SANTEE, Calif. (BP)–When a 15-year-old gunman opened fire on his classmates March 5 at Santana High School, the national news media descended upon this small, bedroom community of San Diego in biblical proportions.
Hundreds of journalists, photographers and news networks staked out territory in front of the high school, thrusting microphones and cameras into the faces of victims, parents and school officials.
Two days later, the relationship between the national media and the Santee community has rapidly deteriorated. While journalists argue they are just doing their job, school officials and families counter that the media is being intrusive.
In between those two sides is another group — one that provides and fills a unique ministry niche — Media Fellowship International.
This nondenominational, evangelical ministry exists for the sole purpose of reaching secular media and entertainment professionals worldwide for Christ. And that means following the news crews to the “big stories.”
At Santee, representatives of Media Fellowship International have set up a hospitality booth that provides free food, hot coffee and a place for working members of the press to fellowship.
“A lot of people don’t really think about the news media as needing help,” said Bob Rieth, executive director of MFI. “But they do. We provide a non-threatening environment for the working press to be exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“After midnight, all the stores around here close down so we usually get a number of cameramen and photographers who stop by for some coffee and food,” he said. “These folks are on duty around the clock and they can’t leave the scene. So we welcome everyone in the name of the Lord.”
MFI sets up shop around the nation wherever breaking news happens.
“We’ve been at all the major disasters that have happened,” Rieth said. “We were there at Columbine and even Oklahoma City. And one thing we noticed was that everyone received counseling except the media.
“No matter how stoic reporters may look on camera, they go through the same emotions that the rest of us do,” Rieth said. “They are just human beings.”
As a result, the working press at the Santana shootings can receive free counseling along with their coffee and pastries. “There was one reporter on the first day who used our facilities to quietly call home and talk to his teenage son who had just gotten off school,” he said. “And there was another cameraman last night who walked into our hospitality suite looking dazed. He told us that this was his fourth school shooting. It was taking its toll on the man.”
Reith and his team of volunteers work around the clock to offer a prayers and a sense of community among the secular media. And it hasn’t been easy.
“We’ve had to earn their trust,” he said. “A guy from NBC came in a few days ago and mentioned that he appreciated our ministry in Oklahoma City. This is all about building relationships.
“News people are really troubled by all of this stuff,” he said. “They don’t like school shootings, but they have to report the news. It’s their job.”
Reporters out in the field said the ministry is a big help. “I think it’s great,” said Colleen Rudy, a news reporter for KFMB in San Diego. “I am a born-again believer and it is such a relief to know there is a group of people here who support the media and are basing their ministry on the solid rock of Christ.”
School shootings are the most difficult assignments to cover for her station, Rudy said. “I try to look at this story as a matter of spiritual warfare. I see Satan at work here,” she said. “So I just bathe every one of my live shots in prayer. You know, if it was me doing this, I would be a blubbering idiot, but I put my faith in God.”
Michelle Locke, an Associated Press reporter from Berkeley, noted that she appreciated the nondenominational aspect of the ministry. “These guys are doing a work that we need among our journalism crowd,” she said. “And it’s nice to know they just care.”
Additional information about MFI can be found at www.mediafellowship.org.