The Rev. Dr. Arne Fjeldstad was one of God's great men. He died Sunday of a heart attack in Norway, hours before he was scheduled to leave for a Media Project conference in Korea.
For the past eight years he served as the Director/CEO of the Media Project, an international network of journalists seeking both to improve the professionalism and quality of their reporting and to contribute to better coverage of the role of religion in public life. During that time, Arne traveled the globe - meeting journalists, teaching, organizing seminars, building friendships, counseling when asked. He was the face and the voice of the Media Project. No one can take his place.
I met Arne in 1994 when our family took our first roots trip to Scandinavia. We had noticed the name "Fjeldstad" on the letterhead of the Lausanne Committee in Europe. "Fjeldstad" is the family name of my husband's Norwegian ancestors. So, we wondered if we had found a distant relative. We contacted Arne, whose research showed we were not, in fact, related. We met him and his wife, Hilde, in Oslo anyway. Arne gave us a tour of the Aftenposten, Norway's largest and most prestigious newspaper, where he worked as an editor. Over dinner, we became friends.
Several years later Arne and Hilde came to California where Arne earned his doctorate at Fuller Seminary. His work was on the role of the Internet, an example of his ability to see the future and prepare for it. Hilde and Arne were frequent guests.
In 1997 we started what eventually became the Media Project with an international conference of journalists in Hong Kong at the time of the handover to China. Arne was there. Later, the Fjeldstads moved to Egypt to work in media. We kept in touch and visited them there.
In 1998 the precursor to the Media Project held another international conference in London, and around that time Gegrapha held a conference in Chichester. Arne was vital to both. Then in 2001 Arne joined us for a third international conference in Barcelona.
By 2006, we realized that we needed a new approach to international journalism and the Media Project was born. Arne was just leaving Egypt, so we asked him to become director/CEO of the project. He was the perfect fit - a journalist, a pastor, a student and prophet of the Internet, and a person familiar with many parts of the world. And Arne took to the job with zeal and energy.
He headed up the fourth international conference in Istanbul in 2007, but his greatest contribution was the network he built all over the world. His goal was to serve journalists working in mainstream media. Professional training was key, but he also knew that journalists are human beings with all kinds of personal and spiritual challenges. Arne could switch hats to be a mentor, friend, and counselor when needed.
As the network grew, local journalists organized conferences, often to respond to specific media questions or events in their regions, whether it be Kenya, Cameroon, Zambia, Peru, Argentina, Korea, Ukraine, Australia, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, or London. As the network grew, the website grew.
In those years, our family visited Egypt many times with Arne, meeting people on the ground, particularly members and bishops of the Coptic Church. Several times we joined him in Israel, once for Christmas with his family.
Under Arne's leadership, many Media Project programs were initiated: the Film Project to teach local journalists to write and produce 7-minute documentaries; a partnership with the Poynter Institute to give journalists training in their craft and in mentoring in their newsrooms; and an ever-increasing number of regional conferences or workshops usually instigated by local journalists. In all these efforts Arne was indefatigable. He never stopped - thinking, praying, counseling, teaching, organizing, mentoring, planning, traveling to wherever there was a need.
When he died, as I said above, he was preparing to go to a conference in Korea later this week. The conference will go on, in Arne's honor.
Arne was also a friend to GetReligion, the blog edited by Terry Mattingly to cover the way religion is understood in mainstream media in the United States. He was also part of the project, headed by Paul Marshall, to produce the award-winning book Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion.
Wherever Arne went, he brought a cheerful, encouraging presence and a wide knowledge of journalism and the world and its challenges. His death leaves a hole in the hearts of all who knew and worked with him. But, because of his untiring efforts, men and woman across the globe are better equipped to continue the work he began and dedicated his intelligence, energy, and commitment to furthering.
As a friend, I can only say that my own life is better for having known him. As chair of the board of the Media Project, I can only join with the entire board to thank God for Arne, his life, his work, and his legacy. He took an idea and made it a reality. His work lives on in the lives of those whom he taught and mentored. For that, we can all be thankful.