“FM is the Facebook for rural folk,” says Catherine Nyameino, communication director of the East Kenya Union Conference. “If it’s not on, they’re not alive.”
A few short hours after driving away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi and into Kitui County, one can see why. The paved highway gives way to jarring dirt tracks. Crude roadside tables display small piles of forlorn produce. Yellow plastic jerry cans—used for hauling precious water—are everywhere, carried by donkeys, emaciated cows, youngsters pushing loaded bicycles, and many, many women … some of whom carefully balance the heavy containers on their heads.
Here, people’s entire lives are spent within a very small radius. They will likely never have electricity, TV, or the Internet, so radio is a lifeline. It delivers news from near and far, provides entertainment, creates community … and is the sole source of the gospel for hundreds of thousands of listeners.
AWR affiliate Wikwatyo FM 105.3, based in the small city of Kitui, is blanketing central Kenya with the vital message of God’s saving love. Listeners here take their radio seriously: they listen intently, often make notes on the programs, and frequently call the station to question doctrinal points. They also take their religion very seriously, and are committed to sharing their newfound beliefs.
In the market town of Kengo, Francis Mutunga Mbiti is one such listener. He says, “I heard the word of God through Wikwatyo FM. That word touched me, and I saw something that was lacking in my life. That missing point was the Sabbath, the true day of worship, the Sabbath of the Lord. I took my time to learn and pray about what I heard. Finally, I decided to follow the Sabbath as it is in the Bible.”
Francis’ wife, Angeline, was a bit slower to commit to the new beliefs. “At first I was not very interested,” she says, “but later we started reading the Bible together, and I listened to what my husband was hearing on the radio. That way I became convinced about the true Sabbath. From that time, we began resting on the seventh day, so that we could show others the way.”
Francis felt an obligation to share what he had learned, so he began talking to his neighbors. But he was constantly thinking, “If I tell them and they believe the truth, where shall I take them? Who will take care of us?” There was no Seventhday Adventist church for miles around, and Francis and Angeline had been worshipping with their four children under a tree.
They decided, “God has blessed us with a lot of things, so we want to build a house of God.” They began setting aside a portion of their modest income, until they had saved enough to buy several iron sheets for a roof. Some elders who had heard the gospel message and were interested in it provided sticks and helped build a small structure out of mud bricks.
The next thing they needed was a preacher. Francis recalls, “I said, ‘If there will be no pastor to come over and preach to us, I will take the chance and do the preaching.’ So now I am the one preaching. Through God’s grace, I can testify that many people have joined us.”
Barely a year after Francis and Angeline began worshipping under a tree, 10 people were baptized.
Angeline says, “I want to thank God, because this structure has helped many people who listen to the word of God to come in and worship with us. We are very happy for what God has done through us.”
“That is how it works in this part of the country,” Nyameino says. “What pastor is going to want to bring his family out here to live in such a hard place? How can people out here get Sabbath school quarterlies or other material? Only a few people are literate, so they read and try to share with others.”
Francis says simply, “I only want to witness what I have heard.”
Adventist World Radio produces programs in more than 100 languages and broadcasts them around the world through shortwave, AM/FM, and podcasts. Visit awr.org to listen online and share with your community.
Shelley Nolan Freesland is Adventist World Radio Communication director at the General Conference world headquarters.