This is an article from the November-December 2000 issue: Crossing Boundaries

Words of Hope

Words of Hope

Missionary radio fosters church planting worldwide.

Pastor Ivan Zachariev stood silent. He had just been asked by George Cooper, director of Central-East European Ministries for Trans World Radio (TWR), if there had been any additional letter responses from listeners to the Balkan Romani broadcast to the Gypsies of Bulgaria. Pastor Ivan co-produces the program--a translation and adaptation from Words of Hope, a Christian broadcast ministry headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Immediately after TWR began airing the broadcast on October 28, 1996, a few letters were received from Gypsies. Mr. Cooper and Pastor Ivan were now meeting seven months later at the studio in Sofia, Bulgaria, where the program is prepared.

Knowing that letters from listeners usually indicate that the program is reaching the intended audience, Pastor Ivan looked down and apologetically said, "No. No more letters."

However, after a brief moment, he looked up and, with a smile beaming across his face, told Mr. Cooper, "But we have started two new churches as a result of the program!"

The two men rejoiced and thanked the Lord for how He was mightily working among a people who are often ostracized, abandoned, and the targets of fiery hatred.

Today, three years later, seven churches--each numbering at least 20 members--have been planted among the Gypsies of Bulgaria as they have heard impassioned messages of God's love, hope, and acceptance in their native tongue--by radio. "The Lord is working very strongly through these radio programs," Ivan said recently.

Reared in Bulgaria, in a family of alcoholics, Ivan's dependence on liquor was so great he couldn't sleep without it. In 1989, a Baptist missionary told Ivan about the One who gives true rest. Eight months later, Ivan became a Christian, and the transformation began. He gradually gained victory over alcohol, and estranged relationships with his family and neighbors were restored. Within a year of accepting Christ, Ivan began to preach. The man who once mistreated others is now an ordained pastor. His ministry involves producing programs for and planting churches among a group despised and shunned by much of society: the Roma people, his people.

Balkan Romani, a language targeted by the World By Radio coalition (see article, p. 18) for which Trans World Radio has stewardship, is spoken by more than 1.5 million Gypsies in Bulgaria and in the territory of the former republic of Yugoslavia and its neighboring countries.

Ivan pastors three of the seven churches formed as a direct result of TWR's broadcasts, but he has recently trained a young worker to assist him in proclaiming and teaching the Word of God. A fourth church is pastored by a local brother whom Ivan and his wife also equipped. Another is led by Nachko Zaikov, the other Gypsy program producer. Ivan is currently visiting a sixth congregation and working with local people in their spiritual growth and preparing them to become a registered church. The seventh and newest is comprised of a group of Gypsies who listen together to the radio broadcasts and are now holding weekly Bible studies. Soon they, too, will form an official church.

Fifteen-minute programs are aired daily, except Saturday, via a 1-million-watt AM transmitter in Grigoriopol (Moldova). The format varies, but programs feature Gypsy music, personal testimonies, biblical teaching, stories for children, and New Testament readings. Words of Hope, one of the World By Radio partners, supplies the material and airtime for the broadcasts. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship funds the pastors, and Trans World Radio and Studio 865, TWR's Bulgarian national partner, provide the training, technical needs, program production and studio time.

How are these churches planted? The pattern is similar, with listeners gathering to hear the broadcasts, followed up by personal visits, and finally with discipleship-oriented studies leading to the formation of a church. But one in particular began after a letter was received from a young girl who was listening to the broadcast with her sister. She wrote and said that she wanted to know more about Jesus. After one week, Pastor Ivan's wife visited the village, met the girl, and spoke with her family. Yes, they all wanted to know about Christ.

When Ivan's wife asked if she and her husband could come each week to teach them, again they answered, "Yes." The girl who wrote the initial letter is now producing a program for children in the Balkan Romani language. And not only did a church start in this village, but there are now two other churches in the region. One was started by a family who moved there from the first village and introduced its people to the radio programs--and then to the Lord.

Why Are Churches Filled to Overflowing Throughout Africa?

As with the other World By Radio broadcasters, Trans World Radio's chief priority is not church planting, but its 1,500 hours of weekly programming in over 155 languages are advancing the Kingdom of God by pioneering new Bible-believing churches on nearly every continent, particularly in areas where it is difficult for missionaries to serve.

Africa is another region where the Words of Hope broadcasts are playing a strategic role in dramatically influencing the number of new congregations being started--especially in Mozambique. A 17-year civil war spanning much of the 1970s and 1980s devastated the country, killing thousands and displacing between one and two million of its citizens. With guerilla warfare, drought, and food shortages (and most recently, raging floods) ravaging this impoverished nation, how is it possible that every Sunday morning churches are filled to overflowing and often unable to seat all those wanting to attend the services?

God's ways are unlimited. without a consistent evangelical witness within their country, many Mozambicans have been introduced to the Gospel through programs transmitted each week in six languages from TWR's station in Swaziland. On-site visits by TWR missionaries and Christian broadcasters such as Lee DeYoung, vice president of broadcasting ministries for Words of Hope, documented that more than 300 new churches have been planted, largely among the Lomwe, but also among the Makhuwa since broadcasts began in 1989. More than 1.4 million people, predominantly living in the northern sector, speak the Lomwe language. The Makhuwa people are considered to be the largest animistic unreached group in Africa, numbering over five million people.

"A journey I made to Mozambique clearly confirmed the dramatic reports we had been hearing about: the remarkable people movement to Christ among the Lomwe," reports Mr. DeYoung. "People in all walks of life, from all strata of society, make a special point to tune in to these broadcasts, which are the only broadcasts of any kind in their language."

One person recently wrote: "I am a listener of the Weherya Mwa Yesu (Words of Hope) program over Trans World Radio. During the war in our country, many of us were forced to flee our homes with next to nothing. We are now rejoicing for living in peace as many of us can now freely gather and listen to God's Word. In fact, a church called 'Nahume' was started by people who were converted through listening to your program. Our prayer is that God will continue to use you to deliver spiritual food to the hundreds of hungry souls in this area."


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