed outdoor chapel dedicated to inter-religious prayer. This is an art place filled with spirituality. Steeped in its Christian faith (Catholic) Puskat produces award-winning Buddhist productions, Muslim stories and also music produced and performed by inter-religious youth. (You can see pictures of the productions on their site) These are broadcast on national television and now are being sold on DVD to schools and churches.

Then I went to the TPK (Taman Pustaka Kristen) bookstore whose director is Ms. Martha K. Marmiati. Stared in 1960, it does a brisk business of Christian books and devotional artefacts. Ms. Marmiati says that both Catholic and Protestant buy at the store, which is operated by the Javanese Christian Church, a Presbyterian church. Located on the same grounds, the church was built in 1818. It is one of four Christian bookstores in Yogyakarta. I was led upstairs where a beautiful table was waiting for us, laden with banana-leaf wrapped patties made of rice and meats. Boiled bananas were delicious. As we said our goodbyes, I remembered her words, that the ecumenical store builds up the body of Christ.

Next I visited Mr. Otniel Sintoro , Director of the printing and publishing company, Penerbit Andi. This publishing house is a private company inspired by Christian principles. About 30% of their pulications are Christian and of these about 60-70 are books from other countries that are translated. Mr. Sintoro asked me to ask members of WACC in the US and Canada to share catalogs of books and leaflets so that he might investigate the possibility of licensing these in Indonesia.

He and his staff are dedicated to the promotion of Christian values and to this end last year built a bookstore that sells Andi books and also books from other publishers. They prepared lunch for me and I was able to meet with some of the other staff members. They could not have been more gracious and maybe at the next world WACC assembly these relationships can be enjoyed again.

Finally I visited Kanisius, a Catholic publisher, also ecumenical and also publishing school book texts and general reading books. State-of-the-art, the publisher and printer is guided by Rev. Sarwanto, SJ, a young priest who took over as director about one year ago, after Emmanuel Surono retired. As I toured the facility and met editors, translators, graphic artists and printer technicians, I got the feeling that I was experiencing a culture of service and quality.

The vision of Kanisius, Fr. Sarwanto explains, is to build peace in the world. Not a bad note on which to end my tour of Southeast Asia.

Blessings, peace.

Hospitality is a gift

I was met at the Yogyakarta airport by Mr. Emmanuel Surono who is the Vice President of WACC Asia, (AR-WACC). He says that the AR-WACC general assembly is held every three years and usually about 120 members attend.
He deftly drove through the buzzing motorcycles that weave in and out between the moving cars. Each year the number of motorcycles on the city streets increases by 9,000. The bee-like motorcycles rush students to and fro, since this is a big university town, attracting students from all over Indonesia.

Aceh, in northern Indonesia, was largely destroyed by the tsunami. Mr. Surono told me that he still cannot comprehend the depth of the tragedy, with 115,000 dead. Sorrow is widespread.

He took me to the offices of Kanisius, a large Catholic publisher. I was humbled when upon entering the door, there was a group of local Christian book store owners and publishers/producers who had gatherred to welcome me. All of them are members of WACC. A beautiful table with tempting Indonesian cuisine was set on the patio, surrounded by lush greenery. On Monday I will visit four of the places, so suffice it to say now that the Christian publishing world is extensive and dynamic.

The group asked me about WACC in North America, wanting to know how many members we had, their profile, and "what is the biggest problem or challenge that is facing NARA-WACC today?" I wondered how our members in Canada and the US would answer. I did my best.
The members of AR-WACC that were presented would like to begin e-mailing with NARA-WACC members who are intersted in publishing in order to see if there are ways of collaborating, perhaps in the areas of sharing news info that is not readily available through the commercial media -- sharing info about obtaining copyrights to spiritual material that could be translated -- and other church issues.

I left the luncheon meeting filled with joy, enriched by such a warm and generous gift of hospitality.

In 45 minutes one of the members of that group, Fr. Yosef Iswarahadi, SJ, will collect me to go visit and pray at Borubudur. I am so ready to ascend that mountain.


Suprising to me, being the first time in the Kuala Lumpur airport, to be greeted by squeaky clean floors, spectacular modern design, in both airport stations, connected by fast and efficient monorail. The highway to the downtown was also clean, manicured with flowering shrubs.

During an outdoor dinner with beautiful breezes I was informed about the local balance that exists socially and politically and religiously among the diverse populations in Malaysia: Muslim, Malay, Chines, Indian, Christians, Euroasians.

The next day my visit included Cahayasuara, a communications center housed in building that contains a video studio, editing bay, film screening auditorium, library and bookstore. The director, Lawrence John, is a member of WACC. The center conducts courses in various media for teachers and religious Christian leaders. Their most recent course is "Social Communication for Change" and it provides both a theoretical and practical/planning introduction to media. The 5-day course is intense and has met with great success among leaders who have taken the course, from the fields of education, church and press. They also hold a 2-day highly popular workshop on cartoons (popular animated features and other) for teachers of religion. They actually have fun and play, while gaining insight into values and community.

The committment to peace and justice leads to advocacy, according to Lawrence John, and recently they took on, with much trepidation, and sober prayer, Citibank whose advertising was offensive because of its improper use of a child in an ad. They won! and citibank removed the ad. If you want to learn more about this, you can e-mail Lawrence John.

Then I visited the Asian Communication Network, a new type of association that depends on the strength of the individual members. The intellectual and inspirational animator is Dr Nadarajah Manikam. The website offers great info on what they do. Te idea is a new way of helping grassroots leaders -- through networked support and mutual services. Both "Nada" and "LJ" (as friends call them) are clearly devoted to their work of bulding up the human community towards peace and justice. My last night in KL we had dinner (Chinese food to celebrate the new year of the rooster) with Augy Loorthusamy who had been with me in Manila but lives in KL. Noodles!!!
The meal was true celebration of solidarity and new-found friendships.

Contrasts in Community

Aboard one of the new Lufthansa airbus jets, with state-of the art seats, AC plug for my laptop and wireless Internet, this is the first time that I surf the net while flying. In one hour I will land in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Onboard wireless Internet surfing is in stark contrast with the tsunami area in suthern thailand which has no communication system at all – even now. This exacerbates the fear of the survivors who last week fled the beach area when they thought that another wave was coming. “Community radio is essential there now,” says Dr.Ubonrat Siriyuvasak, Professor of communications at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. She is a longtime WACC member and sends greetings to her WACC colleagues in North America. Her research has focused on alternative media, documenting the dramatic improvements that can be seen when community, participative media are implemented by local initiatives. “Women’s groups, housing initiatives, democracy, these are systems that go back to the real meaning of communications,” she says.

She explains that the tsunami left the survivors in southern thailand with their spirits devastated. In parts of Surat Thani, there is no way to receive accurate, helpful information, so people in the affected areas are helpless and do not know how to plan the future. They are also deeply impacted psychologically. Communications media can help promote hope and renewed community cohesion. Reliable information calms fears and helps build community.

I recommend that sometime in the not too distant future we at WACC-North America invite Dr. Ubonrat to have conversations with us about her research work in alternative/community media. Her clear vision can help us build practical working relationships. One of the issues that should be kept in our e-mail boxes is the court battle that is continuing here in Bangkok about the attack by the government of Supinya Klangnarong, a WACC scholar, because her journalism speaks the truth.

There is much to write about, but this blog is not the space for it. My 1 ½ days in Bangkok were full of both hope and pain. I was hosted by Mr. ViramonThanthranon, business manager of the Catholic Media Office. He drove like an artist through the congested Bangkok freeways and streets.

I was also hosted and driven to various visits by Ms. Siriwan Santisakultarm, a video and TV producer who is also the current President of Signis Asia. The day following the tsunami she rushed to the affected area and worked tirelessly to provide direct help to the victims. She also took her camera and has produced a DVD containing 10 stories about the aftermath. Each story is 3 minutes. Since late January the DVD has been used in schools throughout thailand to help discuss and reflect on the tragedy. Shot entirely with a home camera, it looks really great. I told Siriwan that I would take five DVD’s with me to Houston, so if you would like to receive one, send me an email and I will ship it to you. I suggested to her that she could ask for a small donation. One of the pieces is about the various religions uniting to respond in prayer and action.

more later. have to land.
PS: I'm still overeating Thai food. ..... and loving it.

The right to our stories

Mary's blog points to the civil disobedience screenings of "Eyes on the prize."
Let's all support this movement.

WACC is convening a meeting in France this September to deal with copyright and intellectual property rights issues as they relate specifically to Church liturgy and worship. I plan to be there.

Just arrived in Bangkok and will get a good early turn in and hopefully a good night's rest. In Manila my host was Augustine Loorthusamy who was WACC-Asia Secretary from 1987 to 1993. He is now working in Malaysia but kindly helped to organize my trip and particularly the meetings in Manila. He has broad knowledge about the media and communications issues throughout Asia. I gasped when, in the taxi, he explained that that families who live abject poverty, "Hardcore Poverty" has risen to 37%.

He drove me to the office of the Federation of Catholic Asian Bishops Conference where the Secretary for Social Communications, Fr. Joseph Franz-Eilers, explained not only the importance but the high interest that churches feel for inter-religious dialog. In this area where christians are in the minority (except in the Philippines) this takes on a high priority. While in his office, i was reminded of a previous conversation in Taipei, with Benoit Vermander. He had given me a paper he wrote in which he says that inter-religious dialog is rich opportunity. He says in his paper that when Christianity encounters Asia in its complexity, it makes "this tremendous variety of cultural resources the tool box that enables us to interpret anew our own tradition and culture. "
The next day (today) 9:00 am I visited Jescom, a production center that excels in high quality and soul-filled media: music cd's that sell by the thousands; music videos that play on commercial TV; sms/text messaging products that download to your phone; booklets. Yes, they do all of that, and very well. It is really an amazing place, directed by Fr. Aristotle Dy, SJ, a young priest (ordained last year) who has great dreams and sensitivity. Just take a look at their website offerings.
One of their music videos was particularly touching and I made an agreement to compress it when i return to Houston and stream it so you can take a look at it for yourself. It will streaming on my website, with the link to the Jescom site.

From my speedy 2-hour visit that included watching videos and exploring their 3-D animation booth, I gather this:
Ary and his team continually work with freelance directors and artists and feel their way through productions to reach the bottom line: Art. The spirituality then just becomes manifest on the screen, for by doing art, they express what is in their souls.

This is truly one place that could share their work more widely with North America. The music and products are in English. Maybe the Internet will afford that opportunity.

Tomorrow I start the day with a 9:00 am meeting. Bangkok is really, really hot.

Internet Access issues

This 24-hour silence is due to my inability to access the Internet. Am in Manila where among three warm visits, I visited Ms. Teresita Z. (Terry) Hermano, whom you may remember as WACC London staff. She is now at the Communications Foundation for Asia and she showed me this absolutely wonderful digital interactive education project. Kids who are high school dropouts and who live on and around garbage dumps (called "the mountain") with their entire families, are going to get high school diplomas using e-learning on makeshift computer stands. and guess what software they are using to pas the tests??? Completely new digital animation, interactive modules designed by a team of Filipono educators and graphically (beautifully) designed by a team teenage digital programmers. The team of 14 is enthusiastic and so talented. Write to Terry if you'd like to see a module in beta form. Oh...the kids are all deaf. They are designing and also learning.....to me the revelation was to see them creating versions of the real world that emerges from their Filipino imagination.

My spirits are so uplifted.

time is running out with this connection, so I'll post more when I land in Bangkok and can get a more reliable internet connection.


The best laid plans

Just woke up. I’ts 5:30 AM and I’m still in Taipei.

Last night my Philippine Air 6:30 PM flight was at first delayed, then cancelled due to the dense fog that descended on and covered Taipei, which sits on a basin surrounded by mountains.

Havoc and dissarray reigned at the airport as we were herded to and fro by Philippine personel who weren’t sure how we could get back to the main terminal, since we had already cleared immigration. We finally got back to the terminal to find out that our luggage was not to be given to us, since it was already in bins. It would simply wait at the airport and travel with us the next day on the flight to which we had been re-booked. Oh my………….with broken chinese and English I did get my luggage – which I credit to some miracle being handed down to me by angels. I had foolishly packed some medication instead of carrying it with me.

Well, no hotel was provided, so some successful scramling landed me here where I slept nicely, except for awakening prematurely. But all is well. I was able to email my hosts in Manila and they are rearranging the meeting times.

Have a nice day, and until later from Manila, God willing.


Yet another turn to multi-media

Kuangchi Cultural Group has been a trade book publisher for 40 years and 3 years ago began a move into the same building as Kuangchi Program Service. Rev. Ray Parent, director, comes from a television background and has produced documentaries and dramas in Africa, Asia and Europe. No surprise, then, that he has produced a series of multi-media kits for use in schools for "Education for Life." These are based on 12-minute video dramas that are wonderfully photographed. The ones I saw focused on "the wonder of life." The kits contain the video dramas, mtv style music videos and a 2-minute reflection. They also contain 4-color printed material for use by students for the learning activities. Teacher lesson plans and teacher guides complete the kit. Ray says that teacher training was part of the plan but budget did not allow for implementation.

Schools are using this innovative approach to subjects, and another unit is currently in production. I must say that Ray is really daring and innovative in his approach. the drama I saw included real-life footage of a child being born, coming out of the womb. Ray shot these scenes himself, being the only one that the hospital and parents would allow into the hospital room for the birth. If you'd like to see any of the videos in the kits, write to Rev. Ray Parent. Even though the program is in Chinese it is very, very understeandeable because of the direct story line and the visual action.

Their book catalog contains 800 titles, and some DVD's, like the Italian-US production of Abraham.
Since the move to the new building meant they could no longer have a bookstore, Ray and his team of 2 women executives moved to go online and this has been a life-saver for them. Though a bit clunky still, since purchases have to be faxed in, nevertheless the staff is pleased with sales (save their budget actually!) and they are looking forward to implementing a fully operational on-line store.

Only faith keeps these wonderful artists going. Total commitment to mission is evident......and they smile constantly. i guess everyone is happy to be leaving work for 8 days to celebrate Chinese new year.

Everyone goes to their family, so the southerners are coming to Taipei and the Taipei business workers are going south to their original families. There is a wonderful air of celebration, with decorations of red good-luck ribbons all over the place.

This morning I'm climbing the highest building in the world, 101. then a flight at 7:30 PM, onward to Manila.

Competence and Heart

Noodles in hot broth for breakfast. Fantastic.
Then at 9:00 am I met Chi-Hsiang Yeh, General Editor of Taiwan Church News & Press (website in Chinese only). This is the Presbyterian church printing ministry, with a staff of 16, that introduced the first newspaper in Taiwan back in 1885, with a printing press brought over from Scotland. Today they publish books, pamphlets, serialized bible reflections, song books and other print material.

The weekly, �Taiwan Church News,� has a circulation of 5,000 that goes to congregations to be picked up on Sunday and also to individual subscribers. The weekly keeps the church members informed about current affairs, from the point of view of the Christian faith.

This week�s issue, 24 pages, includes full-color stories of current events with feature stories that explore the stories in-depth. For example, there is a series of articles that explore the facets of the latest scandal in Taipei: a hospital refused treatment to a poor girl and sent her away to a rural hospital. As word about this spread, hospitals in Taiwan were taken to task by the general public. �Taiwan Church News� begins with coverage of this event, but then does a remarkeable job of adding these features:

--four prominent administrators of christian-run hospitals in Taipei recount what can causes such incidents and what health care policies the general public needs to look at

--A report about �St. Mary�s� hospital that conducts regular workshops for their young doctors about medical ethics and patient respect: how to listen to and care for patients. These workshops integrate older doctors who tell stories about their experiences. �You can�t tell them what to do because that is very difficult, but you can share stories about what experiences have been, and you can lead by example.�

--A book published by a Mennonite hospital, �The Angel�s Eyes� is featured in one of the stories, a book that is a collection of short stories/case studies written by doctors who have had experiences with ethical decisions and how they resolved them.

The paper includes a section featuring aborigine communities. There are 12 languages spoken among the aborigine communities. Every week there is a section on the environment.

There is also a section written in Taiwanese, which is often the language that suffers from prejudice in comparison Mandarin. Incorporating this other language is a strong and clear option of the paper, �and we will not change that,� says Mr. Yeh.

Subscriptions are on the rise. Reporting has improved over the past years, due to improved journalistic skills. Throughout the pages there is a spirit of present day grace and courage. The feel of the paper is contemporary and intelligent. Mr. Yeh, who studied in Taipei and also at Princeton and Duke, remarks that �We as Christians have a way to be in the world, and we have something relevant to say .�

As regards Internet re-visioning of the press, he remarks that all of their material, including a wonderful series of daily bible reflecctions (re-written every year to tak into account current events) are availabale for downloading online, in pdf format.

He would like Chinese Christians and churches in the US to download and print the contents and use them if they are relevant. But he says that even in Asian countries there is a block to this �free sharing� of content. �There is a mental block against this,� he says. �They think that maybe there is a trick or that this is not really possible. The barrier is a mental one right now.�

I told Mr. Yeh about the WACC conference in France about copyright and he really wants to attend. He wants to do all he can to promote this free sharing, and �justice� sharing according to needs that should be respected.
If any Presbyterian, or other, church members want to take advantage of this, send an email to Chi-Hsiang Yeh.

I could go on and on�..what an exciting meeting.

I�d like for NARA-WACC or the Catholic Communicatons Academy to ask Mr. Yeh to come and talk to us sometime in the near future. He has a degree in theology, having completed all of his seminary studies.

Next is a meeting with another publishing house, Kuangchi Cultural Group. See you after lunch. Yum---noodles!!!


Moving to Multimedia

It is 2 in the morning and, of course, I'm unable to sleep. So I walked down the hall and hooked up to the community Internet connection. Great!
My host and friend is Fr. Jerry Martinson, a long-time producer at Kuangchi Program Service, having served as its President in earlier days.

My first visit after I arrived at 5:30 AM and proceeded to take a quick shower was to Kuangchi Program Service where Jerry has worked for decades. Among many of the shows and series that he has produced, one strikes me as particularly charming. He was featured as "uncle Jerry" in a show that teaches English to kids. As we walked down the street in downtown Taipei, teenagers would say hi to him...."I grew up learning English from you!"

I am amazed by the resilience and creative resources of this Kuangchi, for it has morphed from a large broadcast production company (six production studios, from very large to medium in size), to a multi-media production center involved in digital posting, large size digital displays, dvd and other productions. This they've done through partnerships with cutting edge artists and producers in Taipei. I keep thinking of the Good Samaritan in all of this.
Jerry takes it all in stride that the team has been able to change so readily and successfully, indicating that when you are faced with harsh realities, you simply have to look for opportunities and take them. But the real story in my eyes is the Good Samaritan who is available to do God's work as it arrives in new circumstances.
The Christian view of this place is to emphasize the services of love that grows from faith. Social outreach - fidelity to social justice - clarity about committment to the weakest. Working in these areas is the Gospel witness.
Renting out studio space and production services to outside producers of soap operas and other cable shows, nevertheless the Kuangchi-produced programs are clear in their option: a series by and for aborigines in Taiwan; a weekly series for "mail-order" brides to teach them some English phrases that help lead them to available services such as health providers and other support.

After dinner I met with the editors and publishers of a monthly new magazine (one year old) of the Ricci Institute. The monthly magazine, Renlai, is about spirituality, culture and society and is bold and highly attractive. More about that later.

Tomorrow at 9:00 am I am visiting with Taiwan Church Press. It is of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.

I'm off to bed, looking forward to later this morning.


Asia Pacific Rim Trip Starts

This afternoon I start my trip to the Asia Pacific Rim. Via Vancouver, I'll arrive in Taipei and star with a visit to my friends at Kuangchi Program Service. I'll be travelling through Feb. 20th.

The questions that I have are many and I doubt that I'll get answers. What I think I will get, what I hope to get, is some friends with whom I can ask those questions. Friends with whom I can try to strengthen existing collaborative actions that will heal wounds over time..........over a long time.

I've learned that relationships are priceless and to celebrate them in the now will create the future I hope for.

As a member of WACC North America, NARA-WACC, I'll be asking some WACC questions: What is it that materially connects the North American Region to the Asia Pacific region? Is it the global economy and specifically what trades? What are the pressing issues that create injustice and suffering and to which Christian churches are materially connected? When Christians in Asia and in North America pray in worship, are there any connections to each other that are felt? that are real?

How do Asian Christians and North American Christians describe their utopic vision of a religiously pluralistic world? Or is there even such a shared vision?

What are some real bonds that we can live and celebrate with each other across the vast distances? What are the bonds that are now possible even across great distances due to our mediated global connectedness?

As you can see, I'm not starting off in a very practical way, but that's how it goes.

Now I'm taking a cab to the airport.


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