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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Radio: Speaking to the World

By David Lee
Feb. 7, 2010

Soon after my wife, Jimmie Ruth, and I began our first missionary assignment in Medellin, Colombia, in the late 1970s, we found ourselves in a unique situation. A group of people from a small mountain town came seeking help in building a church.

I was amazed as I listened to the story of how our visitors came to know Christ. The Don Roberto Osorio family lived at about 5,000-feet elevation. They made their living raising cows and making cheese from the milk. For entertainment, they bought a short-wave radio and started listening to gospel stations in Quito, Ecuador, and Los Angeles, California. Don Roberto and his wife accepted Christ and started leading their children to the Lord. That was no small task, because they had 23 children!

The family had never been to church, so they started collecting money for a building. They met David Brauchler, an Assemblies of God missionary, and he agreed to preach for them. About six years later, Jimmie Ruth and I also got involved. Eventually, a church was built, followed by a youth camp. Today, hundreds of young people come to camp every summer. All of this started with a radio program.

Many Americans generally prefer to watch television rather than listen to the radio. But in much of the world, this option isn’t available. Where people have greater access to radio, this medium is a powerful and effective means to reach the lost. In most of the world, it is still the number one source of information.

Laying groundwork
Radio ministry can be compared to a nation's air force in two important ways: It is the first to arrive, and it prepares an area for future action. In many countries, radio programs let people know who we are before we knock on their door.

Radio also serves as a point of identity for the national church. For many years, the Revivaltime radio program was almost synonymous with the Assemblies of God. In the 1950s, people could listen to the English broadcast as far away as Tanzania. This powerful tool laid the groundwork for missionaries yet to come.

While in Colombia, I set up a small studio in my house and prepared a daily radio broadcast. Those programs affected our work in incredible ways. An outreach might typically draw about 200 people, but once they realized it was connected to the radio program the crowd quickly grew to several thousand. Radio opened the door. In Medellin, we helped build six new churches. Part of that work was prompted by the radio ministry. Radio can be a front-line ministry that prepares the way for missionaries and national believers to reach places that might otherwise remain closed.

Hermano Pablo
Missionary Paul Finkenbinder, inter­na­tion­ally known as Hermano Pablo, began producing gospel radio broadcasts from his garage in San Salvador, El Salvador, in the mid-1950s. As he was recording his first program, he realized listeners couldn't write the name Finkenbinder, so he told them to write to Hermano Pablo (Brother Paul). He never imagined that one day this nickname would become a household word across the Hispanic world.

When Paul first mentioned the idea of a radio ministry to a colleague, he was told, "Forget it, Paul. You don't have the proper voice for radio." However, the
daily program soon became the most popular broadcast in Latin America. Later, listeners said, "He is an example of a non-Hispanic person speaking the language better than we do!"

Paul's longing was that, "My daily Spanish radio program will be aired on a hundred radio stations, and that my voice will always make people think of God." Over the years God answered that prayer.

Since 1995, missionary Charles Ray Stewart, known on the radio as Carlos Rey, has carried on the work Paul started. The program since 1964, A Message to the Conscience, has been transmitted 5,400 times in 32 countries. Spanish speakers living in Europe and other areas regularly ask for the program. In addition, some 40,000 people download the 4-minute message via their computers every day.

Think a Minute
After nine years of training pastors and leaders in the Asia Pacific region, mission­aries Jhan and Iris Hurst founded the 3-minute radio program Think a Minute. This daily evangelism and teach­ing ministry was first broadcast in the South Pacific islands but now airs daily in 26 nations and 10 languages in Asia, the Pacific, Africa, Europe and South America.

Think a Minute's appeal to listeners is that it deals with personally relevant topics, such as disappointment, fear, forgiveness, love, marriage and stress. But, interwoven with each topic, the message of God's love and the hope found in Christ is effectively presented. While their messages are clearly Christ-centered, the programs are primarily broadcast on leading secular radio stations and, because of the program's public service-style format, they pay no airtime costs anywhere.

The program is translated and adapted by national churches in a variety of ways to reach their cities and nations. They can customize the content to best serve their purpose and local context.

Think a Minute's reach is not limited to radio. It is also a popular daily newspaper column in several nations, and the Assemblies of God of Sri Lanka has put the program as a daily download on the largest cell phone network in the country.

This innovative media outreach inten­tion­­ally penetrates the secular market, pro­claiming the message of Christ where the spiritually lost are listening. With a steadily growing audience, the truths of God's Word are being taught daily to multitudes of nonbelievers that are otherwise untouched by the church.

Lindin Radio
In many cities around the world, one of the only ways to get the gospel message inside homes is through radio. Gospel radio programs can travel to areas where missionaries are not allowed or have no access.

Two years after their arrival in Iceland, mis­sion­aries Mike and Sheila Fitzgerald felt God leading them to start a radio ministry. Over the years the ministry, known as Lindin Radio, has grown in both quality and scope. It now features three prayer times each day, along with other Bible-based programming, and covers about 90 percent of the island, 24 hours a day. As many as 30,000 listeners tune in each day.

Only about 5 percent of Iceland's 300,000 people attend church on Sundays, primarily, Mike says, because of the nation's rugged landscape and remote villages. Instead, believers gather in homes and tune in to Lindin Radio for makeshift services. Although the Fitzgeralds may not be able to visit these villages, they are reaching them over airwaves that carry the good news.

An unexpected result of the radio ministry has been its effect on the church world in Iceland. Mike and Sheila's vision is to effectively minister to the entire body of Christ in Iceland.

Icelandic people and churches are fiercely independent. The island's first settlers left Norway because they did not want to be ruled by a king, and this independent mind-set is ingrained in the culture. Even the fellowship of churches in Iceland has no chairman because its members don't want a single leader. But Lindin Radio has broken down many relational walls that have prevented cooperation and fellowship.

China Radio
Missionary David Plymire, a producer of China Radio, has played a role in the incredible story of AGWM's radio outreach. During the years when China was virtually closed to the outside world, Christian radio announcers would read the Scriptures slowly so that listeners could write each word and create handwritten Bibles.

China Radio began in 1967, with several programmers broadcasting out of South Korea. In 1987, David Plymire begin writing scripts and broadcasting. His program, Little Roadside Stall, is "a program intended to offer soul food," he shares, and is on twice a week. Currently, the station's transmitter, located in Russia, covers at least half of China's population, which is a potential listening audience of 800 million people. However, basing listener statistics on letters received, David says, "There are probably 100,000 listeners at any given time."

He and his wife, Pat, have always had the hope of meeting someone who, having listened to China Radio, would themselves believe and eventually become a preacher of the gospel.

David shares how that hope became a reality:

"After Mr. Lee, a Chinese man, became a Christian, he contacted the China Radio follow-up office for reading material that would help him serve the Lord. One pamphlet he received had Isaiah 6:8 on it. Brother Lee took the words, ‘Here am I, send me,' to be God's call for him to preach. Thus his ministry began. Today he pastors in a small town. Six days a week he works at a construction site; Sunday, he rides his bicycle for half an hour to his church (in the winter it takes an hour)."

Indigenous radio
Radio ministry does more than reach people; it also points them to the local church. As churches acquire stations or broadcast on secular radio, they gain exposure. This gives people the opportunity both to hear the gospel and to come into a body of believers where they can be nurtured.

In one country, national believers manage, support and produce content for their own radio and television station. Their work attracted the attention of a gov­ern­­ment official. He began listening to the programs and eventually left Islam to follow Christ.

The Tanzania AG is currently planning to build five radio stations over the next 10 years. The government has already granted an official permit to begin construction on the first commercial FM radio station. The studio is completed, and work on the 200-foot tower, located on top of a high mountain near Mbeya, is under way.

In Angola, a country of 15 million with 1.5 million AG members, the church body is growing so fast that they don't have enough trained leaders. The Angola AG has decided to provide pastoral training over the radio. Other countries in Africa, including Malawi and Togo, are also providing successful Christian radio programs.

As important as radio ministries are, the message they broadcast is even more crucial. Without solid content, all of the stations and equipment in the world won't do any good. Thankfully, missionaries and national churches in many countries are producing Christ-centered content that effectively reaches people day and night.

While some may think of radio as a tool of the past because of the prominence of tel­e­vision, this medium is - and will continue to be - an extremely powerful and important tool for the gospel. Wherever people are searching for truth, radio is there. It's a voice that reaches around the world, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in places where missionaries' feet may never go.

DAVID LEE is chairman of AG World Missions Media Commission and director of U.S. Relations.

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