Isaiah Duong boots up the com-puter in his home-based radio studio and prepares to send the sermon he recorded the day before to Adventist World Radio’s (AWR) transmitter site inGuam. Using shortwave radio technology, Duong knows his message will be broadcast to a potential listening audience of at least 1 million listeners in the country of Vietnam. He adds prerecorded children’s stories and health talks, all spoken in the Vietnamese language and developed by members of the three area churches he pastors—when he’s not busy with his responsibilities as a producer/director for AWR. Duong is now satisfied he has enough material to fill today’s two-hour broad-casting time slot.
TEACHING THE CHILDREN: A young child in Uganda
listens to a children’s story on an AWR digital
“I write, translate, edit, preach, answer mail, and deal with the technical aspects of producing the program,” explains Duong, who has served as an AWR producer for more than 12 years. “I also prepare Bible studies and do the follow-up for those taking the studies so they can be nur-tured in the faith.”
Two women working part-time for a small stipend, several church member volunteers, and Duong’s wife and two children assist him with the program productions. All of them, Duong says, are committed to sharing the gospel message.
“Whatever we do here we do for God,” he explains. “One way or the other, somewhere out there, I believe the Lord will use us to reach someone for Him.”
With its mission of communicating the gospel message, particularly in the world’s hardest-to-reach territories, Adventist World Radio serves as a vital arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Political restrictions on religion as well as cultural and geographical barriers to Christianity can be surmounted in many world regions only through the use of radio. In countries where evangelists are not allowed to preach, pastors are forbidden to lead Christian congregations, and individuals risk imprisonment and worse for telling a neighbor about the love of Jesus, the AWR programs speak the message of hope and comfort to millions of listeners who otherwise may never hear the name of Jesus.
“People listen to our broadcasts in the most unlikely circumstances,” says AWR president Benjamin D. Schoun. “They take determined stands for their new beliefs in the direct face of serious personal danger.”
Although AWR also uses AM/FM, satellite, and Internet broadcasts, its communication medium of choice is shortwave. Thought by some to be rather archaic, shortwave actually outshines other forms of radio broadcasting in its far-reaching abilities and economical advantages. Signals from high-powered shortwave transmitters bounce off the ionosphere several hundred miles above the earth’s surface, enabling them to travel thousands of miles. Governments in Communist and totalitarian regimes find it more difficult to control or ban international newscasts or religious programming broadcast via shortwave. It is also cheaper than most other methods of radio communication.
AWR leaders estimate their transmission capability covers about 80 percent of the world. Shortwave programs are currently produced in 75 studios and relayed in nearly 70 languages from eight shortwave stations for a total of more than 75 hours each day. With the additional local radio (FM/AM) and Internet broadcasts, thousands of hours of programming are going out on the airwaves daily.
“More than 1.5 billion shortwave radios are in use around the world,” Schoun notes.
The radio ministry chooses producers from the same language and cultural group as the target audience to minimize the ambiguities often caused when translating from one language to another, and to ensure the messages are relevant to local listeners.
Designed specifically for non-Christians, AWR uses a magazine format in its programs that includes Bible lessons, interviews, children’s stories, health talks, discussions on family matters, and musical presentations.
Schoun says AWR listeners send more than 100,000 letters, phone calls, and e-mails each year, but “we know there are many more listeners than the number we actually hear from,” he explains. “Many people are prevented from contacting us because of security issues, illiteracy, poverty, and lack of mail service in some areas.”
He adds, “Tens of thousands of people around the world have accepted Jesus as their Savior as a result of AWR’s programs.”
Vietnam AWR producer/director Duong, whose studio is located outside of Vietnam, says reaching people with the gospel in some areas of that country is difficult because of tight government regulations and controls. In spite of these challenges, he says his programs are dramatically affecting people’s lives there.
VIETNAM: More than 85 million people live in the southeast Asian country of Vietnam.“Hundreds of small groups are springing up everywhere in Vietnam as a result of our radio programs and our materials,” he says. “For many, the radio program is almost like their pastor.”
Duong tells the story of a man who lost all his wealth in one day because of a financial collapse in commodities. The man was planning to commit suicide, but he happened to listen to an AWR radio program that changed his life.
“After the program ended, the man kneeled down and prayed; he gave his life to Jesus,” Duong explains. “He then had his family—his wife, his children—listen to our programs, and they all became believers.”
Duong recently met the daughter of this man, who told him she and her family are now studying the Bible with others.
“There are many people like that,” Duong asserts.
Philosophical about his work, Duong says, “I have a lot of challenges because I’m doing what I’m doing. Even my own life has been threatened…. But with every radio program I prepare, I trust in God. [The challenges] keep my faith strong and help me grow deeper in Christ.”
A constant fear of government officials disrupting radio production and forcing them to move their studio once again no longer confronts AWR/Nepal producers Naseeb and Rama Basnet. Many positive changes, they say, have occurred in the region since they first began working there for the radio ministry.
PREACHING THE GOSPEL: Naseeb Basnet, who
along with his wife, Rama, is an AWR producer
in Nepal, works out of a rented four-room studio.
“We were recording only health topics [in 1995], but somebody reported us to the government—that we were producing religious programs also,” Naseeb says. “We quickly moved [to a different location] … and started producing the programs in secret.”
“We never showed our studio to anyone, even to our believers, for many years,” he adds. “We never gave our names while producing the programs. We were not allowed to talk about the Bible openly. But now things are totally changed, and we are very grateful to God for this provision.”
Today, the Basnets and their program technician, a Hindu, work out of a rented studio in Kathmandu Valley to broadcast Christian programs to millions of listeners in Nepal, India, and Saudia Arabia. They also spend many hours each week preparing Bible studies.
“It is such a blessed experience to [reach] the people living in a very dark corner—a very remote part—of Nepal, and know their lives are being changed because of our programs,” Rama notes.
Twenty-two-year-old Ramesh Dhakal, who is serving a life sentence in a Bangkok, Thailand, prison, says the AWR programs have transformed his life. “Jesus saw my helpless and hopeless state, and He sent me to this jail,” Dhakal wrote to the Basnets. “I may die in jail, but my soul is totally at peace with Jesus, who has been my constant Friend in this dark cell.”
Sergey Kuzmin has served for two years as speaker/director for the Voice of Hope Media Center in Tula, Russia—a city of approximately 600,000 residents located about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Moscow. Although winters there aren’t quite as harsh as those in Siberia, Kuzmin says temperatures of minus 10 to minus 15 degrees Celsius (14 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) are not uncommon.
Before coming to the media center, Kuzmin served as pastor of the Kaliningrad Adventist church in the Baltic Sea region for five years. While there he ran a religious radio program for a local station.
“It was my first experience with radio,” Kuzmin says, “and I was impressed by [that type of ministry] because of the great amount of feedback and the opportunity to spread Christian issues among a large number of people.”
STUDIO IN RUSSIA: The Voice of Hope Media Center in Tula, Russia.Built in 1990, the Adventist media center in Tula is well-equipped and run by three full-time workers as well as several part-time workers and volunteers. The team broadcasts nearly 90 hours of AWR programs each month, covering all of Russia. The center also operates a Bible correspondence school.
“It’s not easy to work among pro-Orthodox people,” Kuzmin notes. “We try to present Christian topics that are common to all of us, and we invite the audience to study the Bible through our correspondence courses. We have about 1,200 new students each year.”
Kuzmin emphasizes the role and the commitment of the 20 media center staff.
“Our technical staff, for example—because of their skills and experience they could get good jobs in Moscow or Tula, and get paid much more money than they do here,” Kuzmin says. “But they have decided to spread the gospel, and they estimate their work as a great blessing to them.”
In spite of plaguing financial challenges—once to the point of having to temporarily shut down—and an insufficient supply of follow-up literature materials, the AWR studio in Ethiopia’s capital,Addis Ababa, is continuing to reach thousands of listeners with the message of Jesus. Housed at the Ethiopia Union Mission (EUM) headquarters, this modern, well-equipped facility daily produces two-and-a-half hours of family life and religious programming in four Ethiopian languages. The programs are dispatched to the transmitters AWR uses in Germany and Austria, where technicians beam them to eastern Africa as well as regions of the Middle East. In the countries of Eritrea and Djibouti the Adventist Church is not allowed to conduct public meetings or worship services, but the four AWR programs broadcast there each day have resulted in a number of listeners and even listener clubs.
“The radio programs touch people’s lives,” says AWR/Ethiopia studio director and EUM communication director Bikila Merga. “As you put pieces together that would lead to the climax of a produced program, somehow you feel that someone somewhere is being affected by what you are doing—and that keeps you going.”
Ethiopia covers an area of more than 1 million square kilometers and is home to more than 70 nationalities. About 80 percent of the country’s 76 million residents support themselves by tilling the soil.
Merga, a former teacher, says he and his production team of four program producers, three technicians, and more than 20 volunteers who serve as presenters, singers, and preachers, strive to “reach people where they are, especially those who could not be reached by any other means with the message of hope.”
Listeners send hundreds of letters to the studio every month, Merga notes. “Just this week,” he told Adventist World, “I received an e-mail from a listener—a physician—who happens to be a Muslim. The person is impressed by our message and wants to know more about what we believe.”
Merga suggests the most astounding result of the AWR broadcasts was an entire church congregation of another religious denomination joining the Adventist Church en masse.
“That group of AWR listeners challenged their church pastor, asking him why they worship on Sundays instead of Saturdays,” he says. “Because their leader could not give them enough [of an] answer, they started looking for an Adventist church in the area.”
NEPAL: Hindus make up about 80 percent of the population of Nepal, until recently the only official Hindu state in the world.No Adventist church existed in that region, so the group finally sent delegates to the AWR studio inAddis Ababa to find answers to their questions. An Adventist church of some 300 members, including the pastor of the other church, was eventually launched in what was previously termed an unentered area.
“More than 10 Adventist churches have been established in Ethiopia through the ministry of AWR,” Merga says, “all located in unentered areas where past attempts to enter the territories have always been thwarted by many challenges.”
He adds, “Through this [radio] ministry the church has managed to reach—in less than 10 years—[areas] it had not been able to reach in over 100 years…. We thank the Lord, the Owner of the work.”
Adventist World Radio operates regional offices inAfrica, Asia, and Europe. Its headquarters in theUnited States also partners with the Adventist Media Center in Brazil to offer broadcasts in the Americas.
Not all regional producers are AWR staff; some are employed by the local union or division. Most studios are very functional and well equipped, but a producer can record a program using only a laptop and a microphone.
The organization has recently begun branching out with the use of podcasts—currently available in 10 languages, including French, Italian, Kiswahili, and Amharic—and digital audio players called MegaVoice Ambassadors. The players include a speaker and a solar panel with rechargeable batteries and can hold up to 160 hours of content. AWR is distributing them inNorth Africa and South Sudan, and the devices are particularly useful for people who are illiterate.
AWR’s US$7.5 million annual budget is funded partially by General Conference appropriations, which cover about 24 percent of its total costs. The church’s worldwide offering supplies another 17 percent. Listeners and other supporters contribute the remaining 59 percent. A professional auditing service audits AWR annually.
“We are seldom without challenges,” Schoun says. “Costs continue to rise and anticonversion sentiments and laws are increasing. Social unrest interferes with smooth operations. But we continue to move toward the center of the chaos, and behold—miracles happen.”
He adds, “We are getting inside homes and inside hearts; thousands and thousands of people listen to our broadcasts. Best of all, they are accepting Jesus as their Savior. That’s what AWR is all about.”
To find out more about AWR or to make a financial contribution, go to www.awr.org.
—Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist World.