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Seeing South Africa through a lens of hope

In January 2022 Mergon Foundation’s communications manager Ilse Burger and her husband embarked on a six-month adventure where they traversed 14000 kilometres, six provinces and countless challenging roads, recording inspiring testimonials of beneficiaries from Mergon Foundation’s various partnering organisations in South Africa. It was a unique opportunity to capture the ‘untold stories of unknown people’ whose lives have been transformed by the gospel. 12 of these stories have since been edited and packaged as radio stories (4-5 minutes long) called ‘Stories of Hope’ and are scheduled to start airing on various community radio stations across the country and further afield.

Over four decades, the Mergon Foundation has had the opportunity to partner with over 150 Christian ministries across Africa and the Middle East. It has always been a desire to capture some of the untold stories that live among these ministry partners – testimonies and stories of God’s transformative work in and through people.

Sharing a similar passion for storytelling as Ilse, well-known television and radio personality Lindie Strydom infused this project with her infectious energy from the get-go, and kindly agreed to be the “voice” of Stories of Hope. While the Burgers were on the road visiting ministries, recording stories and editing the raw material, Lindie was busy recording the intros to set the scene and lead listeners into each person’s unique story. As a pilot radio project for the Mergon Foundation, the learnings we gained from Lindie were invaluable.

Every story is worth telling

The ultimate purpose of the radio project is to inspire hope in people’s hearts, to give exposure to these phenomenal ministry partners and to remind listeners that God is moving – often in the most unlikely places.

So many people think their life story is insignificant and not worth sharing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every story is worth telling because every life holds a different ‘piece’ of God. Stories have a way of turning numbers into names and building bridges of compassion, of igniting hope and moving people to action. There’s always someone out there who needs to hear what you have experienced personally – maybe simply to encourage them with the knowing that they’re not alone in what they’re going through.

The power of storytelling

What’s interesting about hearing good stories is that it effectively causes two changes in our brain. Firstly, it causes neurological changes. Our neural activity increases fivefold when we listen to stories (as opposed to hearing straight facts). That’s because we’re using our motor cortexes, emotions, and visual processing. We’re literally using more of our brains and immersing ourselves in the story, which means we’re more likely to retain it later. Secondly, hearing good stories causes chemical changes. Our brains release oxytocin, which is the bonding hormone that causes us to really care about the people involved in the story. We are therefore not only hearing about a person’s experience, but actually “living it” alongside them. The more of someone’s story we share, the more oxytocin our brains release, the more likely we are to internalise that story and retain it as meaningful.

We found this to be so true during our Stories of Hope travels. Though it was tough to witness the poverty and brokenness in most areas we visited – from the Western and Eastern Cape to KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng and the Free State – the one thing we couldn’t deny is that there is hope!

Of course, everywhere we went there was a story that stood out. Every one of the 13 ministries we visited are having a profound impact in the areas they serve. Whether it was witnessing the ripple effects of someone who stood in the gap as a father for so many fatherless children in a village in the Eastern Cape; or someone in the Cape Flats who had the opportunity to get trained as a barista and now works at a five-star hotel; or someone in Durban who, by the age of 11, had lost every member of her family yet is now so free, so full of confidence and acting as a mentor for other young people who are going through the same heartache she’s known all too well… each story was impactful in its own way.

Where to find Stories of Hope

Apart from the stories scheduled to air on radio stations such as Radio Tygerberg, Groot FM, Eden FM, Radio Alpha and Coastal Radio SA, among others, they will also be available as podcast episodes and blog posts on our website. We’re trusting that Stories of Hope will find their way to every person who needs to hear them, and that they’ll bring hope to many hearts.

To follow the Stories of Hope campaign, stay tuned to Mergon’s social media platforms, where we’ll be sharing all our latest stories.