Sowing Seeds of Faith on Television

by on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 Comments
Some years ago, I received a letter from an American Catholic man, married to a Taiwanese woman, living in the United States. One day, he walked into his Father-in-law’s room and found him watching an English language teaching program on the Mandarin satellite channel. Although it was not a religious program, he noticed that some stories closely resembled those found in the Bible. He thought to himself, “Wow, those Protestants are clever! They use English TV programs to spread the Gospel!” Only at the end of the program, when he saw “Kuangchi Program Service” and my name among the credits did he realize that the English teacher in the show, “Uncle Jerry,” was actually Father Jerry, and that the program was produced by a Catholic production center in Taipei! He wrote to congratulate us and encourage us to continue.

I was pleased that he was able to detect the Christian values subtext of the English series, even though no specifically Christian terminology was used. He is not the only one who—as Jesus put it—“has ears to hear.” Many others have told me that they watch Kuangchi educational programs on TV or via the internet, not just for their educational value, but as material for reflection, meditation, and prayer.

Kuangchi also occasionally receives negative comments on the internet, posted by anti-Christian viewers who feel that our programs are part of a subtle plot to use TV to convert all Chinese to Christianity—even though Jesus Christ is not explicitly mentioned in most of our programs!

These audience reactions serve to prove a point that Kuangchi Program Service (KPS) has always understood and followed, but is not understood by all viewers, especially Catholics; that is, one of the best uses of the media to share the teachings of the Gospel in a non-Christian culture is to broadcast programs that effectively highlight Christian values, but do so in a modest, unobtrusive, and entertaining way.

All media is educational—even soap operas and variety shows. All media influences attitudes and values—even situation comedies, sports, news, and talk shows. I have discovered that, regardless of what kind of program Kuangchi produces, Christian values inevitably shine through at certain points and leave their mark on the viewing audience.

One especially dramatic example concerns a man from southern Taiwan who saw me on the street one day, ran up to me, shook my hand, and thanked me for saving him from committing suicide! Some years before, he had been so depressed that he had picked up a knife and was preparing to end his life. Then he happened to hear me telling a story during a radio broadcast. The program was discussing music, not religion, but the story I shared described a person who overcame serious difficulties by facing life with courage and optimism. Somehow, it touched the man’s heart, and he put down the knife.

All TV advertisers know that what we see on TV influences attitudes and sometimes behavior—for better or worse. If we see a beautiful person on screen and notice that he/she is wearing a pair of Nike shoes, or a Rolex watch, or driving a BMW, our brains associate these products with “beauty,” and we automatically want to acquire them. If McDonalds shows happy children and loving parents in their TV commercials, we unconsciously feel that consuming their products may bring happiness to our family.

Christian media producers should never try to brainwash the TV audience or use aggressive or dishonest means to coerce viewers into believing or doing what the producers want. However, we can broadcast programs that attract viewers to the Good, the True, the Beautiful, and ultimately to the Holy.

For 51 years of radio and TV production for Chinese and Taiwanese audiences, Kuangchi Program Service has done this by producing and distributing a wide range of educational, cultural and religious programming.

Kuangchi’s programs on the indigenous cultures of Taiwan tell the people that the Catholic Church treasures cultural diversity and a wide variety of cultural traditions. Our TV series for Taiwan’s foreign worker communities and foreign spouses show the Catholic Church’s concern for minority groups. Our TV series on the mentally and physically challenged give witness to the Church’s concern for the needy. Programs that highlight persons who are models of disinterested love and service witness to the fact that Christian faith can influence people to become exemplary leaders in society. Programs which depict the best aspects of other religions and faith communities—Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc.—clearly show that the Catholic Church respects and embraces all of God’s children. Kuangchi’s historical documentaries on Catholic figures like Matteo Ricci, Xu Guangqi, Adam Schall, and Giuseppe Castiglione are now enlightening Mainland Chinese audiences on contributions to Chinese culture and people’s livelihood made by Catholic missionaries and Chinese Catholic communities. Even programs and documentaries on business and social issues can promote the values of the Kingdom of God through a careful choice of material and perspective.

Soon the Archdiocese of Taipei will announce a daily Catholic TV Series, produced in collaboration with Kuangchi Program Service. This will mark the beginning of a new stage in the development of the 150 year life of the Catholic Church in Taiwan. This program series will be clearly identified as a gift of the Catholic Church to all the people of Taiwan. It will address the daily concerns of TV viewers while showing how Faith can enrich their lives and enhance the spiritual dimension of society.

Perhaps the Catholic Church in Taiwan has finally understood how the media can be properly used to gently and effectively sow the seeds of Faith throughout our beautiful island and far beyond.

Jerry Martinson (丁松筠)

Jerry Martinson is "Uncle Jerry" for Taiwan and China's TV watchers who remember him as their belobved virtual English teacher... \nVice President of Kuangchi Program Service, member of the editorial committee of Renlai monthly, he also helps grassroot faith-based communities to learn new communication skills all around East Asia.

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