In case you missed it, United Methodist News Service reported earlier this week that Julu Swen of Liberia and Phileas Jusu of Sierra Leone were awarded the United Methodist Association of Communicators' 2014 United Methodist Communicators of the Year Award. In bestowing the award, the UM Association of Communicators cited Swen and Jusu's work in covering the Ebola epidemic. This award is a significant story for at least two reasons.
First, it's significant that two Africans won the top award. All of the other awards announced by the UM Association of Communicators were given to Americans working for one of the American annual conferences, UMNS, UM Communications, umc.org, or UMW. In part, this reflects the resource differential between American annual conferences and annual conferences from the Central Conferences. American annual conferences have more money to pay staff to focus on communications for the annual conferences. But both Jusu and Swen work (at least in part) for annual conferences as well. We should not assume that annual conferences in the United States are the only ones with messages to share or the resources and savvy to share them.
Second, it's significant that Swen and Jusu won by reporting on an issue of international significance. Much of the communication generated by annual conferences is directed at internal audiences - ministers and members of those annual conferences. That's usually appropriate. Nevertheless, we should remember that what we do in annual conferences can matter to the rest of the connection as well. Indeed, that's one reason why United Methodism's connectional system is significant - it allows for sharing and communication beyond geographic boundaries. Certainly the serious nature of and international interest in Ebola helped garner Jusu and Swen's reporting attention, but there are other stories coming out of annual conferences that are worth being shared beyond the boundaries of the conference, even if they are less dire than Ebola.
Congratulations, then, are in order to Swen and Jusu. This blog has been a fan and supporter of Swen in particular since before the Ebola outbreak, and it's nice to see him so recognized. May we all be inspired by their work.