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Long wait, joyful reunion in Bratislava: TWR’s National Partner Conference

More than 90 people gathered Sept. 6-9 with partners from Europe and CAMENA. The first such event since 2019 had the theme “Media to Movement”.

After the pandemic years, it has been particularly meaningful to meet in person with brothers and sisters in Christ for time together, testimonies and tea. / Photo: [link]TWR[/link].

They came from 32 organizations across three continents, speaking a variety of languages, from nations at war, nations struggling with shortages, nations facing political upheaval.

More than 90 people gathered Sept. 6-9 in this charming city for TWR Europe and CAMENA’s National Partner Conference.

The first such event since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it brought partners from CAMENA – Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa – as well as from across Europe.

The long wait between conferences made a highlight event all the more meaningful.

“We are interdependent,” said Mariette Oosterhoff, partnership director of TWR Europe and CAMENA, in an interview as participants were arriving at Bratislava’s hotel where the conference was about to take place. “That’s why this conference is so important, that we meet in person again. And we can listen to each other. … There’s a lot of synergy happening.”

Partners are integral to how TWR speaks hope to the world. It all began in Europe in the 1950s with Germany, Italy and Norway, said Branko Bjelajac, TWR vice president for Africa, CAMENA and Europe. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel in every country, TWR chose to work alongside like-minded mission agencies that already knew the indigenous languages and cultures. TWR today has a partner in almost every country in Europe and in many African, South American, and Asian countries as well.

One could see this taking place in practical terms throughout the four-day event. Outside of general sessions, prayer times and worship, representatives of the various ministries met in “sideline” discussions, during lunch or over a cup of tea. Though ample networking time was built in, many saw their planning calendars fill quickly.

It’s especially important to hear from partners who serve in difficult and sometimes dangerous places, Oosterhoff said. “When you see the people from, for example, Central Asia who we are not normally allowed to meet each other in person because it’s too dangerous for them – they have a hard time being Christians; they are being persecuted in their own countries,” she said. “When they come here, and they are standing in front of us all and giving testimonies in person, that’s something that we never forget.”

The theme for the conference’s evening sessions was “Media to Movement” – chosen, Oosterhoff said, because so many partners were asking about it.

In essence, “Media to Movement” is the process of bringing people from a media encounter with Jesus to in-person engagement, she said.

To flesh that out, TWR Europe invited Chris Villwock and Amber Blumer for two nights of presentations. Villwock, currently serving out of Hungary, was present in person. Blumer joined him via live video.

[photo_footer]   TWR Motion seeks to partner with church planters. As they are out making disciples in some of the places least-reached by the gospel, TWR Motion wants to enhance their mission with video content. / Photo: TWR Motion [/photo_footer] 

Both are passionate about using digital media and technology to multiply disciples. For Blumer, a key building block for that came from TWR MOTION, whose mission is to create videos to connect people with Jesus.

When the pro-Democracy Arab Spring resulted in greater internet freedom in 2011, Blumer and her colleagues decided that online storytelling might make the gospel more “digitally acceptable,” she said. They didn’t have the skill set to make that happen, and a yearlong search for outside sources yielded nothing. Then someone suggested TWR.

“And I laughed. ‘Oh, you mean the radio ministry?’,” Blumer related.

When she found out that TWR was launching a video storytelling wing, Blumer reached out. The result was Share the Story, a set of animated videos that tell the story of the Bible from creation to cross. Since then, it has been produced in multiple languages and used by a number of other Media to Movement initiatives.

Research shows that 2 ½ percent of a given population are actually open to spiritual change, Blumer said. Media to Movement helps church planters use digital means to identify the “good soil” that Jesus talked about in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13).

After studying what Blumer’s group had accomplished, Villwock and his team adapted the approach to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he was serving at the time. Aware of reports in the Islamic world of nonbelievers apparently encountering Jesus in dreams of vision, they ran ads on Facebook asking: “Are you one of those who had a dream of a man in white?”

The result exceeded expectations: 23,000 people watched 100% of the video ads, Villwock said. Of those, 2,500 visited the website, 110 sent messages to the ministry, 10 requested a Bible, and two met with the team in person.

Those final numbers were small, Villwock acknowledged, but in a decade of giving out Bibles, they’d never had a single person ask for one. “In 20 days, we had more engagement with spiritually seeking people than in the first 10 years combined,” he said.

Another church-planting team, in Serbia, used the same approach and in nine months saw 281 new people involved in discipling relationships and 58 people accepting Christ as Lord, he said. The previous year, before Media to Movement, just four people became involved in discipling relationships of that church-planting team. 

It’s all about going where people are in this generation, Blumer explained. “The digital age has already dawned,” she said. “And the very people that you are reaching, seeker and believer, are turning to Google, Instagram, TikTok to find answers.”

The unity of the diverse body of Christ followers at the conference was palpable. It could be sensed even via video, which is how TWR Ukraine director Alexander Chmut and his team participated one morning. Chmut shared their appreciation for prayer and material support as he checked in from 1,320 kilometers away.

“I hope that one day I will be able to hug each of you and thank you in person,” he said.

John Lundy, writer and editor for TWR.




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