All around the world, obstacles such as language, tradition and culture have invariably had to be overcome in presenting the good news of the gospel and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
In South Africa, prior to the dawn of the new democracy in 1990, history too had not only posed an obstacle to the gospel message, but had played an often damaging role in distorting the essence of the message itself.
Christianity under “Apartheid”
In spite of the considerable in-roads and invaluable contribution made by missionaries in Africa, in South Africa (prior to the new dispensation), Christianity was often perceived—specifically by the politicised and disenfranchised—as a “white man’s” religion. The so-called “Christian Education” imposed by the former regime, was a reflection of the despised ideology of “apartheid” (separate development); hence, “freedom before education” became the slogan of the day.
In “struggle politics” at the height of the violence in the 1980s, the tendency of some sections of the Church was to advocate liberation theology often at the expense of evangelism. At the same time, those who propagated this philosophy were largely responsible for bringing about change. Both were different sides of the same coin. Restoring—in the country’s new secular democracy—the balance of a society out of spiritual kilter became an enormous challenge for all followers of Jesus Christ.
Restoring Godly Values in South Africa through HEARTLINES
Today, crime in South Africa has become endemic. Corruption is a lifestyle for many. In 2006, an estimated 5.5 million people were living with HIV/AIDS. A deep passion and longing to see godly values flood and change the nation has been the vision of HEARTLINES and the foundation on which the Mass Media Project was established in 2002. The Mass Media Project’s vision is to move people from professed values such as trust, compassion and forgiveness to lived values, as a way of addressing some of the key issues our society faces such as crime, poverty, corruption and HIV/AIDS.
A medical doctor and committed Christian, Garth Japhet (a board member of the Mass Media Project) was the inspiration behind “Soul City,” a popular and universally-acclaimed television series which has been running for the past thirteen years in thirty-nine countries. Aimed at a secular audience, the rationale behind the series is HIV/AIDS education through story-telling.
Inspiring South Africans to Act Out Values
Along with the dawn of democracy, buzz words like “moral regeneration,” “transformation,” “Ubuntu” (humaneness) and “RDP” (Reconstruction and Development Programme), became common.
It was Nelson Mandela who first coined the now famous phrase “RDP of the Soul.” For Japhet, it was the “RDP of the Spirit” that motivated him to devise a way of not only restoring godly values in the nation, but of inspiring people to act out those values.
Convinced that any lasting transformation in the nation could only come through a deep move of God’s Spirit, Japhet and his small team of Christians nevertheless acknowledged that a values system does exist among all South Africans. They saw this as an exciting and challenging point of departure from which to explain the origin of the eight values deeply rooted in God’s character and exemplified in the fruit of the spirit.
In South Africa, seventy-nine percent of the population profess to be Christians; over ninety percent adhere to various religious affiliations; and ninety-five percent claim to believe in very positive values. Evidence based on the high crime rate, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other social ills suggests that there is a huge gap between lived and professed values. Undaunted, the team grabbed the opportunity to narrow the values gap by harnessing the power of mass media.
Generating a National Conversation on Values
With government statistics citing Christians as constituting seventy-nine percent of the population, the Church presented the perfect vehicle to spearhead the HEARTLINES values’ project. Emanating from a national conversation on values that was generated in July 2006, the “8-weeks-8-values-One National Conversation” touched the nerve of the entire nation—many of whom are yearning for solutions to the state of the country.
Eight films depicting the values of acceptance, compassion, honesty, forgiveness, responsibility, perseverance, self-control and second-chances (grace) were produced. Each one was the backdrop of a home-grown story in multiple languages with which every South African could identify.
In an unprecedented move, the South African Broadcasting Association flighted the films on all three of its public channels over eight weeks. The films, which were never intended as an evangelical tool, but more as a means of awakening awareness of shared values, resonated with viewers from all faith communities.
Overwhelming support came from the Church, which recommended to members that they watch all films and that the pastor preach on a specific theme during the Sunday message. The discussion guide for Christian leaders was used extensively in youth and cell groups. Many South African musicians voluntarily gave of their time to produce a HEARTLINES CD. Each track depicted one of the eight values. The track “I Believe in Love” has become highly popular with all age groups. The feature film “HEARTLINES” has received numerous awards and nominations both internationally and locally.
On preliminary evaluation, twenty-seven percent of the South African population was reached with the films. HEARTLINES experienced unprecedented buy-in from a broad spectrum of society, including government, civil society, business and faith-based organisations. In the eight weeks, over five hundred articles were in print, and 132 television and radio programmes covered the values topic.
The combined intervention supported by international and local funding has arguably been the largest, most cohesive and coherent media and social partnership in South Africa history.
Time for Action—the Best Is yet to Come
An overwhelming response for the Mass Media Project initiative to continue has come from the country’s entire societal and government spectrum. The HEARTLINES strategy over the next three years will be directed not only at preparation for the 2010 soccer World Cup, but more importantly, on this and future generations in South Africa.
The aim—through the on-going implementation of godly values—is to strive toward becoming a nation that embraces the humanity of all fellow citizens and visitors to the country. Over the next three years, the slogan of the campaign will be “Have the Courage to Live Our Values.” Underscoring all activities will be the virtues of respect and hospitality.
More films linking crime and values, a comedy reality television series based on courage and a youth series will be produced. Public service announcements on values will be aired on the public broadcaster and “The HEARTLINES News Minute” will precede all news bulletins on television.
Once again, the role and buy-in of the Church in the second phase of HEARTLINES will be pivotal. Apart from mobilising prayer (the ingredient undoubtedly responsible for the enormous success of the first phase), church leader’s breakfasts will be held around South Africa at which the new roll-out strategy will be unpacked.
To capture the imagination of the nation and to spur it on to an active values lifestyle, another priority will be to take godly values into schools, institutions of higher learning, correctional facilities and the business community. To achieve this, shorter versions of the eight films will be used in conjunction with a secular values discussion guide.
Seeking to transform a nation through activating godly values may seem almost impossible. However, based on God’s miraculous intervention and answer to the prayers of the saints in South Africa’s history, nothing is impossible for the author of values. Just as God worked in the first phase of HEARTLINES, we are sure that he will once again go before and overcome the human frailties of a team that is passionate about seeing his kingdom come in this and future generations in South Africa and beyond.