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In the World's Rural Outposts, A Shortwave Channel to God

Mozambique

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.


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