In the World's Rural Outposts, A Shortwave Channel to God
By Kevin Sullivan Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, October 7, 2007
HOMOINE, Mozambique -- As dusk fell deep in a forest of mango and palm trees, Jaime Jeremias Matsimbe sat on the rose-colored dirt and hand-cranked a shortwave radio, looking for the word of God.
He wound the little plastic handle round and round, charging the radio like winding a watch, and soon a preacher's voice boomed across a courtyard filled with goats and turkeys. Twenty miles from the nearest paved road, Matsimbe smiled as he listened to a Texas preacher's sermons about Jesus and Saint Paul, translated into a local language spoken only in the southern African backcountry.
"I love that this person has brought us this message," said Matsimbe, 59, a farmer with 24 grandchildren, whose native language, Xitshwa, is spoken by only a million or so people. "It makes us feel like there is somebody who cares for us."
Solace 9,000 Miles Away
About five miles outside Homoine, down a narrow track of deep white sand passing through a forest, Matsimbe lives in a small cluster of houses with concrete walls and palm-thatched roofs. During Mozambique's 16-year civil war, which ended in 1992, these woods were battlegrounds. A field of land mines just beyond Matsimbe's property was not cleared until two years ago.
At night, the only light comes from a kerosene lantern or the moon. During the three-month rainy season, Matsimbe's family stores rainwater in a concrete tank. But for the rest of the year, they fetch it from a river more than an hour's walk away. The toilet is a trench in the sand.
Radio is the only entertainment.
"We have nothing else to do," said Matsimbe, tall and lean with graying hair and a broad smile.
Radio has also reshaped the religious landscape of Mozambique. The country gained its independence from Portugal in 1975, but within two years was racked by the civil war, which made it almost impossible for foreign missionaries to work safely. During those years, radio was virtually their only means of evangelizing. It apparently worked, contributing to the rising number of Christians in a nation where traditional tribal beliefs once dominated.
The World Christian Database says that of the country's nearly 20 million people, about half practice traditional beliefs, 40 percent are Christian and 10 percent are Muslim. Other sources estimate that the Muslim population is at least 20 percent.
In the gathering darkness one recent evening, Matsimbe set a few old metal chairs in the middle of his courtyard. His wife cooked dinner over an open fire next to the rusted remains of Matsimbe's 1974 Ford, which now serves as a straw-filled henhouse.
A line of plump turkeys returned from the bush, apparently sensing dusk and dinner. Matsimbe's 11-year-old grandson, Liron, led a dozen goats home on rope leashes. Roosters crowed, a skinny dog slept and the dying light fell like soft red haze.
Robert Zitsanza, Matsimbe's pastor from the United Methodist church in the village, was visiting with a windup radio of his own, which he had been given a few weeks before by Trans World Radio.
Matsimbe leaned in close and twisted the tuner, scrolling up and down the shortwave dial of the pastor's set, finding English, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish amid the static and squawk. He was searching for his favorite show, the one he has been listening to several nights a week since he discovered it three years ago.
And soon, the radio's signal was clear and strong -- Matsimbe had found the Texas preacher.
In the African darkness 9,000 miles from Dallas, he settled down to listen to a sermon written by Texas pastor J. Vernon McGee, perhaps the most popular personality on the global Christian airwaves.
The program, "Thru the Bible," each day interprets a Bible verse in an old-fashioned, folksy manner. It has been translated into 108 languages. Hundreds of hours of McGee's recorded sermons are heard by millions of radio listeners every day in 219 countries.
McGee's reach is unmatched, even though he has been dead since 1988.
"Thru the Bible" is funded by McGee's followers and listeners, who have donated everything from dollar bills to multimillion-dollar inheritances to keep his legacy alive, according to officials at the program's Pasadena, Calif., headquarters.
What Matsimbe actually hears most nights is a Mozambican preacher who has translated McGee's sermons into local African dialects. It is the only program on the shortwave dial in the Xitshwa language and the only one Matsimbe listens to.
He sat rapt, nodding, listening to the preacher's words about Saint Paul, which stressed the importance of living by Christian values every day, not just at Sunday services. "It makes me feel good," Matsimbe said. "I liked it when Paul was talking about being a servant of Jesus. I want to be like Paul myself."
Matsimbe was born Catholic but converted to the Methodist Church as an adult, partly, he said, because of the influence of Christian radio. He now walks an hour to attend church in Homoine each Sunday. He feels that the nightly radio broadcasts "complete" the pastor's Sunday sermons.
"It explains things well," he said, holding his young granddaughter in his lap. "It gives us more than the Bible. It talks about how to live. It adds to what we are taught by our parents and our pastors. I learn about forgiveness. It teaches us to live better."
Matsimbe said the radio program has helped him raise children and settle disputes with neighbors. That kind of help is hard to come by in the woods of Mozambique, he said.
In the glow of brilliant sparkling starlight, Matsimbe said the messages beamed in on the radio have made him a more faithful Christian and a more regular churchgoer. As he looked off into darkness, broken only by the dim light of cooking fires here and there, many of his neighbors were also gathered around their radios out there in the African night, listening.
07 ottobre 2007
Svago in Mozambico
Il corrispondente del Washington Post Kevin Sullivan ha raggiunto Homoine, in Mozambico, dove ha incontrato una situazione che gli ha ispirato un interessante pezzo sulle emittenti religiose in onde corte. La storia di Jaime Jeremias Matsimbe, con la sua radio a manovella sintonizzata dal lunedì al venerdì alle 16.00 utc sui 3.200 kHz di Trans World Radio (questo il giornalista non lo dice ma è facile ricavarlo dalle schedules di TWR, l'unica a trasmettere in Xitshwa, la lingua citata nell'articolo) la dice lunga sull'importanza di un mezzo di comunicazione ritenuto dai più (i più ricchi, in genere) obsoleto.
Non riporto qui l'intero articolo, perché dovete assolutamente andare sul sito del quotidiano per godervi il breve filmato con Matsimbe con la sua radiolona.