Broadcaster gives faith a voice in mainstream media

After surviving 49 days in the Nevada wilderness, Rita Chretien was the hottest interview in North America.

As she recovered from the ordeal, the major North American networks came calling - the Penticton, B.C. woman got phone calls, e-mails, handwritten notes, even bouquets of flowers from reporters, all asking her to give them exclusive rights to her amazing tale.

What they all wanted was to be the first to tell the world how Rita and her husband, Al, became lost while on a trip to Las Vegas, how he went off in search of help and was never seen again, and how she stayed alive for seven weeks before being found by hunters.

She turned them all down.

Instead, the devoted Christian selected a small Canadian religious program hosted by a former Manitoban - "Context with Lorna Dueck." (Watch the interview here.)

Why did she choose Dueck?

"That's where I wanted my story to be told because my story is a story of faith," she says. "I had confidence she would tell it that way."

Dueck was honoured to be chosen - and not entirely surprised.

"Many people of faith are wary of the media," she says. "They are afraid the holiness of what they feel and experience won't be understood or respected by many reporters."

Chretien "had a remarkable encounter with God in the wilderness," she adds. "She wanted someone she could trust to share that story."

Telling stories of how God is active in the lives of people in the news is the goal of "Context, "which airs weekly on the Global Television Network. About 40,000 to 50,000 people tune in each week.

"I want to share stories of people who have encountered God," says Dueck of the show, which has covered faith angles in stories about famine, debt, 9/11, obesity, poverty, prostitution, crime, sports, euthanasia and natural disasters.

For her, "every story has a bridge to Christ" - it's just a matter of looking for it.

Her route to hosting "Context" began in southern Manitoba in the late 1970s, when Dueck, now 52, worked as a reporter at GoldenWest Radio in Altona.

From there she moved to CKCX in Brandon, worked as a reporter in Saskatchewan, then returned to Manitoba in 1988 to work as a freelance writer and Faith Page columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.

In 1994 she moved to Burlington, Ontario to co-host "100 Huntley Street," a Christian TV talk show produced by Crossroads Christian Communications. In 1998, she started "Listen Up TV," also with Crossroads, as a way to reach unchurched Canadians.

This September she changed the name of the show to "Context," and moved it out of Crossroads to the CBC headquarters in Toronto.

Dueck made the moved in order to give the show a "greater public witness" and to make it more accessible to newsmakers.

"As much as we enjoyed working in a Christian environment, we felt we needed to be closer to the mainstream…to be in a whole new sea of voices and neighbours. It's an opportunity to strengthen the Christian voice and presence in the mainstream media, and to increase the relevance, quality and quantity of content we produce."

The move also gives her access to CBC technical support and staff - the show uses the same studio and crew as "Hockey Night in Canada" and "The Rick Mercer Report."

While happy to be partnering with the CBC, the benefits come at a cost; the show's annual budget has increased from $1.3 million to $2 million. Dueck depends on donations from across Canada to keep it going. "Manitobans have been especially generous," she says.

Reflecting on her career in journalism, Dueck notes that she has told hundreds of stories, but she's not bored yet. "Everyone's story is so important, and there are still so many more stories to tell," she says.

Plus, she adds, "someone has to tell the faith story. It's not being told enough in mainstream media."

Telling that story is a big challenge, she acknowledges. "The whole industry has sped up and dumbed down. The Christian message is harder than ever to share in that environment."

But that isn't stopping her. "We want to build a strong bridge to Christ in our news analysis," she says. "It's more than just reporting. We want to interpret events through the eyes of faith. We want to be where people are gathering today, to be talking about the stories people are talking about - the things in the news, the things that touch their lives."

At the same time, she hopes viewers "discover that Christianity has truths applicable for their lives, to give people hope, to show them that God desires to be in relationship with people on a personal level."

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About the author

John Longhurst is faith page columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. He blogs at On Faith Canada and Making the News Canada