Liberian radio broadcasts hope

Every day, Edward L. Massaquoi beams the good word into the houses and cars of Liberia.

Massaquoi is station manager for 98.7 ELUM, operated by The United Methodist Church of Liberia. From a small studio housed in the Liberian Conference office, ELUM broadcasts community news, music and inspirational programming.

He said three components the station prioritizes are environment, health and security.

“We have a program every morning where we ask people to tell us about environmental issues they are encountering. We encourage people to keep their streets and areas clean. We talk about not only Christ’s salvation, but also how people can take care of themselves. We talk about the security situation; people call in and say whether there is crime in their area.

“If you can help your brother, tomorrow your neighbor will also help you.”

Community radio is one of the most important information outlets in Africa. It’s still the main way that rural groups get their news and is also helpful among populations with high illiteracy rates. ELUM served a vital role during the country’s 2014-15 Ebola crisis.

“During Ebola, we took the lead in helping people reunite with families and instructing people to take every precautionary measure,” Massaquoi said. “Every morning at 7, I would get on the radio and tell people to wash their hands, not eat bush meat and report anyone exhibiting symptoms to the nearest police station or health facility.”

One morning he was on a team at the United Methodist hospital in Nimba County. That day 99 people died from Ebola. When he got back to Monrovia, he broadcast reports about the cases and told people of the danger that Ebola was posing in Nimba County. Immediately, the government dispatched a team there.

“The church took the lead in the fight,” he said. “We received letters from the World Health Organization and others like Save the Children for our work in educating the community about Ebola.”

The station was established in 2005 — the dream of Bishop John Innis, Liberia’s bishop at the time, to create a radio station as an arm of evangelism.

“We have been able to win a lot of souls to Christ, and people have been happy about the ministry of the radio and the church,” Massaquoi said.

Massaquoi started at ELUM in 2007 as a volunteer worker. He checked equipment in the evenings and took care of any technical issues, even sleeping there. In 2013, he was asked to take over as station manager.

Innis’ dream almost died on June 5, 2014, when lightning destroyed the station’s transmitter, knocking the radio’s broad coverage off the air for almost nine months.

With equipment and fundraising help from United Methodist Communications and the Detroit Conference, the station installed a new transmitter.

“Before the lightning strike, we were covering nine of 15 counties in Liberia, but post-lightning we had to drop our coverage and could only broadcast to Monrovia,” Massaquoi said. “With the expansion, we now cover half the country. We have people calling from Sierra Leone, from the Ivorian border, from Guinea, telling us, ‘We’re happy that the Methodist radio is back.’”

Now that the station is back, Massaquoi hopes for continued growth.

“Right now, our mission is to win more souls for Christ. I was on the radio one Sunday morning and a Muslim man from Nigeria who works for the U.N. heard us. He drove to the station and we talked, and he said he wanted to become a Christian so I gave him copies of our programs to listen to on his way back.”

Recently, Massaquoi has become involved with the United Methodist Radio Network, which launched in 2015 to support and resource existing and aspiring radio ministries.

“We started with four stations, and now we are eight. It’s good as one of the ‘pioneers’ to help with advice and resources for the ones just getting started,” he said. “We explain some of the achievements and some of the strategies we put in place, both in terms of technical issues and programming but also in fundraising and finding sponsors.”

Massaquoi compares the radio network to the overall connection United Methodists share.

“I’m part of a connectional ministry. Once when I went to Abidjan, I don’t know French. But a guy came to me and asked, ‘Methodist?’ I said yes and he said, ‘Come, come,’ and drove me to the guest house and wouldn’t take any money. When we are part of The United Methodist Church, there’s no east, no west, no north, no south. We are all one, part of one big family.”

Butler is a multimedia producer/editor for United Methodist Communications. News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tennessee, 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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