Radio broadcasts using novel technology and pioneering partnerships are bringing the gospel into unexpected places in Africa. Trans World Radio (TWR), for example, reports that in Zambia a witch doctor became a believer through listening to its radio programs. Now the new convert has built a church and many are becoming Christians through his testimony.

The use of new resources and new methods for religious programming is bringing new people into African churches. "I have come to realize that radio is the unique and wonderful tool to bring the gospel to our people in Africa," admits Michael Cassidy, executive director of Africa Enterprise. "Radio is the tool for evangelism."

Compact Studios, Windup Radios

Christian broadcasters have applied state-of-the-art broadcasting technology in specialized ways, bringing more programs to even the remotest areas of Africa.

Recent innovations have addressed two long-standing problems: a scarcity of broadcast-quality studios and a lack of reliable power for radio receivers.

Focusing on the need for studios, TWR in Mozambique converts surplus oceangoing shipping containers into small broadcast studios. The need arose to get staff into remote areas to produce programming for the nearly 5 million Makhuwa people, the largest animistic unreached people group in Africa.

TWR outfitted the shipping containers with studio equipment in South Africa and transported them to the northern Mozambican village of Mocuba. The studios save construction costs and extensive commuting time for radio producers traveling to and from the southern capital city of Maputo.

In Angola, TWR partner churches and organizations distribute windup radios, which have come on the market in recent years. These receivers are small hand-held units powered by a hand crank (60 turns of the crank give 30 minutes of power). In parts of Africa where electricity is unavailable, unreliable, or an expensive luxury, these receivers—which last for thousands of hours—provide a needed link to Christian programming.

'Radio Church-Planting'

As Christian broadcasters have strategized their efforts, they have consciously focused on programming for "megalanguages," which are spoken by the greatest number of people globally.World By Radio estimates that only 91 of the world's 372 megalanguages now lack Christian radio programming or adequate Christian influence from other sources. This is a significant increase since 1985, when 279 languages lacked Christian programming.

These new linguistic efforts are bearing fruit in Africa. TWR-Africa now broadcasts in more than 55 languages. Though determining audience sizes for missionary broadcasting is an inexact science, one survey reported that TWR listeners in the East African nation of Malawi surpassed 25 percent of the population.

Cooperation among international broadcasters and with local churches and stations is on the rise. Two of the largest Christian broadcasters, HCJB and TWR, signed a partnership agreement to cooperate in African radio ministry. Initial hopes include establishing a transmitting site in Burkina Faso.

Lee Sonius, HCJB's sub-Saharan Africa regional director, expresses optimism for the alliance. "Our strength is radio church-planting through establishing local FM stations, and TWR is known for its strong shortwave ministry throughout Africa," Sonius says. "Doing together what each one of us does best will be strategic for proclaiming the gospel."

In "radio planting," HCJB works with local partners to establish Christian radio ministries by providing training, technical support, and equipment. Local partners produce programs, run stations and handle operating costs. The strategy recognizes the importance of local broadcasts in reaching nationals. HCJB says cooperative radio-planting ministries took root in nearly 40 nations during the 1990s.

Addressing Human Needs

In addition to traditional programming in Africa including Bible studies, sermons, and spiritual guidance, some media partnerships also are breaking new ground on social and cultural issues.

Turning Point, the flagship TV program of Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) throughout Africa, recently aired a special, "AIDS: Breaking the Silence," examining the epidemic that ravages the continent. Some African nations may lose 20 percent of their populations to the disease in the coming decades.

CBN regional director Keith Strugnell reports that in Zambia, the minister of health contacted the local counseling center to thank CBN for joining Zambians in their fight against AIDS. CBN says research surveys suggest an estimated 6.5 million viewers watched the related weeklong block of family-oriented Christian programming in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Strugnell, a South African, has organized media blitzes—special radio and television outreaches in cooperation with African churches—for the past several years. He reports that in Tanzania, Muslims have watched programs, and converted to Christianity, in the privacy of their homes.

Related Elsewhere

Listen to some of HCJB's programming on the station's Web site while you read about the station.

Trans World Radio's Web site offers news, promotional material, and frequency schedules, but no sound clips.

Read more about "AIDS: Breaking the Silence" and Turning Point at CBN's site.

Past Christianity Today articles on radio include: "Hispanic Christian Radio Grows by Blocks and Blends" (May 18, 1998).

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