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Radio promotes gospel, preserves culture


Donna Entz’s (left) ministry includes listening to disappearing oral traditions and sharing the gospel story. She works primarily with other women while her husband, Loren, works with village men.

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July 7, 2006
-by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen

Saraba, Burkina Faso — From inside a thatch-and-mud house in a remote village, Nango Ouattara spoke legends into a microphone. Weeks later, her stories captivated hundreds of listeners on The Samogho Program, a weekly radio broadcast that combines traditional lore and music with biblical stories.

The 30-minute program, a fruit of Donna and Loren Entz’s three-decade ministry, celebrates its first year of air time this month.

At home among the Samogho people in this agrarian and predominantly Muslim region in southwestern Burkina Faso, the Entzes (Fiske Mennonite Church, Sask. and Zion Mennonite Church, Kan.) serve with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness. They strive to avoid using the Christian message as a jackhammer that shatters culture and creates a highway for Western ways to overwhelm ancient traditions.

“The custom of storytelling was gradually dying out and the need to preserve stories was becoming a more urgent task with each passing day,” Donna Entz said. “We came to believe that one of our most important contributions was preserving the cultural identity of the Samogho people.”

For the isolated farm family of Minata Traoré, The Samogho Program is such an important event in their week that they wait to eat until after the broadcast so they can listen more attentively.

Another Samogho woman, Jeniba Barro, who lives in the city of Orodara, said, “I wish the program would be longer. It’s always over before I am finished listening.”

Their passion for sharing the gospel in culturally appropriate ways had Donna and Loren Entz bouncing along rutted roads on their motorcycle one March evening on their second trip to record Ouattara’s stories. The preceding week, their visit had become a time for mourning with villagers who had lost 35 children to malnutrition and malaria since the Entz’s last visit a year ago.

According to Donna Entz, local farmers have begun seeding their fields with cash crops rather than traditional grains and legumes making nutritious food scarce and leaving children more vulnerable to diseases. Regardless of nutrition, malaria is a constant threat.

The second visit began with several hours of exchanging greetings and sharing banba (a cake baked in an iron pan over the fire). Then, as the Entzes set up recording equipment in the small thatched-roof house, neighbors squeezed in expectantly waiting for Ouattara to begin recounting traditional fables and stories. Many of them would be hearing the legends that define their heritage for the first time.

“The group had so much fun, thoroughly enjoying each story,” Donna Entz said.

Around midnight, the Entz motorcycle carried two exhausted, but exhilarated, people home with 150 minutes of recorded material for radio programs and archiving.

In the days that followed, the Entzes first put Ouattara’s stories on computer audio files, then burned them to compact discs before their transfer to audio cassettes. During this process, the Entz home filled with passersby drawn in and mesmerized by their own oral traditions.

The confidence developed through long years of living among the Samogho people give the Entzes access to the original material that is handed over to radio program producer Ali Traoré and the Samogho Christians.

Traoré prayerfully chooses recorded stories that complement the week’s Old Testament story and Christian singers add music to further develop the message. Before The Samogho Program is ready to air, Traoré develops a conclusion that brings together the message told through traditional and biblical stories and music.

“We want God to speak in the hearts of people,” Traoré said. “In these programs, I have a sense that I am accomplishing something for every Samogho person.”

Traoré hopes God will use the radio program as a tool for transformation in the lives of others in his ethnic group even as he was changed dramatically from troublemaker to peacemaker through contact with God's word (see accompanying article, Love of words leads to love of the Word.)