Timothy H.B. Stoneman
October 31, 2007
During the second half of the twentieth century, Christianity underwent an epochal transformation from a predominantly Western religion to a world religion largely defined by non-Western adherents in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Broadcast media, spearheaded by American evangelical missionaries, played an important role in the globalization of Christianity. After WWII, conservative Protestant missionaries from the United States established a ``far-flung global network" of radio stations around the world with the avowed purpose of proselytizing the entire globe. In Liberia, American missionaries organized Station ELWA, the first evangelical station in Africa. The medium of radio proved well suited to the ``universal" mission of American evangelicals, particularly after the expansion of worldwide ownership in transistor radios during the 1960s. Yet the success of missionary radio stations such as ELWA rested on an extensive process of translation into local customs and practices. Between 1954 and 1970, ELWA officials and workers constructed transmission platforms, political relations, language services, receiver distribution campaigns, and community networks. These constructs functioned as the crucial grids through which the ``universal" meaning of evangelicalism was produced at the grass-roots level. As the history of ELWA in Liberia makes clear, American evangelical broadcasters acquired converts only by adapting their gospel message to fit particular churches, cultures, and contexts across the globe. Localizing missionary radio required the appropriation of indigenous cultural capital, the transposition of national partners, and the active agency of audiences on the ground.