By Shane Stanford
This past week marked the 3rd anniversary for We Believe in Memphis, the interview- interest program I co-host with Dr. Maxie Dunnam. Over the last 24 months, we have interviewed over 140 different guests, developing programs that celebrate every corner of the great things happening in the Memphis metro area.
These programs have included interviews with elected officials, community leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, local legends, and almost everyone in between. However, the common denominator has been each guest's love and commitment to Memphis and their belief in a 'bigger purpose' for what and why they do what they do.
We hear so much about the struggles we face in Memphis; and, indeed, there are many, and they are very real. But, as co-host of 'We Believe..." I have also had the privilege of seeing the other side of our community—the truer side where one story after another testifies to the selfless, faithful, service above self attitudes that shine through as a bold witness to the best of who we are together.
Now, here are some interesting tidbits about the program:
First, it currently airs 9 times per week in various timeslots on TV-23 and all major cable/satellite providers. The last estimate we received is that approx. 30,000 plus viewers watch the program weekly. That, in itself, is a major 'congregation'. Our new website is also up and running. The site address is www.webelieveinmemphis.org
Second, our most 'watched and shared' programs' include a wide swath of our community. For instance, we have received great responses about topics as different as domestic abuse and sex trafficking to horticultural and home repair. For example, we were thrilled, and somewhat surprised, at the response for Dr. Chris Cooper, the Shelby county extension agent. His sincere, infectious spirit for caring for God's creation came as close to a 'groupie experience' for our program as many of us believe possible. My assistant is now the leader of his local fan club! And, don't get me started on the County Historian's episode-- he was a 'rock star'! Sure, laugh... But, each snicker may rile up one his devoted fans. Did you know that Memphis has the most visited private home in the country? Yes, Graceland. And, did you know that Memphis has the fourth most sites on the National Historical Registry (After Philadelphia, New York and Washington)? No, I didn’t either… at least until the Shelby County Historian, Mr. Jimmy Ogle came on the program.
But, seriously, though we have had a great deal of fun and engagement with so many issues and guests, the central, connecting focus for each program is the intense love each guest has for Memphis and for how what they are doing contributes to a stronger fabric for the Mid-South. No wonder on one of our programs, we were reminded that Memphis is the most generous city (per capita) of the ‘Big 50 Metro areas’ in the country.
Third, we have had conversations with just about every elected official in the city and county governments. Did I just hear you 'yawn'? I hope not, because just when you think each official has repeated the same stump speech one more time, something unexpected will emerge. Of course, with each official, we discussed the pertinent issues of the day, and the critical responsibilities each leader maintained. But, more importantly, each interview went deeper into the guest's personal narrative as to why where they are and what they do matters so much to them. Just like any pastor answering the story of their 'call to ministry’, we learned that every guest, regardless of position, party, or background not only loves Memphis but genuinely believes they have been called to their post.
Probably one of the most memorable accounts of these conversations was with Ron Garrison, the Director of the Memphis Area Transit Authority. Ron is very gracious, capable and intelligent man. But, Maxie and I were pleasantly surprised when the usual discussion of city transportation became a witness as to why the Director feels called-- yes, 'called'- to his work at the Transit Authority. The 'buses' moving stop to stop throughout the metro area are his 'mission field'. And, his great contribution is to make sure every person, regardless of any demographic or socioeconomic circumstance, can get to the places of need in their lives. His episode interview is one you should not miss-- truly one of the best personal 'sermons' I have heard about ‘call’.
Finally, Maxie and I have learned a great deal about ourselves in the process. We began this program as a way to expand Maxie's very successful, daily 60 second 'I Believe in Memphis' programs that aired on various local TV stations. We were not sure if a 30-minute version would work. What we discovered is that people in our community genuinely want to know their neighbors who are working hard to shape our community. Beyond the partisan conversations, a deeper level emerges as men and women doing their best, each day, to make the place where they live better. It is that simple. And, when you hear these stories week in and week out, you find yourself wanting to contribute to this 'better place' as well, to the potential of what all of us can and should be when we, too, participate in sharing our gifts together.
Now, I realize that some of you may find this naive or unrealistic, and in some cases, it may certainly be. But, when you catch a glimpse of someone in elected office, or an appointed position of authority, or simply a passionate leader trying to make a difference, you want, if only for a moment, to set aside the 'agenda' and try...
Maxie and I would be remiss to not say a huge 'thank you' to Anthony Thaxton (Producer/Editor) and Jo Ellen Drulinger (Associate Producer) for their work in making each program a special experience. They 'matter' because they know what they do 'matters', not just to the program, but to all of us.
And, we look forward to the next season of our program's journey. We plan some expansion and development of the program along many fronts over the next year, including some 'special episodes off-site', a new sponsorship program to help defray costs (which have been funded to this point primarily by Christ Church and private donations), and an enrichment of the program's visual quality and ease for sharing with others- I.e. social media, etc.
So, please pray for us as we walk forward. God has great things in store. It is a privilege to follow His lead... And to share the stories of His people in Memphis and beyond.
Be Salt and Light... You Matter!
P.S. Do us a favor… forward this article to a friend so that they can ‘Believe in Memphis’ too!
Shane Stanford is a pastor, teacher and author committed to sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with the world.