John Lundy: Reporter to media ministry
Yvette: Today's guest, John Lundy, went from a 40-year career of reporting the news to telling the good news of what God is doing in the world for TWR, a global digital company that spreads the gospel.
Hi, John. Thank you so much for coming on the show today to talk about journalism and ministry.
John: It's my pleasure. Thank you.
Yvette: As I have a journalism background and I have found other fellow journalists who have either left journalism and moved into some kind of ministry work or like you left full-time news and information to move into a media ministry. I would love for my listeners to get to know you a little bit today and find out what you're doing now. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your faith walk. How did you come to be a Christian?
John: I grew up in a Christian Lutheran home. And so I had a strong background in the faith. Really in my college years, I started meeting people who talked more about a relationship with Jesus Christ, which for me, had been more of almost a formal relationship rather than a friendship in a sense.
And so I really grew in my faith in that sense and, I was baptized again as an adult, and publicly proclaim my faith in Jesus Christ. And so, there was no real abrupt turning point in my life. Just more of a gradual shaping and God revealing to me, new pictures of himself, and a better understanding of himself, which is an ongoing process. I'm learning every day,
hopefully and at least gradually continuing to learn.
Yvette: The faith, the religion you were in when you were baptized, what faith was that?
John: Well, I was baptized into a Christian church, Churches of Christ. So, until then I was entirely Lutheran and I, I really appreciate my Lutheran upbringing, but I've been in several denominations and non, non-denominations since then.
Yvette: And it's not unusual to see, someone comes from a more organized, shall we say legacy, religious organization like Catholicism or Lutheran, and then, be rebaptized into either an evangelical or another type of, non-denomination perhaps as part of their faith walk. So, that's,
that's not unusual at all. But what is unusual is -- because it's personal, and it's,
and it's very unique to, to us -- you were a full-time journalist.
Yvette: So tell us about, those early jobs as a journalist.
John: Yeah, I think I worked at, let's say, a total of four different newspapers. I started out, as managing editor of a very small five-day-a-week paper in a little town called Attica in Indiana. Then I moved up to Michigan City, Indiana, slightly somewhat bigger, and served there in a variety of capacities over about 15 years. I served as editorial page editor in a newspaper in Elyria, Ohio for a couple of years, that's just outside of Cleveland. And although I was only there for two years it was a really good job. But then I kind of fell in love with Minnesota and I kept trying to get there. On my third try, the Duluth News Tribune gave up and hired me for a copy editor position. And I served there for roughly 10 years and then another 10 years as a reporter.
Yvette: So that last position you were covering was health and what time period was that?
John: I took voluntary layoff on what was it May 1st, 2020. So near the kind of the start of the pandemic … we had to cut back on our staff. And, of course, I had seniority at that point,
but those of us who have been around longer were given the opportunity to step aside and take severance.
And at that point, I was already working toward what I hoped would be a very late career position with Trans World Radio -- TWR -- I thought maybe it makes sense to get out of the way of some really good, talented, hardworking, young journalists and, and, with the severance and unemployment benefits, I thought I can do this. I can sort of take a gap year in a sense.
Yvette: I just wonder as a health reporter and a man of faith when you were doing that job before you made the shift, did your faith -- not necessarily influence how you wrote your story, because as journalists, we're taught to be objective -- but did your faith help get you through any of the difficult stories that you had to write?
John: Yeah, I think so. The paper was small enough that even though I was a health reporter,
I was also a general assignment reporter. (I covered) fires, and the occasional murder – Duluth is not a real heavy crime town (but) those things happen from time to time and,
sometimes they happen when you're on and so you're talking to people who just experienced one of the worst things in their lives … and they'd be in tears because of this traumatic event in their life.
Often their faith stories would come out. I didn't seek them, that would be manipulative but they would just talk about, how God brought them through this or, how Jesus brought them through this or what their faith meant to them. And, any good reporter, if that happens, you don't have to be a Christian reporter to say, okay, that's part of the story. I'm going to write about that.
So I was overjoyed when that happened and I could share the source’s Christian perspective, but again, I didn't ever try to force that to happen and it had to come from them,
not from me.
Yvette: Yeah, absolutely. Were there times when you had a particularly tough story,
whether or not you had to cover, a robbery or an aggravated assault or even,
I don't know, even maybe a murder or a death of some kind where your faith got you through those difficulties.
John: I remember, and it sounds kind of shocking to even talk about this. But once when I went to cover what turned out to be a homicide, and this doesn't usually happen, but the body was just lying there across the street from where I was standing and not covered or anything like that. And, I also talked to someone who I thought just might know what was going on. I didn't find out until later that she was kind of, the center of the love triangle that led to the homicide.
So one of my coworkers very kindly asked me the next day if I was okay, and I realized that I was. So I don't know if that comes from trusting in Jesus or if it comes from having been a crusty newspaper reporter for such a long time that, I was able to separate those things.
Yvette: There are some recent studies that talk about the pressure and stress that journalists
Have but these studies don't talk about faith. But personally, I believe that those of us who do have faith are held in are held up by our faith. Because frankly, I don't know how we would get through covering a lot of the stories that we have to cover and talking to the people, as you said, at their worst if we didn't have that.
John: Yeah. And I think though, if you look at it, that's just true for life in general. I think those of us who do have faith in Jesus, we kind of look around us and people who don't and we wonder how they, how can they do this? How can they handle it?
Because I can't imagine handling life without trusting God. It just seems like it'd be too hard in some ways.
Yvette: So. Alright. 2020. Had the pandemic already started or was it at the beginning of the pandemic?
John: We were still kind of in that stage where there was a lot of ignorance. I mean, we just didn't know that much about it. And so honestly that those few months from say March, and April basically, I felt that my role as health reporter had never been more important. It was very gratifying, even though I wasn't always getting things right because the information was changing so fast. I felt like I could give our readers, reliable information as opposed to a lot of what was out there.
But it was also just, extremely intense. I would be working on a couple of stories at once and, and then I'd realize, oh, I have to get this expense account in and all this time emails are piling up and most of them are worthless. But, what if there's an email from one of the hospitals saying it would close such and such, a wing today or whatever, so you have to check the emails. It was really intense. It was, like I said, gratifying but it was one of the more stressful times my reporting for as well.
Yvette: And you left in the middle of that, was it difficult to leave? As you said, you had never felt perhaps more needed.
John: Certainly, if I hadn't had this plan in mind, I wouldn't have left. But on the other hand, I was really feeling the stress and so in some ways stepping away from it was very nice to be able to do that and to kind of think, okay, I don't have to figure everything out right away.
Yvette: So, you mentioned the word plan, When did you feel like there was a time when you wanted to leave the News Tribune and moved to Transworld?
John: It's a really long story and I'll try to make it shorter but I,
I would say, coming out of high school, coming out of college, even though, in my mind,
I was a Christian, missions was the farthest thing from my mind. I saw myself working at a newspaper in a medium-sized city until retirement. And then oh gosh, about 15 years ago, a friend of mine who had been in our youth group in our church in Indiana, he and his wife were missionaries in Romania and he emailed me one day and said, “Hey, we're having a men's conference on sexual purity. How would you like to come over and be one of our small group leaders?”
And I said, well, let's, that's perfect -- two things I know nothing about, the Romanian language and sex.
John: But, yeah, okay, I'll come and that turned out to be really a life-transforming experience for me. And I fell in love with Romania and the Romanian people and also with the idea of missions. I tried after that every couple of years to go on some sort of mission visit,
it turned out somehow that I knew quite a few missionaries without even meaning to. And the more I did that, the more I thought God was calling me and then the question was well, yeah,
but what can I do? I'm not a doctor and I'm certainly not a preacher. I'm not an evangelist.
I don't know, like I'm not good at languages.
So, I was thinking okay, what can I do late in my career and I'll leave out a few steps here except to say I came in contact with TWR, which I had heard of, but didn't know about too much.
And I found out that they had positions for people with journalistic skills. So why not use the skills and talents God has already gifted me with and the experience has allowed me to have? And then here's this great organization that's, that's really having an impact worldwide and they need journalists to tell their story.
Yvette: So tell us about TWR. What does it stand for?
John: TWR stands for Trans World Radio. I think it's been about oh more than 20 years that they actually, branded as TWR partly because it is not just radio anymore. Radio is the heartbeat,
of TWR but there are many other media areas that TWR uses now, to reach the world for Christ. With just radio, we're in approximately 190 countries. We speak about Jesus in more than 300 languages. And we have a potential listenership, I think it's four billion people that we,
we are capable of reaching including in places like Afghanistan and Iran and,
and Ukraine and Russia and Belarus. You name a hot zone and a difficult place and, and we're able to be heard there. And on top of that, we now do all sorts of social media and video and,
and all sorts of things to support the work of the church and to be the frontline instrument for Jesus Christ when no one else can get there.
We like to say, hope knows no barriers and, radio in particular. even,
Yvette: What do you do for TWR?
John: My business card says I'm a writer and communications specialist. I don't know what a communications specialist is, but it sounds good and looks good on the business card. I do sort of what I've always done, just in a different context. I write, I edit, I work with other writers collaboratively. TWR motion is an amazing team of people who produces really wonderful sort of animated videos that tell the story of Jesus in context that the Muslim people can appreciate.
And now they're working because they've been asked by a team of church planters in Thailand who said, hey, can you do that for a Buddhist context? And so they're working on that and I've been doing some research and writing so they can concentrate more on what they do so well and I can get the information in their hands.
During the Ukraine crisis, the first weeks of that, several of us were meeting at 8:00 every weekday morning with our communications director in Slovakia who is connected with our overseer for that region who is connected to our team in Ukraine as well as we don't speak Russian. And so we were able to constantly update our donors and people who are following TWR and say this is what our team in Ukraine is doing. And this is, this is how they need to be prayed for. This is what their circumstances are. It was really such an honor to be part of telling that story.
Yvette: So, what have you learned? I mean, you were a journalist, a traditional news journalist for years, many years. What have you learned making this shift?
John: Yeah, that's a great question. My newspaper instincts still always kick in.
You know what we say: “that's a story.” So, then the impulses say, okay, we have to get that out right away. But that's not really, central for TWR. It's to tell our story but in a very careful way.
It’d be maybe three weeks before we can really put that in whatever package is appropriate and, and get it out. And that's, probably been kind of the biggest adjustment for me. There's quite a vetting process. It often goes through three or four different layers.
So it's all very good, especially with our ministry being an international ministry and going in places where our message isn't always welcome. We do have to be very careful, we have to protect the people who are out in the field.
Yvette: So, maybe this is the most important question. Why in your opinion,
why do you think a journalist would move into ministry?
John: Wow, that is a great question. And honestly, I never thought of or even realized, I guess.
So it would be interesting to know what the data show if anyone keeps that sort of data. I imagine there are as many different reasons as there are journalists who made that decision but, God uses used journalists from the beginning: They were Matthew Mark and Luke, and John and they had a great story to tell and they told it and we still need storytellers to tell the story.
But in my experience, I could say that every journalist I knew truly wanted to tell the story,
right? And, honestly and accurately, they came with their own preconceptions and we're all shaped by that. So sometimes the story that gets told doesn't come out, maybe the way another person would tell it. I think that is not such a bad qualification for serving in ministry if the Lord calls the person in that direction.
Yvette: I thank you for what you're doing and for the time that you spent with us today.
But also for what you're doing in this global effort to spread the love and the word of Christ.
John: It's been a pleasure and honor to speak with you. Thank you for the opportunity.