Over fifty years ago, on 18 January 1954, Africa’s first Christian radio station went on the air in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Its name was Radio ELWA – ‘Eternal love winning Africa’.
Over several days in January 2004 hundreds of people in Liberia and the USA held simultaneous celebrations marking the 50th anniversary and reflecting on all that God has done through this radio station.
Two of the original founders of Radio ELWA were present at the US gathering, along with many missionaries and Liberians who had served at ELWA.
Beginning with transmissions that reached only the capital city, ELWA’s outreach eventually extended to most of West Africa, parts of North and Central Africa and, for a while even the Middle East and Brazil.
Ministries local to the radio station grew to include the ELWA Hospital and Clinic (1965) and ELWA Academy (1957) – responsible for educating the children of missionaries and Liberian staff.
Also, in the 1970s, SIM started to plant churches in some of the areas where Radio ELWA was broadcasting. These churches are now grouped together in an association that is called the Evangelical Church Union of Liberia (ECUL).
During the past 25 years, four outbreaks of civil war have repeatedly destroyed the ELWA facilities and forced several evacuations of SIM workers. After these evacuations, and with few SIM missionaries assigned to Liberia since 1996, dedicated Liberians took charge of the ELWA ministries with the full agreement of SIM.
These kept the various ministries alive throughout the 2003 violence, as well as resurrecting the ruined radio and medical complex after the fighting.
During the worst conflict, ELWA became a refuge for thousands of people. It also provided the only national radio coverage with its low-power shortwave transmitter, originally provided by HCJB (‘Heralding Christ Jesus’ blessings’). The hospital and clinic remained in operation and the academy is now open again.
The long-running civil war is said to have claimed some 200,000 lives. It certainly disrupted everything for most of the remaining four million citizens of Liberia. However, a new wave of optimism is now sweeping the country. Half a million Liberian refugees living outside the borders of their homeland are giving serious thought to returning.
While a significant number of the original 100 congregations in the ECUL no longer meet due to displacement of pastors and members, seven new congregations have been formed among displaced people within Liberia, and four in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
As peace is re-established, the people of God have been rebuilding their lives and churches and seeking to bring healing to the many traumatised by the violence.
Women and children who took up assault rifles to become combatants are in need of psychological and spiritual restoration. Many families have been torn apart.
The ECUL has sent two of its own missionaries to train church leaders in a district northwest of Monrovia. An SIM missionary from Korea has developed a curriculum for training pastors throughout the country. Leaders of ECUL are eager for Christians from other countries to come and work alongside Liberians to rebuild their nation and its churches.