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Progress Visit

Just after Valentine’s Day last month, I had the opportunity to visit one of FEBC’s FM radio stations here in Indonesia. This station was the second one to be constructed in what would soon be the birth of the Heartline network. I had visited this city of 300,000 people back when the station was first envisioned in 2001. So who would have thought, after 15 years of operation, I would have the chance to see how the station has been doing.

Glad to lead worship with the engineer at the station. We do have some things in common.

Glad to lead worship with the engineer at the station. We do have some things in common.

Much has changed since 2001. I arrived at a much different airport (in a different city, though) than the one I visited back then. It has been significantly upgraded because of the economic development in the region. It turns out that the island of Kalimantan has a number of natural resources which make it a destination for many investors. The city of Samarinda, where the station broadcasts, has grown considerably. Roads are in better condition. The signs of economic progress are everywhere, from construction taking place to a thriving port on the river passing through the valley. While FEBC’s station was one of the first in the city, I was privileged to also see two other stations during the  visit.

FEBC’s station is still faithfully broadcasting from a residential subdivision nestled back against a hill that overlooks the city. The tower is located just below the summit. Programming is in the national language and in English. Much of the original studio equipment is still in service today.

The station has not been without its challenges. Just recently, the original transmitter was replaced with a much smaller and more efficient unit that still provides a strong signal. The tower supports not only the station’s antenna, but a number of other services. A few months before my visit, the top portion of the tower collapsed because the tower is getting older. It had been repaired by the time I arrived. The station already has a newer tower ready to put up, but it is still waiting for clearance from the government to do so.

A special part of the visit included a thanksgiving service that was hosted at a prayer chapel right next to the transmitter site. Approximately 30 people came on Saturday morning to pray for the broadcasts and to thank God for the provision of this new transmitter. Many have been faithfully listening to the station over the years and expressed their appreciation for the broadcasts. I met several of them after the service, including one woman who is completely blind. Heartline’s broadcasts have been very special to her.

Continue to pray for this radio station as they face a number of challenges in their operation. Besides struggling to upgrade their equipment, they face significant competition from the other stations in the city. Pray that the station and its staff would not only survive, but learn to thrive in the dynamic environment of growth that will broaden their audience beyond the churches in the community. I’m encouraged to see that God is still at work in a station I had the privilege, in a small way, to help get started.


A Visit to TWR Kenya

While in Kenya for the 2013 Africa by Radio Continental Convention, I took the opportunity to visit TWR’s operation in Nairobi. Even though it was a particularly busy time for many of the staff who were participating in program development training, I was encouraged to have some very good conversations around ministry with an enthusiastic group of producers and presenters seeking to share Jesus in a region where the gospel may not always be welcomed.

Paul and I had the opportunity to encourage a number of programmers at TWR Kenya’s studio in Nairobi

TWR Kenya is the first of eight national partners established in 1976 initially by TWR’s German partner ERF. The Nairobi studio has been a source of English and kiSwahili programming, not only for Kenya itself but also for stations across the entire East Africa region. In addition to producing Through the Bible in a number of languages along with other Christian programming from the West, they have produced a number of community based health and educational programs as well as a very successful youth program called Africa Challenge. They also produce programs in a number of tribal languages.

While their ministry started out primarily on shortwave, TWR Kenya has expanded its operation in recent years to include a network of five FM stations across Kenya known as Sifa FM. Each station engages with a unique audience. This requires custom-designed program strategies for each location that will meet the needs of their particular audience. While I was in Nairobi, I had several engaging conversations with the general manager for Sifa FM about their strategies. There is one station in particular along the coast of Kenya that finds itself broadcasting in a region where many are not always open to Christian topics. However, Sifa FM is looking to expand its network in the coming years into the northeast corner of the country, closer to the Somali border. This region of Kenya has had its challenges with refugees from Somalia. The first challenge for this expansion is to understand the audiences in this region and design program strategies accordingly. That process is well underway.

Sharing an allegory of the gospel story through music with the TWR Kenya staff

While visiting the Nairobi studios, another colleague of mine from TWR’s Africa Regional Office (ARO) was leading two weeks of program development training. Paul has a long history of experience in FM radio broadcasting and brought a number of skills to share with the staff. I also helped facilitate two sessions, the first on establishing a vision for a station based on the perspective of the audience. I shared a number of tools they could use to engage with a community to discover not only their needs but also uncover the values that impact an audience’s preferences and perspectives.  I was also invited to share during the staff chapel time on Friday, sharing a message of trust and faith delivered through music. I was so encouraged by the sharing with the staff that followed.

While my visit with TWR Kenya was a pleasant one, my departure from Nairobi occurred on the same day the massacre started at the Westgate Mall. This particular mall is located in another part of the city from where I was staying, but I could tell there were serious security issues as I moved around the city. I visited another mall during my stay and found myself subjected to a number of security measures that reminded me of my time when I lived in the Philippines. The tensions will undoubtedly remain high in the city for some time to come as they recover from the terror and tragedy that happened last month.

Fresh Start for Radio Wimbi Project

I’ve often heard this African proverb quoted when discussing project work on the continent. While there are problems with both extremes, there is good reason to give heed to this principle:

If you want to travel fast, go alone
If you want to travel far, go together

Travelling together requires relationship. It takes time to position the right people in a project and nurture those relationships to develop so the project can go far. It’s taken us two years to find a suitable project coordinator, the point man on the ground, for the Radio Wimbi project in Pemba, Mozambique. It’s involved massive change for Radio Feba Mozambique, the Feba national association in the country to achieve this. Now that Narciso Zandamela has moved to Pemba, the project can start taking some new steps forward.

Now that Narciso has moved to Pemba in August, 2011, he faces the challenge of starting to build relationships with the local association formed to own the project and the station license. He also needs to build relationships within the community, not easily done when coming from the capital city, Maputo, at the opposite end of the country. So our first step was to give Narciso some tools he could use to engage and interact with the community.

New friends (Narciso in middle) explore community centered radio together

In September, Narciso and I travelled together to Indonesia where Feba and FEBC sponsored a workshop on how to develop community-centered radio stations. During the week-long seminar, Narciso learned the importance of involving and engaging the community in the radio station. Rather than making assumptions about what’s important in a community, a radio station gives the microphone away and let’s the community influence the conversation. To help open up the community, Narciso learned how to use the mapping exercise and the problem tree that would get the community talking and wrestling with their issues that impact them directly.

Upon returning to Pemba, Narciso started applying what he learned during the workshop. I visited him on site earlier this month. We met together with the local association who welcomed him as the project coordinator and agreed to work with him to start the radio station. Narciso went right to work, leading members of the association through the mapping exercise, where the members worked together to draw a map of Pemba, highlighting what was important to them. Narciso plans to conduct 10 more of these exercises with different community groups. Each mapping exercise will be followed up with a problem tree session. Pray for Narciso as he works to conduct these interactive sessions in Pemba over the next couple of months.

Graham Kimber & I introduce Narciso to Eric Dry (r.), another missionary in Mozambique

We also explored possible partnerships while in Pemba. Narciso is getting to know other ministries in Pemba and the surrounding region. One such missionary from another community in the province (shown on the left) is already producing local language programs for other community radio stations in the province. We’re looking forward to joining together with others like him to help reach the people in Pemba. Please pray for Narciso as he nurtures these relationships for mutual ministry.

Stay tuned for more developments. I’m in regular communication with Narciso about his progress and what he’s learning. Hopefully with the information he’s collecting, we’ll be able to gain a clearer understanding of the community of Pemba and how Radio Wimbi can best meet their needs.

Radio Nuru Broadcasts Interrupted

The past couple of weeks have not been easy ones for Feba’s partner station reaching the Mwani of northeastern Mozambique. Radio Nuru has been broadcasting for just over a year on a test basis and receiving consistent response from residents in villages along the Indian Ocean. The Mwani have accepted Radio Nuru into their homes and routines, responding to the station on a regular basis. The success of the station has not gone unnoticed.

There was disappointment all around when Radio Nuru went off-air

On an early Sunday morning, an official representing the broadcast regulators in Mozambique made a surprise visit to the station. AIM missionary and station manager Andy Widmer was just about to leave when the official arrived for an inspection. Apparently something didn’t seem right because a few days later, a letter arrived at the station instructing Andy to cease the broadcasts until their license documents could be verified. The station is still awaiting confirmation of its permanent license. It is still unclear what the issues are, but Feba staff in Maputo are working to sort out the problems. The station has now stopped its broadcasts for the time being in order to comply with the order and not jeopardize the license’s final approval.

There wasn’t much time to explain to listeners why the station went silent. I’m sure the listeners were surprised when they couldn’t find their station. Please pray for Andy and Feba’s staff in Maputo as they untangle the regulatory red tape, attempt to finalize the station license and restore the broadcasts. Pray for good relationships with the government officials, that they will recognize the contribution of the station to the Mwani and approve the permanent license.

Radio Wimbe Project Starts Slowly

Pemba residents enjoy their seaside environment

The development of community radio stations continues in northern Mozambique. Feba Radio has been working with Ibra Media to bring community radio to Pemba, a port city in Cabo Delgado province. The station will be called Radio Wimbe (waves in Makhuwa, a local language). Pemba is not only the capital of the province but also a gateway into the people groups in that region. All three major languages (Makhuwa, Makonde, and Mwani) of the province are represented in and around this natural bay.

Progress with the station development has been slow. It’s taken some time to develop a local association (members of the community) to support the application for a license. The initial vision for the station is in place. Preliminary planning, including the purchase of property, designing the studio facilities, and a baseline media survey, is under way.

Most importantly, relationships with the local community need to be developed to get them involved in “their” station. It is easy to get impatient, rush toward obvious signs of progress , and leave the community behind. When that happens, they feel left out and fail to accept the station as their own. I am beginning to understand how important it is to involve the residents of Pemba early on in the project and find the right people to lead the project forward.

Playing volleyball with what you have

During a recent trip to Pemba to work on the project, I had the opportunity to travel along the shoreline where the city meets the mouth of the bay. There were many people out that day, enjoying the sun, sand and surf that is Pemba. As we were driving along the shore, I noticed a beach volleyball game going on. I’ve seen this in many different contexts but what made this unique was the ingenuity of how they played the game.  The participants had their ball and  net but no poles! Each team selected a team member to raise the net into position each time the ball crossed from one side to the other. However, the height of the net was not consistent as each human pole tried to adjust the height to the advantage of his team. It was an amusing experience to observe, but also gave a glimpse into how a community worked together to enjoy some friendly competition.

It is this kind of uniqueness  Radio Wimbe needs to capture. That can only happen through close connections with the community and its involvement in the station. This involvement needs to take place now, even as the plans for the station are still under development. Please join us in praying for these important relational issues. Pray for individuals from Pemba who have a good understanding of the community to join with us in this project. Pray for positive interaction with local officials and leaders such that they see the benefit of having their own radio station. Pray for my role in the team to encourage and mentor local champions to be the driving force behind the station.

Yawo Production Studio Evicted

Finding a quiet place to produce radio programs is never easy. Once all the work has gone into setting up that space, no one really wants to leave. This is the case with our present recording facility for the Yawo language project located in Malawi. A 15 minute daily shortwave broadcast and now a 30 minute daily FM broadcast over the TWR national network in Malawi are currently produced in a studio constructed out of a shipping container. For the last several years, the container has been parked on a leased piece of property in Blantyre and serving the broadcasts nicely…… until now!

Back in December 2009, this situation started to change. An attempted burglary occurred that month, resulting in some loss of equipment. Fortunately, the burglars were scared off and left most of the studio gear behind. Shortly after that incident, the Yawo ministry coordinator received a letter from the landlord terminating the lease agreement for the container to remain on her property. She has been planning some development work to transform the lot into a housing complex. That meant the container would have to be removed within two months, given the terms of the eviction notice.

Amos Sibayu has been producing quality programs for a number of years from the Blantyre studio

The timing of this announcement was less than ideal. The Yawo ministry is undergoing a significant leadership change these days. Senior (and until just recently lone) producer of Feba’s Yawo broadcasts, Amos Sibayu Phiri, has been tapped to take on a broader leadership role in the Yawo work. In order to free him up from his production duties, he’s been training in a new producer/presenter at the very studio set to be shut down.  In order to keep the production work and training on schedule, the studio was quickly moved to a temporary facility while decisions are made regarding a more permanent location.

In the midst of a crisis is one of the best times to consider the opportunities available. Given that the studio must now be relocated, several of us met together with Amos to discuss where the best home for the Yawo production facility would be. We spent some time reviewing our options. A portion of our time was spent reviewing the response we’ve been receiving from the broadcasts. We noticed over the past four years, more and more responses have been coming from the region around the southern part of Lake Malawi, the heart of where the Yawo live. We also noticed we have new studio facilities there waiting for a community radio station license. It seemed God was leading us to relocate the ministry from Blantyre to Mangochi, near where the new station will be started. Please be praying for all the details involved in relocating the ministry operations to the Mangochi area.

We’ve been encouraged with evidence that God is indeed at work among the Yawo through Feba’s broadcasts. Recently a listener from Mangochi contacted Amos with the following comments:

“And today I just decided to pay you a visit for the fact that I have a question on the issue of Jesus Christ:  Why would Jesus crucify on the cross for the whole world and not (just) for Israelites? I was amazed when you said that Jesus’ death was not an ordinary one, but God prepared Him that way so that many may come to salvation. Please do help me on this issue.”

Continue to pray for this time of transition for Amos and the rest of the staff. Pray for clear direction and unity as the ministry makes the move up to the Mangochi area. Pray for a renewed sense of vision for the ministry and the granting of the community station license in Ndengu (a village in the hills east of Mangochi). The application for this license is still pending. Pray for God’s guidance and protection as Amos takes on these new leadership responsibilities for the ministry, that God would use him in the days to come.

Radio Nuru Broadcasts Begin July 31

Karen Zimmerman of AIM prepares for the first day of test broadcasts from Radio Nuru

Karen Zimmerman of AIM prepares for the first day of test broadcasts from Radio Nuru

This past week has been a very busy one for Radio Nuru, the FM radio station that will broadcast to the Mwane people in northeastern Mozambique. After a very prolonged licensing process, the station has just received their official documents from the Mozambique government. With these documents in hand, Paul and Karen Zimmerman are now organizing their programming for the first day of test broadcasts using a library of pre-recorded material and Swahili music.

The first day of broadcasting is scheduled to begin on Friday, July 31 at 3:00 pm. The initial broadcast day will run for 4 hours until 7:00 pm local time. Please be praying for the Zimmermans and their programming team as they launch this new venture:

  • Pray for the initial broadcasts as the Mwane hear the programming in their own language. Pray that many will become regular listeners and respond to what they hear.
  • Pray for the announcers and other local staff who are making the programs. Ask God for wisdom and discernment as they prepare their programs.
  • Pray for Paul and Karen as they make many critical decisions about the content on the station and how to encourage the team.
  • Pray for positive relationships with listeners who contact the station, that these first contacts will develop into meaningful relationships that will introduce them to Jesus.

Radio Nuru Ready for Life

It’s been a long wait for Paul and Karen Zimmerman, missionaries from AIM International. They’ve been planning for some time to see a radio station broadcast to the Mwane people of northeastern Mozambique. Pieces of the station have been gathering from all around the world to be assembled together  to proclaim a message of light to their listeners. The final stage of that assembly took place over the last couple of weeks in Macomia. In a building constructed locally and with a tower from South Africa, broadcast equipment from the US was installed in preparation to begin test broadcasts. Feba’s engineer, Graham Kimber, and I were on hand for the final commissioning.

Paul Zimmerman and a local Mwane speaker work together to record program material for Radio Nuru

Paul Zimmerman and a local Mwane speaker work together to record program material for Radio Nuru

Paul and Karen are grateful for the installation of the equipment. In recent months, they have been recording program material in a make-shift studio, but now that the main studio is operational, they can work with local speakers to quickly produce audio segments. The studio will also serve as the control facility for the broadcasts. The pre-recorded programs will be aired from the same computer used to record and edit them. The station anticipates 4-6 hours a day of broadcasts initially with both recorded and live content.

There is still one piece of the puzzle that has not yet arrived. For some reason, the permission to begin test broadcasts has not yet been granted. It’s been several weeks since we received word about the frequency of the station. This information enabled us to make final preparations for the installation. While that was taking place, we expected the government to release the test broadcast license. With the antenna properly tuned and the transmitter set at 250 watts, all is ready for the broadcasts to begin. But the permission has not yet come. The reason given is that the paperwork has been misplaced at a government agency. Without this document in hand, the station is not allowed to broadcast. Once again, we must wait.

Please pray for those involved with processing the license in Maputo. Pray that the government will find a way to take the next steps necessary to allow Radio Nuru to begin its broadcasts. In the meantime, Paul and Karen must wait yet again. Even though the station is ready to go, the transmissions remain silent. The Mwane must wait longer to hear their language in their own radio receivers. These are the people who are really missing out.

Radio Nuru License Granted

Excitement is building as the launch of Radio Nuru moves closer now that the frequency is assigned.

Excitement is building as the launch of Radio Nuru moves closer now that the frequency is assigned.

There was much excitement just a few days ago when I received word that the application for a community radio station license for Radio Nuru had been approved by the Mozambique government. The application was submitted nearly two years ago. The process has been a long one as new requirements  for the application kept surfacing. Now with the license approved and the frequency of the station set at 106.6 MHz, the way is cleared for the installation of the station.

Paul Zimmerman is ready for us to come and finish the radio station installation.

Paul Zimmerman is ready for us to come and finish the radio station installation.

Radio Nuru is being constructed by AIM International, a mission organization that focuses its ministry all across Africa. Feba Radio is partnering with missionaries Paul and Karen Zimmerman who are working with the Mwane people. The Mwane are fishermen who live along the shores of the Indian Ocean in Cabo Delgado province. The Zimmermans have invested more than two years planning and constructing the facilities that will house the radio station. The license approval brought their dream that much closer to reality.

The license now paves the way for the final stage of the construction; the installation of the broadcast equipment, testing that equipment, and starting the first test broadcasts. This promises to be an exciting time. Please pray for Paul and myself as we schedule my next visit to bring the station on-air. Several key players from Feba, including engineers from Malawi, South Africa, and the UK, are considering coming together for this final push toward the first broadcast. Please pray for the coordination of schedules over the next week as we set the dates for the installation, hopefully in June or July.

Radios in Pemba

During my recent visit to Pemba, Mozambique, Mark Taylor and I met with a number of ministries and individuals who are interested in starting a radio station based on Christian values. We had a number of in-depth discussions that helped us better understand the needs of the people living in and around the city.

One of the requirements for a local radio station in Mozambique is the existence of a local association, a group of individuals from the community who will take responsibility for the station . During our meetings with them, it became clear that the station could have a significant impact  if Christian values could be instilled in families  through the broadcasts. Together we drafted a focus and established some goals for the station that we are trusting God to achieve.

There is no shortage of radios in Pemba, just broadcasts

During one of our trips into the market, it was apparent that radios are a key part of the lives of the residents. We didn’t have any difficulty finding radios available. The cost of one of these units runs around US$8-12 depending on features. That’s within reach of  most families.

I’m now in the process of documenting what we learned in Pemba before taking the next steps to start the project. There is still much planning to be done. Yet, the association is encouraged and ready to work with us to make the station a reality.