Crossing Boundaries, Penetrating Barriers
When our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest communicator of all, left glory to enter our world, He fed the hungry, com-forted the bereaved and healed the sick. As scripture puts it, "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14). But radio has no arms to hug people, it can neither deliver loaves and fish nor wipe tears. Is radio as a means of ministry an example of flesh becoming only word? The Apostle John wrote of "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touchedthis we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1). Can a disembodied voice be a totally satisfactory substitute for a real human presence? Not at all.
On the other hand, Jesus knew the physical limitations his incarnation imposed. In John 16:7 he told the disciples, "It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you." Now that the Counselor has come, believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit can serve God and their neighbors around the world. If Jesus were still on this planet, if the Counsellor had not come, would those seeking salvation need to travel to him?
If the only valid model is the physical presence of believers, are there sufficient people to go everywhere to everyone? What about places where indwelt believers cannot readily go? What about those communities who cut themselves off from Christians, even though there is theoretical freedom of religion? Cannot radio play a part alongside personal encounters modelled by our Lord Jesus? If radio is ruled out, what about other formats of the Gospel that come detached from a believertracts, billboards, cassettes, video?
Radio Crosses Barriers of All Kinds
There is plenty of evidence that radio crosses barriers of all kinds. Stories emerge from places where missionaries cannot go, where there is no local church to do evangelism. People separated from Christians by tradition, prejudice or poverty have heard about the Savior. Lives have been touchedas if Jesus Himself had reached out.
Francis is in his mid-twenties now. He was born in Nakuru, Kenya in 1975, one of five children. His mother died when he was seven. After his father remarried, Francis' problems multiplied so much that he fled to Nairobi and joined a gang of street boys who roamed the city at night, smoking "bang" (cigarettes) and stealing.
Francis says, "One night we were warming ourselves by a fire in an alley and listening to a small radio. Somehow, we had the radio tuned to a Christian program and we listened until the end. The following night we listened to the same program again and I decided I wanted to "get saved."
"That night a student from a nearby college came and talked to us about how to become a Christian. I remembered what I had heard on the radio and I told him I wanted to invite Jesus into my heart. Since that night, I have continued to trust the Lord and I have never regretted my decision. Now I am attending a church back in my home town. Whenever I get the chance I talk to street boys who are living the kind of life I used to live."
In Francis' case, radio worked in parallel with personal witness. On the human level there was no joint planning; only the Holy Spirit coordinated these efforts. On occasions radio works to generate a heart hunger for truth and reality. Listeners are offered more personal contact by letter, e-mail, FAX and sometimes by personal visit from radio staff.
Ahmed grew up in an Islamic environment where every contact with Christianity was discouraged. "When I was little," he told a radio team, "I played with our neighbors' children, but my father warned me not to because they were Christians. I wondered whythey were nice and polite and their parents were friendly."
Just into his teens, Ahmed was taken to another country as his family moved with his father's job. Soon he began listening to broadcasts from FEBA Radio and Trans World Radio. He wrote and got into trouble. When his teacher found out, he threatened Ahmed, "Stop writing to these people or I will tell your parents!" Later, as an adult with his own mail box, Ahmed contacted Feba and went as far as visiting their team at one of their bases.
"They welcomed me and spoke about Christ," says Ahmed. "I told them I believed that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, but that I had not given my life to Jesus because I was afraid of the future. They encouraged me not to put off this decision."
Just hours later he heard a radio program which said the same thing and he knew God was speaking to him. Again he visited the Feba team, who explained from the Bible the way of salvation. "We prayed together and I accepted Jesus as the Savior of my life. Joy filled my heart and I returned to my home country a new man."
Now Ahmed lives in spiritual isolationeven his wife opposes him. A radio staff member keeps in touch by letters and phone calls, and the broadcasts are a lifeline. Ahmed is not alone. A BBC World Service audience survey in Yemen showed that up to 400,000 people listened regularly to Christian programs. One of the few workers who know the country intimately speaks of God's wild flowers emerging there. A recent development for many who have come to worship Jesus Christ in isolation from other believers is a regular program called Church in Our Home. The Swedish group, IBRA Radio, pioneered this series in which new believers are taught how to pray, how to worship God in song and how to study the Bibleby means of a dramatized account of the life of a church meeting in a home.
Listeners Come to Faith Without Meeting Another Believer
Sometimes there is no meeting of radio broadcasters and listeners before faith is kindled. Letters are all they have. Rafiq Iqbal learned the Qur'an by heart, becoming an imam. In 1997, he began listening to Christian radio broadcasts into his country. He wrote several times and completed some correspondence courses. Rafiq came to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the only Savior. He had found and began to follow "The Way."
Opposition grew when his mother fell ill just as he began along The Way. Neighbors taunted him with claims that this illness was God's punishment for reading Christian books. The Lord spoke to him in a dream, after he cried out in prayer. His mother recovered, his faith grew firmer and, late in 1999, Iqbal came to a camp with other new believers, seekers and radio staff.
Sometimes few letters get through. Somalia's seven million people live in eight different regions, ruled by clan-based warlords. Years of civil war led to a further two million people leaving for neighboring countries, for safety if not for prosperity. For over 25 years the Gospel has been broadcast in Somali but in the last decade 80 percent of the letter response has come from expatriate Somalis. The coordinator of the broadcasts writes: "Right now we are having a problem receiving letters from listeners. We suspect that many are being intercepted."
It has not been possible for the coordinator to work in Somalia since 1989. Radio production and follow-up take place in another country. Despite the lack of contact with his audience, he knows that Somalis are very media-conscious. Radio has been popular for a long time. Video recorders, the telephone and now the Internet are used for communication and entertainment. Finding an entry point into the lives of people who say "to be Somali is to be Muslim" is the key challenge. Traditionally, oral poetry has been a means of commenting on political life. Now, as Somalis struggle in their hope for peace, radio programs touch on family life, social concerns, development issues, peace-making and human rights. Starting where the listeners are, the programs lead them to the good news in Jesus Christ.
The responsiveness of refugees to Christian radio is illustrated from a story of a Tibetan radio ministry. A daily radio broadcast in Tibetan is heard throughout India, where there are many refugees. Again, most of the letters come from refugee communities, including one monastery where 400 monks were regular listeners. The monthly average response has grown from 35 letters in 1993 to 448 in 1999. The radio production team visits responsive groups, promoting the programs and distributing Bibles, Christian books and comics. And what about Tibet itself?
Access is a challenge, but in the first few years of the broadcasts a team travelled all across the vast plateau, discovering that the radio signal was strong and clear.
There are times when faithfully continuing in daily radio broadcasts despite minimal response from the audience is what the Lord asks of radio people. Others made a strong case that church growth in China's closed days was due in no small part to regular Christian broadcasting by several groups. For years, when a mere trickle of letters came out of China, the Lord Jesus was building his church in an astounding and thrilling way.
Reaching the Illiterate
Radio can reach people who are illiteratebut does it? The challenge here is how to advertise the radio programs among people who cannot read. Often those who have never learned to read are among the poorest segments of society, and they do not use radio much anyway. There are exceptions.
Paul lives in Bangalore, India. He is partially sighted and cannot read or write. He makes a living by selling pencils and erasers in schools. When he does that he also hands out program guides for a short-wave Christian station broadcasting into India. Paul listens to the Telugu language service. "I get spiritual blessings and happiness from listening to the programs. Before I was a Christian I was unhappy," he says. Because he cannot read or write, he visits the office of the radio organization whenever he wants to talk things over with a correspondence counsellor.
As high technology sweeps around the world, more people are becoming functionally illiterate. They can read, but most don't. Radio groups are taking this challenge seriously, as are Bible societies who are investing in the production of audio scriptures. The potential for creative partnerships in this area is huge.
Those Affected by War
In Sri Lanka, the war with Tamil separatists continues in the north and east of this beautiful island. The people are tired of it, lives are lost on both sides, and money is spent on security rather than development. Social evils flourish as traditional values are eroded. Paul Beling is program director of Nawa Udawa, which drew this response from a soldier caught up in the war. "You have guided my growth in Christ and helped me to shape my life. I am a soldier by profession. Does this make me a sinner? How will God accept me? I try to act responsibly even to the enemy. During military operations I try to keep my mind on God, and this gives me peace."
Afghanistan is another example. The extreme measures employed by the Taliban to enforce their brand of Islam have shocked the world. Sorrow is piled on sorrow. A radio series entitled Wounds of War helps families to support children traumatized by war. And this is a society desperate for good news after decades of Muslims killing fellow Muslims until people ask questions about the "brotherhood" of Islam.
For the first time in generations Afghans are seeking for reality outside of Islam. One writes, "When I finally heard your program it was like a ray of hope entering my life for which I had waited for years." Newspaper reports in neighbouring Pakistan in 1998 told of Afghans becoming Christians. While the figures may not have been accurate, they tell people it is possible to be both an Afghan and a Christian.
A Complementary Tool
Radio works best alongside other means of telling out the Gospel. When those other means are difficult or impossible, radio has a vindicated role in touching the lives of people isolated by geographical, religious, political and social barriers.