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Tackling the Largest Mission Field

“I am a faithful listener of your radio programs,” read the letter from China. “Your messages comfort me, and the Bible really purifies my heart. Therefore, my life is happy and meaningful. By your great effort, God’s love is reflected through your messages. Every listener is blessed through the shortwave broadcasts. I am writing on behalf of my family members to give you our warmest regards. May God bless you and Voice of Hope richly.

“We are farmers and live in a remote area of Jiangxi Province. It is very far from town. Shortwave broadcasting is the only way for us to receive news. Although there is a church, it is quite far away from my house. Also, I cannot go regularly because of farming. For this reason, your radio programs are very important for us. We are satisfied because we can hear God’s messages every day in the early morning.”

This letter sums up the rationale for Adventist World Radio’s continued emphasis on shortwave broadcasting as part of its worldwide ministry. There are literally hundreds of millions of people who have never heard of Jesus, have never met an Adventist church member, cannot hear Christian programs on local media, and do not have access to the Internet. But shortwave radio can travel for thousands of miles into their countries, their homes, and their hearts.

This is particularly true in China – the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s biggest mission field, in terms of numbers – where only three to four percent of the vast population of 1.3 billion is Christian. With this ministry challenge in mind, AWR has been airing broadcasts to China from the first day it began operating a shortwave station on the Pacific island of Guam. In fact, one of the prime motivations for building the station in that location was to enable the Church to reach China with the gospel. As with other AWR languages, programs for China are produced by native speakers, who can relate to the same environment and situations as their listeners.

In 2013, AWR completed a major upgrade of the Guam station, enabling it to not only improve service to China but also broadcast more effectively to countries throughout Asia, from North Korea and Vietnam to India and Indonesia. Currently, the station is airing 10 hours of programs for China daily, in addition to more than 30 languages for other countries.

Scheduling the broadcasts to be heard during prime listening periods is somewhat tricky, as China has only one time zone. Normally, a country of its size would have four or five time zones. But in China, people are up and traveling to work in some areas, while in other regions people are still sleeping. However, the large volume of programs produced in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other locations makes it possible for AWR to fill many hours of airtime throughout each day.

 

Filling a Critical Need

“Out of the 400,000 or so Adventist believers in China, approximately half live in the countryside,” says Daniel Jiao, secretary of the Chinese Union Mission. “Shortwave radio is critical for people in those remote areas. Also, what I see is that radio is most important for non-Adventists. Once they find a church, they have a place to worship and likely have a Bible. But our media center in Hong Kong receives letters from people saying how they have listened to our radio programs and begun keeping the Sabbath, without knowing any Adventist church. They are happy that through us they can be introduced to local churches.”

Since shortwave signals can travel over long distances, programs can be transmitted from far away and reach into places that are closed to religious programs in local media. This is certainly the case in China, where all broadcast media are state-owned/affiliated, and a government department lists subjects that are off limits to domestic media.

“Some years ago,” says AWR president Dowell Chow, “the flow of listener mail from China to our media center’s post office box in Hong Kong suddenly stopped. There was no mail coming in whatsoever. Staff had to obtain a new postal box, publicize the new address on the air, and hope that listeners’ letters could once again get through.

“Although churches in China are able to operate with certain expanded freedoms these days, there are still considerable restrictions and monitoring, and both church members and the public must be extremely cautious.”

 

Surge in Online Listening

The advent of online broadcasting – through both on-demand programs and podcasts – has circumvented many of these restrictions and expanded AWR’s audiences by leaps and bounds. In China, about 40 percent of the population – or 540 million people – have Internet access. Mandarin is AWR’s #1 podcast, with more than 1.5 million subscribers at the time of writing … and this number is growing every day. AWR is also serving China with shortwave and online programs in Uighur, Cantonese, Min Nam, and Tibetan. However, both AWR and its producers know there is still so much more that could be done to reach people who may speak one of China’s 298 “living” languages.

Jiao says, “The majority of messages we receive are from Internet listeners. It’s easier for people to contact us through the Internet, and people in cities rarely write letters any more. The advantage of listening online is that people can choose topics of interest from our archived programs and listen whenever they want. This has really expanded the influence of radio.”

So great is the volume of electronic correspondence that the media center employs a full-time “Internet evangelist” to communicate with listeners and conduct Bible studies through e-mail, instant messaging, and video chat. Many of these listeners are young people who have a high education and are difficult to reach through local churches. They talk about their problems very openly online and form close relationships with media center staff.

These online conversations are an astounding demonstration of the global reach of the Internet: messages have been received from more than 60 countries at last count. The Chinese diaspora is simply enormous: as one observer said, “There are Chinatown neighborhoods all around the world.”

 

Challenges and Testimonies

Perhaps it should not be a surprise that new technologies have brought new challenges. For a period of time, the media center’s website was blocked in China, and listeners within the country were unable to access online programs. Eventually a solution was found, and the voice of hope is again being heard around the clock.

People from all walks of life are responding to the gospel message, and the testimonies continue to pour in:

“I am an engineer of a big motor company in China ….”

“I work in a factory in Shenzhen ….”

“I’m a 20-year-old student ….”

AWR truly is a front-line ministry. We invite you to partner with us in introducing Christ to those who have never heard His name.

Mother and child listening to radio in front of simple home.

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