BTGH Celebrates 65 Years of Media Ministry
For more than 65 years the Back to God Hour (BTGH) has kept the Christian Reformed Church on the cutting edge of using technology in gospel ministry. What began as one broadcast in one city has multiplied into a worldwide multimedia ministry reaching millions of people.
Using technology as primitive as a loudspeaker in the marketplace of Kinshasa in the Republic of Congo, and as high-tech as daily text-message devotions on cell phones in Japan, the BTGH international staff is constantly exploring new ways to reach people with the gospel.
The story began in the early 1920s when visionary church members saw the potential of radio as a means of spreading the gospel. On December 17, 1939, the first BTGH broadcast aired on WJJD in Chicago.
Thousands of listeners responded. Before her death, Mrs. Harriet Eldersveld, widow of the CRC’s first full-time radio minister Dr. Peter Eldersveld, reminisced, “We’d pick up the mail, pour it out onto our kitchen table, and read each letter.”
Today, the worldwide BTGH staff receives more than 100,000 responses from all over the world each month, some from countries where Christianity is prohibited.
In 2005, broadcasts can be heard in nine languages through radio, television, Internet and e-mail, telephone and cell phones, loudspeakers, CDs and cassette tapes, videos and DVDs, print literature, and children’s programming.
God is using these tools to reach people in many different countries and languages. “My husband was killed last year when a bomb fell near his workplace,” an Arab listener writes. “Several months before he died, he showed me the Christian holy book [New Testament] and told me he was very happy to read the words of Issa [Jesus]. He was also listening to you on Radio Monte Carlo. I began to listen with him. I want my three children to learn these good things.”
Rev. Masao Yamashita, Japanese language ministry leader, reports, “I received an e-mail from a listener of our children’s radio program, a father who listens to Kids’ Corner with his sons through the Internet. Through our ministry he was baptized 23 years ago. We are glad to know there are second-generation listeners. We hope that his two sons will also pass on the heritage of faith to their future children, and we are eager to help them do so.”
How can a small denomination like the CRC have such a large impact around the world? Dr. Joel Nederhood, BTGH director of ministries from 1965-96, answers the question this way: “What is the explanation? Prayer, vision, and generosity.”
To God be the glory!
—Nancy Vander Meer is a freelance writer for the Back to God Hour.
What can Berdella De Boer, an 88-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis living in Hills, Minn., do for a desperately depressed young woman in India?
She can pray—and she did.
When Barb Brouwer, follow-up coordinator for the Back to God Hour’s English-language ministries, received an urgent e-mail from Soja, she sent word to her cross-country network of prayer partners. Immediately, De Boer and others brought Soja’s needs to the Lord.
De Boer is one of 47 prayer partners who receive monthly prayer lists with the names and needs of people who contact the Back to God Hour asking for prayer or help, usually in response to one of BTGH’s radio or TV programs.
De Boer shares her list with a friend, Harriet Jordan, so they can pray together. Barbara Epps, a prayer partner from Bellflower, Calif. passes on her list to five friends who also pray faithfully for the ministry.
Sometimes Brouwer and her team hear from a listener only once and never know how God answers their prayers. For others, like Soja (who kept in touch with Barb for two years), the prayer partners learn how God provided direction, a job, a place to live, transportation, encouragement, and protection.
If you would like to join the Back to God Hour prayer team in praying faithfully for the needs of those who contact the ministry, please contact Barb Brouwer at The Back to God Hour, 6555 West College Dr., Palos Heights, IL 60463; 1-800-879-6555; e-mail email@example.com.
God Speaks Bassa
Hundreds of people marched and danced in the streets, and thousands more lined a parade route through Buchanan, a city in Liberia, West Africa. But they weren’t observing a holiday—they were celebrating the publication of the Bible in their own language.
For the first time, the Bassa people of Liberia can read the complete Bible in their mother tongue.
The outpouring of emotion continued on the next day, Pentecost Sunday. Those who did not come early to get a seat listened to the five-hour service on loudspeakers outside the church.
Everyone from small children to presidential candidates gathered to celebrate. They sang and danced. They read from the newly published text. And they expressed their gratitude to those who helped translate God’s Word.
The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) figured prominently in the history of this project, and Bassa representatives expressed deep appreciation with gifts of gold and garments.
This gratitude was all the more remarkable given the relatively brief time that Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) missionaries worked among the Bassa. Because of war and instability, there has been no long-term CRC missionary presence in Liberia in the last 15 years.
The path that led to this celebration can be traced back almost 25 years. As CRWM developed its plans for ministry in Liberia, it became clear that an indigenous organization, the Christian Education Foundation of Liberia (CEFL), shared its objectives. Rather than establish a new denomination or work on its own, CRWM formed a partnership with CEFL to help develop Bassa churches. Areas of ministry included theological education, health, literature, agriculture, community development, and translation.
Throughout the 1980s this partnership matured and ministries grew as CRWM missionaries served with their Liberian counterparts.
But everything changed in 1990. With a rebel movement making its way across the country, partner church leaders and embassies agreed it was no longer safe for missionaries to remain.
CRWM continued to provide grants to CEFL and, through the heroic efforts of people in Liberia, some of the ministries still continue today.
For the translation work to continue, the three Liberian translators had to leave the country, relocating first to Sierra Leone and, when the war spread, to Ivory Coast. Despite this, the team not only kept its focus but even increased its rate of translation during the war years. The team’s persistence was honored in the dedication service.
The CRC was also honored for its role in financing the translation. The price tag was estimated at more than a million dollars, most of it provided by the CRC.
As the new Bible was symbolically passed to the oldest Bassa clergyman, the 79-year-old Catholic priest kissed the hands of the CRC representative and prayed for a blessing on the CRC. Others also expressed profound thanks to the CRC for giving them God’s Word in Bassa.
As one of the celebrants said, “God speaks Bassa!”
—Ron Geerlings is CRWM program director for Africa and Europe. Ron and his wife, Sue, served in Liberia until the war forced them to leave in 1990.
Thanks to Loan Fund, Church Now Looks Like It Belongs
Rehoboth CRC’s traditional church building always looked like a foreigner—a transplant among the scrub-grass, red mesas, and wide-open sky of New Mexico.
Patterned after a church in northwest Iowa, the building was raised 82 years ago by CRC folk who wanted to reach out to the Navajo people. But the structure never blended well with its surroundings. Eventually, it began to crumble as age took its toll.
On May 1, 2005, thanks in part to a loan from the CRC Loan Fund, Rehoboth CRC members walked into a new place of worship that looks like it belongs.
The new steel-girded structure is long, almost barn-like. Its terra-cotta brick walls blend with the surrounding sand hills. Its large south-facing windows look out to the Hogback Mountains. Inside, the stained concrete floors stay cool on the hottest summer day.
The larger space will house a growing congregation of 243 members. The mix of white and Native American faces reflects the church’s longstanding connection to Rehoboth Christian School. In recent years, former Rehoboth students have returned to the area and joined the church.
“They realize they need a church to come to with their kids,” said Mike DeYoung, the building project’s chair. DeYoung is one of many church members with strong ties to Rehoboth Christian School, where he teaches science and is the network administrator.
The school, long a missionary cause for CRC churches across North America, will share the church facility on weekdays. The sanctuary’s large stage and first-rate lighting and sound system were designed to accommodate school programs.
The CRC Loan Fund helps churches with building projects by lending money at reasonable interest rates. Working with a source inside the denomination can have many advantages. For Rehoboth CRC, the Loan Fund was “much easier to work with” than a bank would have been, DeYoung said. “They understand the unique dynamics of Rehoboth Christian School and the church. Because of the campus situation, we didn’t have to buy the land we built on.”
—Roxanne Van Farowe is a freelance writer and Banner correspondent.
CRC Loan Fund
The CRC Loan Fund was established by synod in 1983 to assist Christian Reformed churches with loans for capital improvements. Since that time, the Loan Fund has lent $38 million to more than 135 churches.
The Loan Fund obtains funds from investments made by CRC members and churches, classes, or other organizations affiliated with the denomination. It does not receive ministry shares or solicit contributions.
Because of its low overhead, the Loan Fund is able to offer low-rate, low-cost loans to churches and pay competitive interest rates on investments. For more information call 800-332-0012, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Loan Fund’s website at www.crcna.org/loanfund.