Thailand (RB) — There was no fanfare, no press conference, no invited guests, no ribbon-cutting, no decorations: just a pastor and a couple of trainers, engineers, and technicians in an improvised studio at a small church in northeastern Thailand.
At the microphone a nervous pastor prepared to go on the air for the first time on Wednesday, Feb. 26. On the other side of the studio wall were some 30 people taking a radio training course led by members of the Asia Pacific team from Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB Global) who handed them SonSet® radios for distribution to people in local communities.
Then without warning, the class heard a voice on the radios giving a few words of greeting in Thai followed by these words, “You are listening to Good News Radio.”
As an instrumental arrangement of “Amazing Grace” began to play on the radio, the class started to realize that the voice was their pastor, and their radio station was on the air. The engineers then explained that the solar-powered radios were implanted with special chips fixed-tuned to their new station.
Despite the station’s inauspicious beginning, it marked a key milestone for Reach Beyond in the Asia Pacific Region. It was the 100th radio outlet that the mission had planted in the region in the last 10 years. Of these, 38 were established in Thailand, 53 in Indonesia, seven in Nepal and one each in Cambodia and an undisclosed country.
For the 50 to 60 believers at this small church, the station marked a beginning. Students taking training to run the station included housewives, restaurant and store owners, a teacher, teenagers, and even young children.
None of them had any experience in radio, but they have a vision and passion to use radio to share the good news of Jesus Christ with their community. This church is the only one in a district comprising some 200 villages and a population of more than 130,000. Nationwide, 85% of Thais are Buddhist and just 0.5% are evangelical.
Openness to the gospel is growing as “many mission leaders feel Thailand is poised for its greatest–or first–breakthrough of church growth,” according to Operation World. This openness was reflected during the station’s first week of broadcasts.
“A man who had previously turned away from Christianity heard the worship music on the new station,” related Ty Stakes, executive director of the Asia Pacific Region. “He asked several people where their church was. Four days later he attended the Sunday service, repented, and returned to the Lord. Broadcasting for four days, and already one soul has returned!”
“Our radio partners across the region conservatively estimate that more than 10,000 people come to Christ each year through the radio station plants,” Stakes added. “This means more than 100,000 people have come to Christ in just the last decade. We have adopted aggressive plans to expedite the number of radio stations across the region, hopefully resulting in hundreds of thousands more coming to know Jesus.”
While a lighted cross on the radio tower declares that the station is Christian, the believers know that the people they want to reach are not. The church’s radio volunteers realize they need to produce programs that are creative and relevant, showing genuine care and compassion.
“In most of these locations, ‘Christian radio’ as we understand it from a North American perspective is not appropriate,” Stakes said. “Our partners know how to walk the fine line in places where Christianity is a minority faith and how to share the love and truth of Jesus in ways that are contextually relevant. Many of the broadcasts are pre-evangelistic, and the deeper presentation of the gospel happens offline in follow-up.”
What did it take to put 100 stations on the air? Stakes pointed to relationships with multiple partners throughout the region, making it possible to overcome numerous challenges.
“In every partnership we have in Asia, I believe radio is a platform that has added to our partners’ already-established outreach strategy,” said Stakes. “This is strategic because the partner already has a passion for outreach and a proven record in ministry. Radio then becomes a huge amplifier for their message and ministry because in these countries, local FM is still the most important communication medium for information and entertainment. It can also be a great tool for development and education.”
Radio-planting partnerships with local people mean “empowering them to reach their communities using local FM radio,” explained Stakes. “In those partnerships, Reach Beyond provides broadcast equipment, training, and technical support in long-term relationships. Funding for our side comes from donations to radio-planting projects.”
“In each case, the local partner owns and operates the radio station and is self-sustaining for all operating costs from the first day. They also invest in local infrastructure (such as the location, license, and tower),” he said.
As part of its overall mission, Reach Beyond hopes to plant an additional 100 stations in Asia Pacific in the next five years–double the pace of the last decade. In Thailand alone, the mission is working with partners to add 62 community stations by 2020. Nepalese partners have a vision for another 25 to 30 stations. They have licenses in hand to start three outlets this year.
“The Asia Pacific region is home to nearly 1 billion unreached people and hundreds of unreached people groups,” said Reach Beyond President Wayne Pederson. “Our strategy puts us right in the midst of these communities and gives us the best opportunity yet to share the hope found in Jesus. The last 10 years have seen incredible progress; the next 10 years will put us even closer to reaching the unreached.”