Elmwood is the centre of the media universe for millions of people around the world.
The Winnipeg neighbourhood is home to Square One World Media Inc., which produces 15 Christian programs in five languages that air on more than 2,000 TV and radio stations globally, along with online streaming and social media.
"What happens in these studios is one of the best-kept secrets in Winnipeg," says Sherryl Koop, who directs fundraising and partner relations at Square One and is host of a radio program called A Skoop of Life.
Founded in 1947 as radio ministry Gospel Light Hour, the organization was known as Mennonite Brethren Communications and Family Life Network before becoming Square One in 2014.
Operating out of studios in a two-storey building at the corner of Riverton Avenue and Brazier Street, staff produce programs in English, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian and Low German.
They include a Low German show that airs health tips, practical advice and spiritual encouragement for women on 14 stations throughout South America, Mexico and southern Manitoba; a puppet show in Russian that airs on two Christian satellite stations and YouTube; two Spanish-language radio shows that air on 1,718 radio stations; a Spanish-language TV show carried by 299 stations; and a Bible program streamed online in Ukrainian.
There’s also a cartoon show on Christian streaming service JellyTelly in the U.S. and the Miracle Channel in Canada, and radio shows airing on southern Manitoba stations.
Marina Pinto is the host of the Spanish-language radio show Family Encounter. A mix of interviews and biblical reflection, the show provides practical advice for family life information and spiritual encouragement.
"The topics we cover are things like health, parenting, caring for elderly parents and marriage," she says. The show also deals with domestic abuse — a topic that comes up far too often from listeners.
"It’s hard to hear their stories," says Pinto, a mother of two. "Many times, I cry with them. It breaks my heart."
She encourages the women who call or e-mail to seek help locally, including from local churches.
"There isn’t enough support for women in some countries," she says. "They need someone to talk to, to give them hope."
For Girish Manuel, creator of the cartoon Micah's Super Vlog, working on the animated show is a way to "create something I wish I had as a kid."
The show is aimed at Christian children ages six to 12.
"It’s super important they have the option of high-quality programming about the Bible and God, something with relatable characters that shows how they can use the teaching of the Bible in real life," says Manuel, a graduate of Red River College's digital media program.
Issues the show deals with include being bullied and dealing with disappointment.
"It’s for any kid who loves cartoons," Manuel says, adding he likes to use humour in the show since "humour is universal."
In addition to the show, four books based on Micah’s Super Vlog have been published (including two coming out this fall from Hachette Book Group, the third-largest trade and educational book publisher in the world).
For Square One executive director Shoaib Ebadi, it’s all about the goal of using the Christian message to change lives.
"Media can play a big role in bringing the good news of Jesus to people around the world," he says.
What helps the organization achieve its "Christ-centred mission" is having hosts who come from the countries and cultures they are creating content for. They grew up speaking the language, and are "culturally sensitive," Ebadi says, noting they understand the context of the people and places where the shows are broadcast.
In addition to hosting his own show, one of the challenges on Ebadi’s desk is transitioning support for the ministry, with an annual budget of $1.2 million, to a younger donor base.
"I thank God for the loyal older donors, but now we need to engage younger people in the mission," he says.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.
Updated on Tuesday, September 17, 2019 at 10:12 AM CDT: Corrects that Gospel Light Hour was founded in 1947