A 56-year-old lay mission worker in Guatemala for the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been elected the new president of the World Association for Christian Communication, a Toronto, Canada-based organization that describes its mission as promoting communication for social change.
"We will continue to be present in the struggle to have the right to communicate recognised as a basic human right," said Dennis Smith, who coordinates the communication training and publication programme for the Central American Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies. His election was announced on the last day of WACC's once-every-six-years congress that took place in Cape Town, South Africa, from 6 to 10 October 2008.
WACC was formally established in 1968, and now has members in 120 countries. It says its key concerns are, "media diversity, equal and affordable access to communication and knowledge, media and gender justice, and the relationship between communication and power".
In his acceptance speech as the association's president, Smith recalled his first contact with WACC in 1979, two years after his arrival in Guatemala. He was then staffing a communication training and religious film distribution service in the central American country's highlands.
"Over the years, WACC has served as my professional association, my window on to the rich world of Latin American theory and practice," said Smith, who has twice served as a member of the communication group's executive committee, from 1991 to 1995, and from 2000 to 2005. He has also served as president of WACC's Latin American region.
When Smith arrived in Guatemala, the central American nation was caught in a 36-year-long civil war, which ended only with the signing of peace accords in 1996. The conflict left almost 250 000 people dead or who had disappeared, and more than a million displaced people.
"How do we deal with continued violence and injustice? Do we just step aside and let it roll unchecked? No. The struggle to build the world imagined by God must continue," the new WACC president told the congress. Still, he added, "We must know that the struggle will consume us."
Smith quoted the Guatemalan poet Julia Esquivel: "Because you can't kill death with death, sow life and kill death with life."
The US missionary has published more than a dozen academic articles and conference papers, edited two books, and is frequently consulted by academics and journalists on religious movements and the media in Latin America.
As WACC president, Smith succeeds Musimbi Kanyoro, former general secretary of the World Young Women's Christian Association, and now director of the Population Programme of The David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Los Altos, California.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]