“The strength of the national Church is in direct proportion to the strength of its body of local Christian literature,” said author Tim Stafford. The Church in Africa has expanded exponentially in the past century. However, its publication of quality, contextual Christian books and periodicals has not kept pace. Relevant African literature is needed to help the Church communicate Christ’s faithfulness and unyielding love to nations wrought with discord.
“Have you ever felt like you were walking along in a desert, wishing for water to quench your thirst, and suddenly you walk into an oasis?” said publisher Jusu-wai Sawi of Sierra Leone. “Having just come into Christian publishing, I have often had this desert experience—times when I don’t know what to do or where to turn. I went to LittWorld 2006 with many questions. But, thank God, at every stage of the conference I got my answers. I found it a really helpful meeting with people from all over the world and sharing experiences.”
So that other African publishers can experience this “oasis” of training and encouragement, Media Associates International (MAI) is holding its next LittWorld conference in Nairobi, Kenya. From 1-6 November 2009, this unique international publishing conference will gather some two hundred Christians from 30-plus countries, within and beyond Africa for intensive training and networking.
In many countries around the globe, less than ten percent of Christian books are authored by local people. Held every three years, LittWorld aims to boost that number by equipping and strengthening networks of Christians who are publishing where training is scarce. MAI encourages them to persevere in producing the good news in their heart language and culture. Since the first LittWorld in 1986, publishers, editors, writers, and designers from ninety-four countries have participated. Past LittWorld locations include Brazil, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Potential for Africa
Few institutions in Africa offer courses specifically tailored to publishing, and offshore training opportunities are too expensive for the average Christian publisher. With God’s help, LittWorld will result in more and better African-authored books and articles that nurture the Church and advance the gospel.
“Publishers and writers in Africa were among the first to receive MAI training when the organization was founded twenty-four year ago, and the continent has remained a priority ever since,” said MAI board chair Mark Carpenter of Brazil.
Since 1985, MAI has equipped local Christians in fifty-seven countries on five continents. MAI trains and nurtures talented men and women with a passion for producing Christian literature for their own people. As a result, budding writers have developed, publishing houses have grown, periodicals have launched, and books and magazines have been produced that speak to the hearts of readers in their own languages.
MAI’s focus on leadership development for African Christian publishing and its first LittWorld conference on the continent will increase its involvement there. Given Tim Stafford’s earlier statement, the Church in Africa has some “body-building” to do. The African Church increases annually by an estimated 2.4 percent, faster than anywhere else in the world. However, many African believers lack Christian literature written by Africans. As the number of new Christians expands in the region, so does the need for contextual Christian literature that can nurture the growing Church and equip it to reach society with relevant messages of peace, hope, and truth.
The African continent holds great promise, potential, and opportunities. And yet, people in many African nations are plagued by poverty, violence, and political unrest. Roughly one-third of African countries are entangled in civil wars or trapped in cycles of civil unrest. A staggering sixty percent of worldwide AIDS victims are African.
Africa’s literacy rates continue to register well below the worldwide average of eighty percent. Of the twenty-one countries worldwide with more than fifty percent illiteracy rates, thirteen are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Gender is a major factor, since African women typically have less access to primary and secondary education than men.
On the positive side, Africa’s economy is developing, giving some countries a viable chance to break the cycle of poverty—provided that political and religious figures lead wisely.
The many changes and challenges in the African Church and society point to the need for increasingly equipped and visionary leaders for Christian publishing. MAI is intensifying programs of leadership development for African publishers and authors, and collaborating with other Christian-related publishing agencies involved in the region.
“I am delighted that LittWorld 2009 will take place in Africa a year before the Lausanne conference in Cape Town,” said International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) general secretary Daniel Bourdanne, a former publisher in Cote d’Ivoire. “LittWorld is a major event and holding it in Africa will be a real blessing for the continent. Christian publishing must remain among the priorities for Africa.”
“One in Word”
The LittWorld 2009 conference is bilingual, English/French. Along with seminars and one-on-one consultations, it offers dozens of small-group workshops grouped in tracks: publishing leadership, finance, editorial, marketing and sales, writing, graphic design, and training. Workshop leaders and speakers will represent the world’s top Christians involved in publishing.
The conference theme, “One in Word,” communicates God’s power to reconcile a divided world. This message is significant in light of the recent political divisions in Kenya. Christians in the publishing world can help achieve needed healing through a unity of spirit and purpose. A special writing competition focuses on the theme of reconciliation, and the contest will help bring to the surface some previously unknown, gifted African writers.
Article submissions of 1,500 words or less should tell a true story of the power of Christ to achieve reconciliation or forgiveness. First prize is a conference scholarship, not including travel. The submission deadline is 30 April 2009.
Kenyan Hosts Prepare to Welcome World’s Publishers
The local host committee includes the publishing directors of Nairobi’s top three evangelical publishers: Barine Kirimi of Evangel Publishing, David Waweru of WordAlive, and Phoebe Mugo of Uzima Publishing. This group meets regularly to make local preparations for LittWorld.
Kirimi, chair of the local committee, became director of a publishing house teetering on the verge of bankruptcy in 2003. He soon brought Evangel into the “black” and has expanded the publishing program. Perhaps mindful of his own rocky experience as a new publisher, he is developing plans for an African “Publishing Academy,” which will offer annual two-week courses for leaders of established and emerging publishing houses.
Kenyan journalist Mary Kiio serves as MAI’s local coordinator for LittWorld. A television/print journalist and events organizer, Kiio brings her experience in training, publishing, and event-coordinating to LittWorld.
MAI’s regional trainer for Africa, Lawrence Darmani, is working closely with the host committee and raising awareness of the conference among his African publishing colleagues. Based in Ghana, he founded Step youth and Surprise children’s magazines. He also publishes children’s books of which Ghana’s Education Ministry has purchased large quantities for use in public schools.
Results from Past LittWorlds
Many Christians in publishing often work in isolated settings with little opportunity to exchange ideas and fellowship with peers. They persist with few resources in conditions that may be hostile or challenging to Christians. As such, discouragement and subsequent burnout are a risk for many. LittWorld provides an opportunity to recharge and refresh, enabling many to continue pushing forward in ministry. Here are a few examples:
- Marlene Munar, a freelance writer in the Philippines, was impacted by her first LittWorld in 2004:
“Aside from listening to Philip Yancey’s talk, I also met and had a chat with an elderly, bearded Russian philosopher and writer of fairy tales; an Australian editor; a warm, gentlemanly publisher from Kenya; a Chinese based in Hong Kong who smuggles Bibles and books to mainland China; an American female novelist; Malaysian, Russian, and Greek translators; and other interesting peers. I came out of the conference fueled by a vision, recharged to write, more equipped to battle and build with the pen, humbled by the experience, and wanting to attend the next conference.”
Since then, Munar has created a Bible-based values curriculum for use in public schools. She has also written two book manuscripts for teenagers, which she hopes to publish this year. Her blog inspires readers to trust God for means to attend LittWorld 2009.
- Ezequiel Dellutri returned to Argentina from the last LittWorld, determined to nurture a new generation of writers: “I have the firm conviction that when God points the way, one must not refuse to follow it.” His own fantasy stories have won many prizes, and recently he published his first book about C. S. Lewis. In many nations, locally created Christian books and writers are scarce. LittWorld creates ripple effects, mobilizing people like Dellutri to raise up new writers in their own countries.
- Bruna Teresak and her husband, Davor, founded StePublishers in Croatia, where evangelicals comprise less than one percent of the population. After the last LittWorld, she wrote,
“It is a huge blessing to see people who are new in Christian publishing arriving a bit insecure, seeking orientation and a deeper vision, and leaving LittWorld with a strong sense of identity as publishers. Or to see those who are discouraged, sometimes almost broken, leave LittWorld with a refreshed vision and renewed strength. I also belong to the latter ones. After LittWorld, I came back home encouraged, inspired with a new vision for new areas of my ministry.”
Through LittWorld, MAI has witnessed publishing houses born, new books conceived, and skills refined for more effective publishing. For instance, Waweru caught the vision for starting a publishing house at a past LittWorld conference and launched WordAlive, publisher of the groundbreaking Africa Bible Commentary. Inevitably, participants leave LittWorld with a new or reinforced commitment to strengthen the Church and advance the gospel through the written word.
Many gifted writers and publishers come from impoverished settings where the Church struggles with limited resources. To participate in LittWorld, they require assistance. MAI raises scholarships for roughly forty percent of participants to cover conference costs and a portion of the travel expenses.
With God’s help, LittWorld 2009 will result in more life-changing books and articles that speak to reader’s hopes, fears, and joys in their own culture and language. Ultimately, the kingdom will be richer and stronger.