A Mergon initiative, Ziwani is a platform for business leaders to share inspiring stories and innovative local resources while equipping one another for Kingdom impact. Their latest series, Business & Justice, highlights the redemptive role that business can play in bringing about social justice. Through podcasts and accompanying articles as well as a downloadable guide, this practical series explores how businesses can drive economic growth whilst seeing Africa’s people grow and flourish.
This article is an overview of the first episode in which Ziwani’s Sibs Sibanda speaks to Sammy Rabolele, co-founder of the Beyond The Eyes Network. Beyond The Eyes helps organisations tell their stories to stakeholders and broader communities in a way that inspires faith and changes relationships for the better. Below are extracts of this interview and rich conversation on the powerful role of storytelling in promoting justice in Africa, and an invitation to listen to the full podcast.
The marketplace as full-time ministry
Many Christians struggle to see the relevance of their daily work to the kingdom of God – sometimes even thinking they should quit and go into ‘full-time ministry’ if they really want to ‘serve the kingdom’. Sammy’s journey, however, has been the opposite – he worked as a missionary on campus before going into media and entertainment.
‘So you started in ministry and then went into business?’ Sibs enquires. ‘To some this might seem like going from a noble calling to just a regular job – how did you process this move in a theological sense? In what ways do you see yourself as still serving God in and through your work?’
‘Actually, working in so-called full-time ministry on a university campus gave me a clear view of what it means to have a marketplace calling,’ Sammy explains. ‘Most of our efforts were focused on preparing young believers for their careers. The frontlines were in the hearts and minds of these students – who had to figure out what it means to love God and love people in and through their Monday-to-Friday work life.’
Sammy quotes John 17:15–18, stating that Jesus’ prayer still applies to every believer: ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it… As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.’’
Seeking out the stories that inspire hope
Motivated by this conviction and a love for storytelling, Sammy co-founded Beyond the Eyes Network – an independent media network showcasing compelling and positive on-demand content. ‘Through my work, we have the freedom to intentionally tell the stories that reveal a divine Creator at work in the world’. These are stories of artists and entrepreneurs, creatives and athletes, who have overcome great odds and forged new paths of opportunity and ingenuity in their local sectors and communities. ‘The goal of our platform is to inspire people to look for beauty beyond their immediate circumstances, and find courage and purpose for the future,’ says Sammy.
He continues, ‘We are always on the lookout for entrepreneurs who are doing well, for people who are doing amazing things in their communities, and whose stories deserve to be told. These don’t need to be overtly evangelical – they can simply be wholesome stories of courage and hope. We love producing stories that show how the actions of one person can have a big impact. For example, a teacher who sacrificially turns around the lives of learners at a school. In every human story, we can find evidence of the divine in the mundane.’
He insists that they don’t, however, ‘sanitise’ stories to fit a superficially religious narrative. ‘Life is messy, and we want to tell real stories in an authentic way. Many stories in the Bible are difficult to tell, for example David committing adultery and murder, and then having to flee from his own son. We might cringe, but God doesn’t sanitise it.’
And although Sammy is passionate about media and the creative opportunities it affords, he affirms that we are all uniquely positioned to develop some aspect of creation for God’s glory, and for the flourishing of society. Says Sammy, ‘Regardless of the industry we’re in, all believers can have a deep-rooted conviction that their work is an act of worship, and that it is for the common good – then we can all live out Paul’s encouragement to do whatever we do for the sake of Jesus, while giving thanks to the Father (Col. 3:17).’
The powerful role of storytelling to promote justice
Pondering the benefits of positive storytelling, Sibs goes on to ask, ‘To what extent do you think the local film industry has engaged with issues of injustice?’ He explains, ‘I am not referring to documentaries about under-privileged communities that expose the problem or allocate blame. I’m referring to narratives that would actually stir those who watch it, to think about what redemption might look like. We need stories that not only make people aware of the problems, but spark their imagination to get involved,’ he states.
Sammy agrees, ‘The truth is that we have a long way to go, but that is exactly where we need to focus our storytelling resources. In South Africa, we mainly consume American content that champions their narratives. Other regions, like India, create a lot of content that deliberately engage issues facing their society, for example, the perceived shift in roles played by men and women in family life. Why don’t we tell more of our own stories? I’m a Tswana, and our word for neighbour is moahisane, which means ‘a fellow builder’. Simply by virtue of my language, I understand that my neighbour isn’t simply the person living next to me – we are fellow builders of our community. This is such a rich worldview that could really bless others.’
Sammy concludes, ‘So although justice is a very difficult topic to engage, it is at the very heart of God. Without sanitising the stories, we need to present a picture of what justice could look like, and offer hope for the future.’ This is the opportunity, and the challenge, that storytelling affords.
Click here to listen to the episode.
To learn more about the Business & Justice series, and to download the Guide, click here.