Fifty years of Grace Baptist Mission radio
Radio was anathema to some Strict Baptists of the 1950-60s. The pastor of one church I visited in 1963 told me in no uncertain terms that he hoped I wasn’t intending to speak about my radio ministry because, ‘Radio is the devil’s instrument’.
Looking back to 1958, it was perhaps amazing that the SBM Council unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed the India Conference’s recommendation that we should become involved in radio evangelism to the Tamil people of South India and beyond. They readily recognised it as a legitimate means for the spread of the gospel. After all, why should the devil have a monopoly over radio?
In 1958, with no ‘proper’ studio, one tape-recorder, one microphone, seven-inch tapes and a stop watch, John Appleby began the task of recording programmes for Tamil listeners.
The transmission station was the Far East Broadcasting Company (Manila).
Programmes – initially two 15 minute programmes and one 30 minute programme weekly – were expected to be somewhere near BBC standards! The work was desperately hot and dehydrating. Recordings were constantly interrupted by the outside call of crows, mosquitoes buzzing around the microphone, and regular unannounced power cuts, to name but a few of the problems.
Despite the multitude of obstacles, programmes were not only accepted by FEBC and aired to India and elsewhere, but listeners began to respond. That was exciting. The first letter came in mid-November 1958 (programme airing began the first week of November). The writer was a Christian who appreciated what he heard. Seven years later I had the privilege of meeting him at a convention where I was preaching.
Follow-up, for which I was responsible, filled the hours of each day. The policy from the beginning was to write a personal letter to every enquirer. Many letters came from Hindus, Muslims and nominal Christians. Many had been affected by the Word of God and wanted to know the way of salvation.
Scores of letters came from Christians who had benefited from the clear presentation of Scripture. Some had personal, family and marital problems. Some had backslidden and needed spiritual help and guidance. I could fill pages with vivid memories. Despite the many hazards we encountered, the radio ministry had the Lord’s seal upon it.
In the sixties, a new studio was built on the mission compound in the town of Kovilpatti. This was air-conditioned. What a relief! Equipment was gradually updated and added to. Enquirers multiplied. A number of listeners were converted. We often tried to link converts to good Evangelical churches but this was difficult in a country like India, where such churches were few and far between. For some listeners, their only contact with the Word of God was through radio.
Later in the 1960s the radio team in Kovilpatti moved – lock, stock and barrel – to Dindugal about 80 miles away and remained there until the 1970s, when John and Eileen Appleby had to settle in the UK. A studio was constructed by John in the mission house, then in south east London.
Tamil material continued to be prepared in India for a short time. The all-important change came in 1976 – the move to the newly built Mission Centre in Abingdon where purpose-built studios were incorporated. From here the work expanded and new workers joined what was to become the ‘radio team’.
Among these new workers was Clifford Pond who had served as president of the mission. He was instrumental in developing new English programmes, most notably one named Square One which ran for a number of years.
Roger Cook arrived on the scene in 1981. His contribution to radio has been extensive – particularly his vision for the millions in French-speaking African countries. He was instrumental in developing this side of the work. Now in ‘retirement’ Roger has a continuing role in training trainers, particularly in West African countries. However, his vision for French gospel programmes is continued by Ian Flanders.
Derek French came to the mission in 1992. His real desire was to produce simple teaching programmes aimed at pastors and church workers in SE Asia and Africa. The development of this aspect of the work has been clearly blessed by the Lord.
Thousands of pastors with no access to formal training have been enriched. It surely can’t get more rewarding than to hear from one African pastor who testifies that his congregation has noticed the tremendous improvement in his preaching and teaching abilities.
I look back over 50 years with sheer amazement – from the primitive early years to the present days of highly sophisticated technology. But the message to the world is the same glorious gospel. If we should ever deviate from that, may the Lord quickly close us down!
On our early Tamil notepaper these words of Jeremiah 22:29 appeared as the motif: ‘O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord’. That’s the whole purpose of radio evangelism!
The full story of GBM’s radio ministry will be published in a booklet which will be available at the Mission’s Open Day in Abingdon on 21 June 2008. The Open Day will commemorate fifty years of radio ministry. All details from the Mission Centre.