"Radio Plants" Reap Global Harvest

by Jon Hirst

For decades, HCJB World Radio (www.hcjb.org) sent shortwave Christian programming around the globe from its facilities high in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. But as the Iron Curtain fell and communication technologies began to change, some wondered what the future would hold for the world's first missionary broadcasting ministry. God had new plans for HCJB World Radio, however-specifically, a groundbreaking outreach called "radio planting" (www.radioplanting.com). Since the early 1990s the mission has worked with local ministries and churches around the world to establish more than 300 mostly-independent radio stations in about 100 countries across Euro-Asia, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, the Asia Pacific region, Latin America, and North America. The results have been phenomenal. And the strategy has become a model for other ministries. "Radio planting is not something we planned and strategized over," said HCJB World Radio President David Johnson. "We were never clever enough to see that we should do that. It was an open door God presented. And He pushed us through it!" As the political landscape changed, governments allowed citizens more religious freedom, said Johnson. Technology changed too, making shortwave radio less prominent. HCJB World Radio's approach to ministry had to change. "But one thing remained the same. People still needed the saving message of the gospel," said Johnson. "The seeds sown through years of shortwave broadcasts bore fruit. Stories began to surface about those who experienced salvation through the broadcasts that had originated from Quito. These believers wanted to participate in the ministry that had led them to faith. They began contacting us and saying, We would like to have our own radio station. Can you help us?'" Stations in Suitcases Up until that time, broadcasting equipment was large, expensive, and cumbersome. Also, no one expected the window for evangelism to remain open for long in the former Soviet Union. In response, staff members at HCJB World Radio's Engineering Center in Elkhart, Ind., developed an FM transmitter large enough to reach an entire city, yet small enough to fit in a suitcase. "We developed a package of smaller, more portable FM systems that can be set up in a few days, and the demand is still keeping us very busy," said Curt Bender, manager of radio planting and development in Elkhart. "As Christian groups take ownership, we're able to work with them to establish radio stations at a level that far exceeds what we could accomplish on our own." U.S. Partners A key element of radio planting involves identifying partners, either radio stations or individuals, primarily in the U.S., that are passionate about using radio to make an impact, and that are willing to provide financial support. Christian radio stations here also can adopt a sister radio plant station elsewhere in the world. "Our listeners had a vision that Christian radio can have an impact on the lives of people they will never see," said Ron Harris, former general manager of KCBI in Dallas and current chairman of the National Religious Broadcasters. "They saw radio as the air force,' preparing the way for the ground troops' to go in and plant churches." Radio planting also works hand-in-hand with another innovative HCJB World Radio program, "Turn the Radios on," where low-income listeners are given solar-powered, fixed-tuned SonSet radios that only pick up the local Christian station. Establishing a Radio Plant HCJB World Radio's approach to radio planting is similar to church planting. Starting a radio plant includes helping develop a leadership team, key infrastructure and a ministry model that ensures long-term sustainability. The mission supplies key radio equipment to launch local stations, along with training in technical and broadcasting areas. It also provides ongoing mentoring and discipleship to partners through a global network of radio plants. "The goal is to produce an independent, dynamic community ministry that is focused on making an impact for Christ," said Johnson. "Radio planting and church planting work in tandem. Many churches are growing because of these new radio ministries. In other cases, churches are being planted as a direct result of the broadcasts." Amazing Results John Brewer, director of HCJB World Radio's Southeast Asia sub-region, said one partner on the island of Sumba, Indonesia, focuses on church planting and has seen amazing results using radio planting and development as part of its strategy. "This partner is an indigenous church-planting organization that reported an average of 30 decisions for Christ per year per church plant, without using radio. But when they combined church planting with radio, the average went up to 200 salvation decisions per year," he said. Many phenomenal stories of radio planting and development have surfaced worldwide. Prostitutes in South Africa, overlooked by local churches, have been reached. Criminals of all ages in Estonia's largest prison are listening to fixed-tuned radios, giving their lives to Christ and being transformed. A witch doctor in Haiti came to Christ, and then led his wife and twelve of his children to Jesus. Outgrowth Ministries Radio plants also are helping train and equip the next generation of believers. In Sumba, the radio-planting partner also reaches out to orphans. Children from the orphanage have started their own radio program, sharing the gospel with other children and training for a future in Christian radio themselves. HCJB World Radio's healthcare ministry, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of delivering healthcare in Ecuador, along with teaching and equipping professionals, is moving strategically with the radio planting and development ministry. Curt Cole, HCJB World Radio's vice president of international ministries, said the mission's radio partners in Indonesia asked for medical relief after the devastating tsunami in December 2004. "Their ministry in that crisis allowed our radio partner to establish stronger ties with the local community," he said. "That experience revealed to us another way to enhance our ministry to others."
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