From the air, a green jewel floats serenely in the endless blue ocean. Closer up, white and gold beaches slowly rise out of shallow turquoise waters and nestle against mountain peaks blanketed with rustling palm trees. You will need to set foot on land to begin discovering some of the 60 species of orchids hidden among the foliage, not to mention the giant Victoria Amazonica water lilies and prized black ebony trees.
Welcome to Mauritius, where nature’s beauty is nearly blinding and cliché-filled descriptions are almost unavoidable.
Every year, a million tourists find their way to this remote volcanic outcropping, located in the Indian Ocean about 1,500 miles off the coast of mainland Africa. These visitors may spend a week or 10 days sunbathing, snorkeling, cruising on a catamaran, or sampling roti from a food stall in front of their hotel. They’ll return home with blissful memories, a touch of sunburn, and cameras filled with breathtaking images. Perhaps they will daydream about returning one day for another visit … or even retiring in this perceived earthly paradise.
Going Off Track
Like many such destinations, however, the reality of life for local residents – no matter how beautiful the surroundings – can be considerably different from the tourist experience.
“Due to our fast economic development, many problems have arisen,” says Mahen Neeliah, communication and media director of the Mauritius Conference. “Often, these problems revolve around families. Mothers are working and absent from home for more than 12 hours a day, fathers are also coming home late, and children are on their own after school. Without parental supervision, many children go off track. Parents feel they are losing control of their sons and daughters, and we are seeing drug and alcohol problems among secondary school students.”
The small number of Adventists are active in evangelism, but making an impact is difficult, due to the large variety of languages and cultures, not to mention internal pressures within ethnic communities. Approximately half of the population is Hindu; this includes Telugu, Marathi, and Tamil religious communities. A quarter is Roman Catholic, followed by a sizable Muslim presence. Although the different cultures largely exist in harmony, religious divisions are still very strong.
Kids are developing computer literacy at an early age, so we thought why not explore this means of contact.
“In general, the people who primarily attend our evangelistic meetings and join the Seventh-day Adventist Church already are those who already come from a Christian background,” Neeliah says. “We have a difficult time reaching Hindus. In Mauritius, there is this preconceived idea that when a Hindu is being converted, he is becoming a Creole – that is, half and half. The Hindu will start to eat beef – seen as unclean – and this has a negative connotation.”
Another challenging people group is the Chinese community. “They are more of a closed, private circle,” Neeliah says. “We have tried to motivate Chinese Adventists to approach other Chinese, but there are very few such church members, and they have hesitated to venture in this direction.”
In the past couple of years, Adventist leaders started to see a possible solution, and it is putting Mauritius at the forefront of modern evangelism.
Early in 2014, the government launched an ambitious nationwide program called the Mauritius Tablet PC Project. It began with distributing more than 26,000 tablet PCs to all grade 10 educators and students. The tablets contain content in several core subjects – French, English, mathematics, and more – and additional online resources are being developed.
The Adventist church saw the potential for another use: sharing the gospel through online broadcasts. Neeliah says, “In most houses, there is at least one computer, and kids are developing computer literacy at an early age. They come home from school and immediately go on Facebook, so we thought why not explore this means of contact.”
A New Studio Is Born
Neeliah and other leaders began working with AWR to develop plans for a studio at the conference office. In due course, recording equipment was ordered and shipped, and a technical consultant – Martin Sims, of Blue Cow Company – arrived from South Africa to do the installation. “It was a hectic week with Martin,” Neeliah says. “He’s a hard worker who knows his field of expertise. He took care of the minute details of the equipment connections, and took the time needed to make things clear for all of us.”
When the training began, 35 participants of different age groups were registered. They came from 15 churches, as well as from within the conference office, and included a mix of volunteers and pastors. The trainees had the benefit of hearing from experts in the field: Sims clearly explained the functions of every piece of equipment; Marc Etive, director of the Bible Society of Mauritius, led a session on spoken Creole according to the Mauritian Creole New Testament; and journalist Annick Rivet guided participants through the process of making feature segments.
The role of AWR is absolutely central. It’s like air conditioning on a hot day: we have to have it.
At the inauguration of the studio, General Conference vice president Delbert Baker said, “The role of AWR is absolutely central. It’s like air conditioning on a hot day: we have to have it. It’s amazing that in countries where there is no Christian presence, we see that there is a unique ministry by AWR that can’t be matched by anything else.”
We’re All Connected
AWR Mauritius Web Radio is starting small. The team members are producing daily 30-minute programs in Creole, the local language (also known as “broken French”), and Bhojpurri (“broken Hindi”). “Our listeners will be connected for half an hour to the gospel message,” Neeliah says. “We hope to extend gradually, according to listener feedback and availability of volunteers.”
These producers, although very new to radio ministry, are conscious of the need to present programs that are relevant to their target listeners, who in this case are younger than the majority of AWRs usual audiences in other countries. “Very often when kids come home from school, they just watch cartoons,” Neeliah says. “So we will try to address teen issues, children’s issues, and tailor our content to their needs and interests.”
The programs are available through AWRs website, as well as iTunes, so their messages of hope and healing will reach far beyond the shores of this small island to Mauritian listeners and others anywhere in the world. By becoming a part of AWRs extensive collection of podcasts, the producers can also point their listeners to a wider array of listening possibilities. They plan to promote links for French, English, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Mandarin, and more on their website.
In one final example of how interconnected the world is, AWRs global engineer, Daryl Gungadoo, who was the driving force behind creating AWRs podcast system, was himself born in Mauritius. (He now works out of AWRs region office in England.) Today, it is his vision and talents that are making it possible for his countrymen – both at home and abroad – to hear the good news of God’s love in their mother tongues.
“I’ve always had a burden for unreached people groups,” Gungadoo says. “Very often, we assume that if there’s an Adventist presence in a country, it’s no longer a mission field. Over the years, I’ve come to change my perspective on this, especially when seeing the distribution of AWRs current podcast audience. I’m thrilled that AWR considers its online delivery platform as a core element of its ministry.”