Sixty years of radio in southern Asia

The use of radio has positively impacted the residents of southern Asia. The immediate past president of Adventist World Radio shares several success stories as well as his vision for AWR in that region.

Benjamin D. Schoun, DMin, at the time of this writing, was president of Adventist World Radio. He currently serves as a general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

India, Bhutan, Nepal, and the Maldive Islands are the countries that make up the Southern Asia Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Historically, this has not been an easy place to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. The subcontinent of south Asia has been the cradle of several of the world’s large, non-Christian religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, and their variations that have developed into religions of their own. Statistically, only slightly more than onetenth of 1 percent of the population is Adventist. There are no reported members, officially, in either Bhutan or the Maldives.

India

The author of a recent book on Christianity in India, Robert Eric Frykenberg, states that while Christian missions in India have had a lengthy and rich history “[n]owhere, at the same time, has cultural, social, and political opposition or resistance to Christianity become more pervasive, powerful, or subtle; and nowhere today are threats to the very Christian survival more serious. (Scarcely a week passes without some church building being destroyed or some Christians being killed.)”1 Nevertheless, Jesus did not tell us to avoid the difficult areas of the world, and radio broadcasting has been an important part of this mission outreach.

The use of radio in the countries of southern Asia goes way back to the very early era of experimental radio broadcasting, according to Adrian Peterson, one of the radio pioneers in this part of the world field.2 In the year 1925, an Adventist missionary from New Zealand, Reuben E. Hare, made the historic first radio broadcast on a medium-wave radio station in Bombay (now Mumbai). The first Adventist broadcast on international shortwave was made by L. B. Losey in 1937, over the radio broadcasting station operated by the Travancore government in Mysore, India. Actually, at the time, this was a series of radio broadcasts on behalf of Spicer College. International radio broadcasting on shortwave was introduced on a regular basis in 1950 with the usage of the large, old half-hour disc recordings of H. M. S. Richards and the Voice of Prophecy. Radio Ceylon, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, became the primary transmitter site for broadcasts to India. This means that 2010 commemorates the 60th anniversary of radio in southern Asia.

Adventist World Radio (AWR) was founded in 1971, with a mission to reach the hardest to reach places of the world in the people’s own languages. In 1987, the AWR flagship station on Guam began fulfilling its purpose by transmitting to Asia, including southern Asia. Today, AWR is preparing programs in 80 languages, and they are being sent out through shortwave, FM, and Internet (including podcasting) networks. All of these programs are produced by local individuals of the respective countries, who grew up with the language and culture.

Currently, the media center in Pune prepares programs in 8 of the 15 official languages of India, with 2 more languages slated for production in the near future. Besides the studio in Pune, another studio was opened in 2003 in Aizawl, Mizoram, in northeast India, where two languages, Mizo and Assamese, are being broadcast and two additional languages are being planned. Besides these two studios in India, AWR operates a production facility in the country of Nepal, where exciting new things are taking place. In 2009, there were 1,373 listener responses from these studios.

One of the long-told stories from the radio broadcasting efforts in India features Michael Hembrom. Years ago he served as a lay leader for the Roman Catholic Church in his area. Somehow, he started taking the Voice of Prophecy Bible correspondence course. He finished 20 lessons in 1966, and although he had some questions about the Sabbath and other topics, he immediately began a second course. At that point, he was removed from his church. He did not know anything about Seventh-day Adventists and neither did he know any Sabbath keepers. Through the years, he kept asking himself why he was going to church on Sunday when the Bible said to keep the Sabbath.

Michael had a small radio and would listen to various Christian programs. A program he really liked was one where Daniel Jacob was teaching from the Bible books of Daniel and Revelation. Then he heard about the Sabbath and all the other things he had studied. He knew these teachings were right because they were in the Bible. He was convicted, but still did not know where to find the seventh-day people. One day Michael’s wife met another woman who lived 15 miles away. In their conversation, Mrs. Hembrom discovered that the other family kept the Sabbath. With excitement, she told her husband, who went to see that family—whose name, by the way, was also Hembrom. Finally, in 1998, more than 30 years after studying the Voice of Prophecy lessons, reading his Bible, and listening to Adventist World Radio, Michael was baptized.

Nepal

Nepal, historically, has been a Hindu country and more recently also officially Hindu by constitution. There were severe limitations on what witnessing could be done in this country. It was not even possible to have an AWR studio in Nepal. But our producers, Naseeb Krishna Basnet and his wife, Rama, prepared the scripts in their home. The programs were then sent to Guam, where they were broadcast back to Nepal by means of shortwave radio. A small, but continuous number of responses from listeners came back to our producers. Many of these were from people who had never seen a Bible and had not heard of Jesus Christ or the religion of Christianity. In one case, a group of young Nepali girls, working in the Bombay circus, listened to AWR and began to believe what they heard. After several years, they told how their bosses heard the radio programs also, and their work situation improved greatly. They were treated with more courtesy, were paid on time, and had fewer quarrels.

Nepal went through a period of conflict among rebels called Maoists, the king, and the operational government. After several years of bombings and killings, the parties decided to try to make peace. Albeit an uncertain peace, it did improve things greatly and included changing the constitution to name the country as a secular state. From that time forward, AWR was able to begin broadcasting on local FM stations. AWR is now broadcasting on 12 local FM stations.

Here is a typical response from an FM listener in eastern Nepal: “[Until I heard your radio program] I did not know there was another religion besides Hindu and Buddhist in the world. You talked about the true Bible and all the things that are happening according to the Bible. I believe it totally. In our ancestors’ religion, there are no such things mentioned about the future; there is only the cycle of reincarnation. But it is so nice to believe that Jesus loves us personally and gives us the assurance of eternal life. [The] Bible must be a wonderful book. Please help me get one copy and I will try for myself. We do not have any Christians in my village at all. Please pray for me.”

The most recent good news is that our technician, after some years of listening to the broadcasts, has decided to become an Adventist. He was baptized in May of this year. This was a major change for his family, but the Lord worked among his family members in wonderful ways.

Future plans

Our next major project includes a broadcast into the largely unentered country of Bhutan in the Dzongkha language. There are already two former Buddhist monks who have been baptized in Tibet. AWR’s new podcasting service will be another means for people to hear the Bible messages anywhere that Internet is accessible, particularly in the cities.

We praise the Lord for His guidance in this specialized ministry and ask for your continued prayers so that many more will hear the Word of God and fall in love with our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Robert Eric Frykenberg, Christianity in India: From
Beginnings to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2008), viii.

2. Adrian Peterson, email message to author, June 18, 2010.

 

Naseeb Krishna Basnet, director of the AWR studio in Kathmandu, Nepal, was born to a Hindu family. His mother died when he was two years old. In school, he found a leaflet that said, “Jesus is the Son of God.” His father stopped him from reading it because Christianity was considered a foreigners’, low caste, and cow eaters’ religion. He then contracted a severe, painful fever that lasted for months, which turned out to be rheumatic fever, and damaged his heart.

One day he saw a Bible and sought permission to read it. He knew what his father had said, but he wanted to find out about this Bible for himself. Hindus have more than 330 billion gods, and he fearfully “worshiped stones, dogs, elephants, monkeys, rats, tree[s], rivers, mountains, sun, moon, and everything.” At first he did not understand the Bible, but then he started having dreams. In his dreams, he was shown many wonderful answers to his questions. He began experiencing peace of mind
and felt a Power ruling over all things.

He then met a man who was visiting the remote area where Naseeb was living, and Naseeb asked him how he could understand this Book in a better way. The man referred him to the Scheer Memorial Hospital at Banepa. Naseeb was so thirsty to know about the truth and which was the true religion in this world that he left his permanent and secure government job and traveled to Banepa. After one week of study, he knew that this was the religion he was looking for. Following studies with a pastor, Naseeb wanted to be baptized but the pastor was afraid since there was much persecution during that time. Naseeb insisted and was baptized in a nearby river on March 28, 1975. After studies in Pune, India, at Spicer Memorial College, Pastor Basnet and his wife, Rama, became the speakers for the AWR broadcasts in the country of Nepal.


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Benjamin D. Schoun, DMin, at the time of this writing, was president of Adventist World Radio. He currently serves as a general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

October 2010

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