Last week I participated in a panel at a university in Guatemala City celebrating a new documentary by a young local filmmaker.
Her’s is a thoughtful and passionate voice. Her film documents how few authentic Guatemalan voices are heard on Guatemalan television, especially young voices, and how she and her friends set out to make their own TV show where they could tell their own stories.
She tells how Guatemala's four commercial broadcast television channels are all owned by a Mexican media mogul who resides in the United States. Sadly, these television channels were not willing to take a chance on young local talent. Finally, they were able to place the show on a few cable channels.
Overcoming the censorship of a media monopoly is a sign of hope. During this Easter season, the Christian tradition reminds us how Jesus of Nazareth breaks the absolute censorship of death with the promise of resurrection.
Daily we witness the fetid power of death. In so many communities, death's mayhem reigns, reeking of vengeance and injustice, hatred and brutality. Death engenders fear, fear engenders paralysis, paralysis silences those who have been excluded and hides those who have been made invisible.
As Christian communicators we are called to bear witness to the resurrection that is always being born around us. We are called to create safe, thoughtful spaces where people can tell their stories and discern together how to challenge the empire of death. This is how hope is born, this is how the Spirit of tenderness breathes new life into our communities.
Here in Guatemala City, for example, more than 30 bus drivers, assistants and passengers have been killed in the metropolitan area in the first three months of 2009. Youth gangs have committed most of the murders.
As the Guatemalan government tries to strengthen the rule of law and challenge the power of obscure economic elites allied with organized crime, the criminals are pushing back by hiring gang members to murder bus drivers and sew panic in the population. This, combined with the violence generated by the economic crisis, sparks a general climate of fear and insecurity.
At this Easter season in Guatemala City, the hope of resurrection seems far away. The simple task of getting from home to work, from school to market and back again generates stress; one is never sure when and where random violence will strike.
As Christian communicators, how can we respond to this challenge?
At CEDEPCA, the ecumenical training center where I work, we meet every Tuesday morning for staff meeting. As we share stories of what is happening in our families, neighborhoods and churches, we are struck by the prominence of the discourse of death. Even from church pulpits, we hear calls for vengeance instead of justice.
In this context, we encourage our students to reflect deeply on what faithfulness to the resurrected Christ requires in such harsh circumstances. We have concluded that more guns will never bring peace, nor will more soldiers in the streets make us safe. Building public security is a civilian, not a military, task. Peace will only come to Guatemala City when we nourish a sense of civic responsibility and justice in our homes, our schools and our places of worship.
We encourage students to look for stories of resurrection, for simple gestures of hope, in their communities. Justice, participation, mutual respect and accountability: these are things of substance, things that last. These are the stories that we need to tell through all the media we have at our disposal.
The other day I was at a stop light not far from home. As in many big cities, stop lights here can be dangerous places. (Is that boy a carjacker or just asking for money?) So you only open your windows a crack and you avoid eye contact with others.
I was surprised when a middle-aged man, obviously poor, approached my window bearing Gospel tracts, a gentle smile on his face. With great respect he slipped two tracts through the slit in the window. In a soft voice he said: “May God bless you! Be not afraid.”
Dennis A. Smith, a longtime PC(USA) mission worker in Guatemala, is also president of the World Association for Christian Communication. Information about and letters from PC(USA) mission workers around the world are available at the Mission Connections Web site.