Overcoming gospel obstacles in China

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, June 6th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

KENT COVINGTON, HOST: And I’m Kent Covington. Last year, some regions in China started enforcing laws prohibiting churches from “indoctrinating children.” The laws made it illegal for anyone under 18 to participate in religious activities.

REICHARD: Then earlier this year, the new Religious Affairs Ordinance took effect. It grants more freedom to religious groups in China. But the government can still decide whether a church or evangelistic outreach is too divisive.

COVINGTON: Challenges to gospel work in China are nothing new. Paul Butler now has the story of one organization that’s been overcoming obstacles in the region for 70 years.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: During World War II, there were thousands of radio technicians serving in the U-S military in the Pacific Theater.

NEWSREEL: [MORSE CODE] These are the radio men of the Navy. Whether it be PT Boat, or landing barge, submarine or super dreadnaut, the radio man is aboard, on duty…

One such radio man was John Broger, a Naval reservist from Tennessee. During the conflict, he was in charge of setting-up radio transmission sites throughout the Far East.

CANON: After the war ended, his assignment was to dismantle the radio equipment that the U.S. government had set up all across the Pacific region.

Ed Canon is president of Far East Broadcasting Company.

CANON: And when he asked his supervisors what it was they were to do with this equipment after they dismantled it, they said: “just take it out and dump it in the ocean.”

Broger had seen first-hand how radio communications played a key role in the Allied victory. On the heels of war, he and fellow soldier Robert Bowman realized that radio could also be used to advance the gospel. So they approached the military and asked if they could keep some of the equipment. Officials agreed. And Broger and Bowman began Far East Broadcasting Company.

BOWMAN: Most of the 479 million of China have not so much as heard of John 3:16, which speaks of God’s love for man, manifest in Christ Jesus. Yours and mine is the responsibility. Let us go forth to give the winds a mighty voice, proclaiming Christ’s salvation for the perishing millions of the Orient…

Their plan was to begin a network of stations across mainland China. But building facilities takes time, and a lot of negotiation. So while they waited for government approval and construction, Bowman and Broger found an alternative.

CANON: The staff were so eager to broadcast the gospel into China that they decided that they were going to start something that they called “sound casting.” They set up loudspeakers, public address systems, in the local train stations all throughout the region near Shanghai.

The presentations were so popular, train platforms became overcrowded with listeners. So officials asked them to move the equipment into the street.

Their first radio station finally went on the air in Shanghai, but it was short lived:

COMMUNIST REVOLUTION NEWSREEL: These first pictures of the evacuation of Shanghai reach America simultaneously with reports that he red armies which bypassed the city have cut the last remaining avenue of escape.  

Forced to leave due to the revolution, they moved to Manilla in 1948, and began shortwave broadcasting into China a year later.

CANON: Our staff really didn’t know how to use radio to broadcast the gospel. There weren’t examples of radio stations, really, that we understood how to do that, so one of the programs that our staff began putting out on the shortwave was called “The Voice of God,” and it was very simply a Chinese man reading from the Bible over the airwaves…

The half-hour “Voice of God” program continued for 30 years. In the 1980s, a research group found that the program was responsible for hundreds of thousands of handwritten Bibles across the country.

CANON: If you go to our offices today, we still have … portions of handwritten Bibles. It’s actually very inspiring to see that. And you think of, the struggle, you think of how difficult it was for them to get these, and how they treasure and utilize these handwritten Bibles there in China…

Bowman and Broger’s vision grew, and they soon hatched a plan for broadcasting all across the region: They called it Operation National:

BOWMAN: Now this is a program where nationals from the various Asiatic countries come to the Philippines to help produce and expand the broadcast to their language area…

Now, 70 years later, FEBC broadcasts in 107 languages using AM, FM, and shortwave transmitters.

AUDIO: FEBC stinger

Sometimes, governments jam traditional radio signals, so they have expanded into internet and cell phone delivery as well.

AUDIO: Chinese internet radio

Again, Ed Canon:

CANON: We have literally tens of millions of people, going to our website there in China, which is a gift from God. God’s given us technology and he’s also given us favor…

Canon sees these new technology solutions as a Godsend, but they are, in many ways, even more susceptible to government interference. So website addresses and phone apps periodically change. But listeners have proven adept in quickly finding the new websites.

CANON: We do believe that at any point in time, those outlets, those media outlets could be shut down … it’s always a challenge. But it’s a challenge with a great opportunity because in this largest nation on the Earth, China, where the gospel is officially prohibited, we find a great hunger and spiritual thirst by the people. And when we place his gospel content out there and make it available to people, they listen.

The flagship station of Far East Broadcasting, celebrated 70 years of gospel outreach earlier this week.

AUDIO: Chinese music

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Paul Butler.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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