Christians a powerful force on the air waves

  • 2000-08-03
  • Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - Estonia may be one of the tiniest countries on the planet, but through the vast frequencies of radio, the range of its voice is practically limitless.

Pastor Endel Meiusi, who escaped the Soviets, could hardly imagine a more effective tool for his life's work in Estonian Christian Ministries, an organization he founded in the'80s in Denver, Colorado, to reach other refugees. He returned to minister in his native land several times in the years leading up to independence. When the government began granting radio frequencies in 1992, Meiusi says he was one of the first applicants in line for a broadcast license.

He called the new mission Estonian Family Radio. It debuted a year later with a single FM station, transmitted from a former KGB broadcast tower on the highest point in Tallinn - the steeple of Oleviste Church.

"We started from zero," Meiusi said.

Estonian Family Radio, by way of almost exclusive funding from Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches in the United States, has since added nine more round-the-clock stations throughout the country.

Its most ambitious project yet is now in the works. The ministry will add a 10th station this winter, its first on the AM dial (612 KHz), capable of reaching listeners within a 1,000-mile radius of its base just outside Tartu.

"This AM station is the most powerful Christian radio station in Europe," Meiusi explained excitedly, "and as far as I know, the only AM Christian station in Northern Europe."

Kit Chenault, an Estonian Christian Ministries volunteer who made the trip from Austin, Texas last week to work on the station, estimated that 500 million people, nearly one-twelfth of the world's population, will be able to tune in.

Since the beginning of July, more than 60 volunteers have arrived from the United States to help with the project. About 50 more Americans are expected to travel to Estonia throughout the summer at their own expense to donate their services, Meiusi said. Some are engineers who are completing the final stages of the enormous 240 meter-tall transmitter tower, while others spend their vacation time painting, cleaning and doing plumbing and electrical work at the station. It is a far larger and more complex undertaking than it seems, Meiusi said, and it may not make it on the air by the Christmas Eve target date. But they are determined.

The non-stop, mostly automated programming will be similar to that of the network's other stations, entirely Christian in content, half spoken-word and half music. However, the AM station's programs will be broadcast in Russian and other European languages in addition to Estonian and English. The stations employ about 30 local Estonians and Russians full-time.

Meiusi calls the radio ministry a "service by [Christian] believers to help Estonia." He explained that the content is primarily to spread biblical messages, but also to help raise awareness about ethical issues.

"We would like to help bring the moral standards up," he said.

The broadcasts feature regular discussions on difficult sociological topics such as alcoholism, prostitution and child pornography, as well as testimonials and programs hosted by Christian doctors and psychologists. Special programs and music hours are geared specifically toward children, families and young adult audiences.

Current events are also the agenda. Meiusi explained that one recent show examined the privatization of Eesti Energia by U.S. company NRG Energy. The station presents both sides of the issue, but chooses not to take a political stance, except on communism, which it resolutely condemns, he said.

"The station is set up to target people who wouldn't normally go to church. They are people who are tired of the sameness on the radio," Meiuse said. "They flip the dial and find something different and refreshing and can answer some questions they might have.

"We have churches reporting all over the country that there have been many new members as a result (of the radio programs.)"

The Christian air waves have not been limited to those sitting at home in their living rooms, however. One of the largest audiences the stations have found is in Estonia's prisons, he said.