There is a story told frequently throughout the Pacific islands. When Christian missionaries arrived from Europe in the last century, they found local inhabitants wearing little clothing. Shocked by what they saw, the Europeans set about teaching modesty.

So successful were the missionaries that, even today, it is not uncommon to see island men garbed in woolen jackets and neckties despite the tropical heat, or families swimming in the sea while fully clothed. Nowadays, it is devout locals who are scandalized when their beautiful beaches are filled with bikini-clad tourists from overseas.

Cultural sensitivity and recognition of local conditions may not have been big issues for the first missionaries, but they are central themes as today's evangelists begin to use radio broadcasting to further their reach into remote areas.

Winston Halapua, a lecturer at Saint John's College in Auckland, New Zealand, says Christian broadcasters should be aware that Pacific island cultures are communal rather than individualistic.

Halapua, a native of Tonga, joined the faculty of Saint John's last year to "add a Pacific dimension" to training at the Anglican theological school.

"We are talking about an all-embracing God," says Halapua. "We are trying to get away from how the missionaries introduced Christianity, dividing families and putting boundaries."

Christian stations should not impose Western-style radio programs, agrees Graham Carter, managing director of Pacific Partners, which operates 93FM in Tonga—one of ten Christian stations throughout the Pacific.

"In Tonga a lot of people regard [Westerners] as more favored of God, because we have more of this world's material goods," he says. "If we teach in terms of the jumbo jet, we only reinforce ...

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November 17, 1997

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