Outside the windows of the small high-rise apartment, the pre-dawn surroundings are pitch black. It’s the middle of winter in northern China and bitterly cold. Miss Zhang* leans into her microphone and welcomes her online listeners to the live Internet worship, called Good Morning, China.
One by one, the names of group participants pop up on the chat screen. Some people are listening on their own, while others are gathered in small groups: families at home, youth groups, or clusters of people in a church. They tune in through their computers or mobile phones every weekday morning.
The program is highly interactive: some listeners queue up to read part of the featured Bible passage, while others submit questions to Pastor Jin* as he presents the spiritual talk of the day.
“We decided that 5 a.m. is the best time to dedicate to God,” Zhang says. “In big cities like this, people’s spirituality goes down, so we want to help people focus on God as they start their day. We have prayer time together and sing-alongs. Sometimes we see whole families together on our screen.”
“I come, see, and am blessed by these young people.”
In the background of the tiny studio, another young woman is rapidly transcribing the program. By midmorning, a complete transcript will be posted online for those who wish to absorb the messages in written form. The audio recording is also repeated, for listeners who can’t quite make the early morning live broadcast. Last but not least, some of the recordings are aired by AWR as shortwave broadcasts, which can be picked up across China, much of Asia, and even further afield.
This scene is currently duplicated in three other cities in China, and it represents a huge breakthrough in church outreach. AWR has broadcast to China through shortwave from the first day our station on Guam went on the air on March 6, 1987. But until very recently, these programs were produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan, where church workers could operate with much more freedom.
“Some restrictions have been partially relaxed in recent years, so we approached AWR about setting up studios within mainland China itself,” says media director John Chen*. “We felt that producers who lived in the same communities as their listeners would be able to relate even better to the daily issues and circumstances faced by listeners there.”
So AWR funded the equipment for four mini studios in 2012, and the new producers began quietly operating out of anonymous apartments in the selected cities.
Going on Faith
“We feel guilty that we can’t do more for our parents.”
This broadcast ministry is largely driven by the keen dedication of very young people. The average age of radio team members here is 28 … in a country where it’s a perceived liability to be still single past the age of 22. They are persevering despite considerable financial and personal sacrifice.
Zhang, for example, is highly trained as a Japanese translator and could easily land a well-paying corporate job. But like her team members, she is living on an income that is 30 to 40 percent lower than the local average. Even these funds are not guaranteed, as the young people are actually working on a self-supporting basis. This includes paying the rent on the apartment where the studio is set up.
“It’s a struggle,” Zhang admits. “We feel guilty that we can’t do more for our parents, who are working hard on farms far away from the city. Also, the reality is that many of us would like to get married, but it’s not really possible at the moment. However, I choose to keep serving here. Radio is a good way to tell people about God.”
Chen regularly visits the teams, to coordinate their work and encourage them. He says, “I come, see, and am blessed by these young people! I really respect them!”
These talented radio workers are using every means possible to share their message of hope and fund their ministry. Periodically, they collect their program transcripts into thick books and announce on social media that they are for sale. They also store their recordings on tiny MP3 players and sell those as well. Not long ago, they conducted a comprehensive audio/video training event, which other young people paid to attend.
“Through this training, young people can find their talents and their dreams,” Zhang says. “One boy was attracted to this work and wanted to join our team, but the pay was too low.”
To appeal to young people who may not be interested in attending a traditional church service, Zhang’s team members use their own money to rent a coffee shop on Saturdays and hold a Sabbath service there. They also fellowship with students at a nearby university and have established a second church there that focuses on young people. The student in charge of it is 20 years old.
Caution and Optimism
Alongside these highly-encouraging reports, however, runs a continuous thread of caution. The degree of freedom varies greatly among the current studio locations. In some places, radio hosts and listeners feel free to use their real names; in other spots, everyone goes by pseudonyms. The size of the online chat groups must be capped in order to avoid undue scrutiny. And the radio topics are carefully selected to focus on God and needs in society, but never politics or end-time issues.
Nevertheless, these modest studios, and the faithful young people behind the microphones and keyboards, are filling a real need in the hearts of listeners. Zhang says, “Up north, people have half a year of winter. It’s very cold, with lots of snow, so it can be difficult for them to get to church. Other members cannot attend because of handicaps or their professions (such as soldiers or police). So even though the Internet is sometimes slow or our transmission is fuzzy, people are hearing the voice of hope through our broadcasts. Praise God!”
by Shelley Nolan Freesland, AWR Communication Director
* Not their real names.
- China is the church’s largest mission field.
- Today, AWR’s Mandarin shortwave programs are broadcast for 10 hours/day from Guam.
- AWR also serves China with programs in Cantonese, Min Nam, Tibetan, and Uighur.
- Mandarin is our #1 podcast language, with 8+ million daily downloads.
in providing 4 new studios for China
- Chinese church leaders would like to duplicate the success of these mainland studios.
- They have selected four new locations deeper within the country and already trained new teams of radio workers.