To reach out to young people, you have to meet them half way. This is the main aim of Rt Rev Dr S. Tilewa Johnson. Ranging from podcasts to Twitter and Facebook groups, the open-minded Anglican Bishop of Gambia is constantly exploring innovative ways of communication which help him to forge new links with his parish. The conclusion he draws for now is very positive: The many posts he receives show that “fashionable” technology and thoughtfulness are by no means mutually exclusive. Bishop Tilewa Johnson will open eLearning Africa with a keynote speech entitled “The Online Social Education of Youth and the Digital Challenge to African Values.”
eLA: A bishop who posts Twitter feeds and sends podcasts to his young church members – that all seems very forward-looking. How do people in your parish respond to your digital commitment?
S. Tilewa Johnson: The diocese of which I’m privileged to be bishop is pretty unique in that it comprises three West African countries – Cape Verde Islands, Senegal and The Gambia. The headquarters of the diocese are in The Gambia side of the three-countries-in-one diocese and it is, by far, the most active of the three nations. The people of the parishes in The Gambia have responded differently to my digital commitment.
Some are excited about the new trend and feel it is the way to go. Others are apprehensive, given the misuse and abuse of social networking that is so widely reported. And others still have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
In response to the varied reactions, I have invited some older parishioners to be ‘special guests’ of our Facebook Group -“Feed My Lambs” Bantaba. Bantaba, by the way, literally means a big shady tree. Most village deliberations take place under the Bantaba in The Gambia!
eLA: What do young people want to discuss with you? What issues do you address most frequently?
S. Tilewa Johnson: Here are a few issues which young people have posted on the wall of our Facebook Group -“Feed My Lambs” Bantaba:
- “How do you get the message across to young people in an age of ‘Internet’ and ‘sexting’ that abstinence outside marriage and monogamy within it are the best way forward?”
- “If God is omniscient, then it follows that He knows which of us will attain salvation. If that is the case, why then send Christ to die, if the end result would remain the same anyway?”
- “Is there any chance the Methodist and Anglican Churches in The Gambia could be merged? Is that even theologically / liturgically possible? If so, how; if not, why not?
- “Could we have a forum where we can discuss scholarships for young Anglican people to obtain higher education and consequently be a blessing to the local church?”
- “Could God in His divine mercy and love ever forgive the devil?”
The most frequently addressed issues relate to access to scholarships for further studies, matters touching on ethics, health, church in society and leadership.
eLA: Can church-based youth work manage without face-to-face communication to a certain extent?
S. Tilewa Johnson: Only to a certain extent! Face-to-face communication is the ideal and the first choice. However, given the time constraints on meetings and other gatherings nowadays, taking advantage of the facilities that cyberspace and social networking offer is only prudent. These digital facilities, used within moral boundaries, are regarded as a welcome complement to face-to-face communication in church-based youth work.
eLA: You once said that you saw Africa on the verge of an online and communications binge in the next decade. Is this a good or a bad thing?
S. Tilewa Johnson: It could be both. I’m tempted to say, look out for the way this critical question will be dealt with, in full, in the keynote address I’m privileged to deliver at the Opening Plenary.
eLA: What should be done to successfully manage this transformation process?
S. Tilewa Johnson: The sky should be the limit! Therefore, any attempt to stifle innovation and our God-given creative faculties must be frowned upon at every stage of this transformation process. Given this ground rule, we should also demonstrate responsible management of the process, perhaps by having the courage to experiment, make mistakes, keep trying new technologies and by being constructively critical of that which has been achieved, what is currently being achieved and what still has to be achieved.
eLA: Thank you very much for your time, Rt Rev Dr S. Tilewa Johnson.
More information on Reverend Rt Rev Dr S. Tilewa Johnson at http://www.elearning-africa.com/programme/profiles/profile_johnson_s..htm
The Opening Plenary will take place on Thursday, May 27, 2010, from 08:15 – 10:30.