Celebrando 50 Años: Fifty Years of Spanish Media Ministry

Lilibeth Contreras de Castro has been described as a pillar of faith in the Latin American community where she lives. She gives all the glory to God.

“Since I met Jesus 30 years ago, I have seen his hand guiding my life and leading me all the way,” she testified.

Contreras, a wife and mother, lives in El Salvador. When she first became a Christian, Contreras was looking for strong biblical teaching to nurture her faith.

She started listening to La Hora de la Reforma (“The Hour of Reformation”), a radio program hosted by Rev. Juan Boonstra. Boonstra launched the first Spanish-language radio program for Back to God Ministries International (BTGMI) 50 years ago.

“I still listen to La Hora today,” says Contreras. “The topics are still very relevant. What I learn inspires the work I am doing today.”

An award-winning journalist who has worked in radio for the past 20 years, Contreras is passionate about addressing the issue of violence against women. Her ministry intertwines with BTGMI and Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM); she said God used these agencies to equip her to lead her own ministry.

La Hora de la Reforma, now hosted by BTGMI Spanish-language leader Rev. Guillermo Serrano, still has relevance for people all over Latin America, noted Contreras. “The program is truly reforming others in their faith.”

Contreras met Serrano at a 2008 BTGMI communications conference in Panama.

“Our Spanish team offers media training for professionals and church leaders throughout Latin America. These workshops prove to be an effective way of building bridges for media ministry,” Serrano explained.

By attending the conference and meeting Serrano, Contreras gained a new opportunity for speaking to victims of domestic violence.

Upon learning of her ministry to women, Serrano invited Contreras to write two devotional booklets for BTGMI: Women and Community and Women and Violence.

Through their ministries, both Serrano and Contreras have addressed the issue of violence against women—an ongoing problem in Latin America. Contreras, a long-time reader of the BTGMI Spanish-language devotional Cada Dia, was grateful for the opportunity to share stories of faith and hope for victimized women.

Contreras, who facilitates evangelistic small groups in homes, said, “Women have approached me to tell me of their difficulties at home, at work, and in their family.”

While taking advanced studies through the Centre for Interdisciplinary Theological Studies (CETI, a program of theological formation directed by James DeBorst) Contreras, and colleague Carmen Castro created the Association of Integral Support for Women (ASIMUJER).

“We have sponsored health campaigns and partner with professionals who provide advice for women who are victims of domestic violence,” she said.

Ruth Padilla DeBorst, who serves with her husband James as CRWM staff in Latin America, said Contreras is “a model of the integration of her faith and her profession as a journalist.

“She is a leader in Christian radio programming and the church at large. Her studies with CETI were instrumental in helping her enter more fully into her vocation as a Christian journalist.”

Through her radio program, Contreras addresses women’s issues as well as topics related to life, health, the environment, human rights, children, and more. “My work is a wonderful experience in that I am able to communicate messages of hope and address topics of everyday life with listeners,” she said.

She receives information and inspiration from BTGMI Spanish-language radio and TV programs that address these issues from a biblical perspective. “Back to God Ministries has been an influence in my life from the late 1980s,” she said.

“After I became a Christian, these programs helped me develop my faith and my understanding of Scripture in the midst of society and caused me to reflect on the various areas of my life.”

Who Could Have Imagined?

The story of Contreras is one of many that illustrate the ripple effect BTGMI’s Spanish-language ministry has had over the 50 years since Boonstra’s first broadcast.

“Who would have thought the voice of a country lad from the pampas of Argentina would one day be recognized throughout the Spanish speaking world?” asked Boonstra’s widow, Natalie Boonstra Bosscher.

In 1937 Boonstra met South American CRC missionary Rev. Jerry Pott. With Pott’s backing, Boonstra enrolled in Calvin College, arriving in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1948 with little more than the clothes on his back and slight knowledge of English. He graduated from Calvin Seminary in 1954 and returned home as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church of Argentina.

The young pastor took with him a wire recorder, provided by seminary friends and Seymour CRC in Grand Rapids. Boonstra’s broadcasts reached an audience of sheep ranchers spread over hundreds of miles and any other neighbors who tuned in to the only radio station available.

He found that the best time to record his programs was in the middle of the night when the town’s supply of electrical power was stable enough to produce a steady recording on the machine.

Boonstra’s ministry caught the attention of Dr. Joel Nederhood, then director of The Back to God Hour. Nederhood contacted Boonstra about beginning a Spanish-language ministry. Boonstra accepted the call and in 1965 BTGMI added a second “foreign language” ministry. (Arabic outreach had begun in 1958.)

“Juan quickly realized the power of radio to reach so many more souls, and in a few years the response reached a thousand letters a month,” his widow recalled.

“His largest audience was the little guy, the average man in the street. Delivering his dry cleaning one day in a city in Colombia, the clerk looked up with shining eyes and blurted out, ‘You are that guy that preaches about Jesus. I never miss your program. I too am a believer now.’”

Soon BTGMI Spanish radio broadcasting expanded throughout Latin America, and 15 years later Boonstra piloted television program in Spanish.

In 1979, he partnered with CRWM to develop a “media blitz” that touched tens of thousands of people. Through the broadcast and print media, Boonstra invited people to a series of mass rallies in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

“The campaign put the Christian Reformed Church on the map,” one missionary noted after the event, which filled 10,000 stadium seats three nights in a row. The story was reported a few weeks later in The Banner.

In the isolated mountains of the Dominican Republic, Boonstra’s broadcasts had a more subtle impact. When CRC missionaries first visited the area, they were surprised to discover Christian Reformed churches already established. How? The congregations had decided to gather and affiliate with the denomination associated with La Hora de la Reforma

Spanish Media Ministry Today

Following Boonstra’s retirement, Serrano was appointed in 1991 to lead the Back to God Spanish media ministry, known today as Ministerio Reforma (Reformed Ministries). Ministerio Reforma now airs three radio programs, including the flagship La Hora de la Reforma, on nearly 600 stations.

It also produces two television programs, La Vida Ahora (Life Today) and En Perspectiva, which is broadcast on more than 200 TV stations, as well as a children’s video series called El Club del Arca (The Ark Clubhouse), one of the only authentic Spanish-language programs produced for children in Latin America.

Cada Dia (Today), for which Contreras was invited to write, provides daily devotions in print for an estimated 5,000 homes and is available on social media and mobile apps. Noteworthy is the distribution of the devotional into Cuba. Even during the years of the U.S. embargo, BTGMI was able to ship the Cada Dia devotional to partner churches in Cuba from its ministry center in Brazil.

Pastor Tony Gonzalez expresses gratitude for the shipments of the Cada Dia devotional to Cuba. “On behalf of all Christians in our church, we wish to thank all donors and personnel who put this beautiful gift in our hands,” he says. “People have found salvation in Jesus Christ, families have been reunited, and Christians who lost their faith have returned to God because someone gave them a Cada Dia.” 

Now that the doors to Cuba have reopened, there are new opportunities to share the Word with the Cuban people, including a media training conference in October—the first opportunity the Spanish ministry team has had to visit Cuba.

In 2014, BTGMI launched a new, culturally authentic, Spanish radio drama and web program for children, Las Aventuras de Elisardo, inspired by the popular English language radio show Kids Corner, produced by BTGMI’s English-language ministry, ReFrame Media.

“No one else is producing this kind of programming in Latin America,” noted Nancy Ayala, Spanish ministry producer.

“People think that radio is on the way out, but it’s not. When kids come home from school the radio is on. And if you have a kids’ program on, they stop and listen to it.”

She added, “Children’s programming is needed all over the world. More than 100 stations have picked up our programming. We are in Colombia, Argentina, and Peru, and are beginning to promote the program in North America and Brazil.”

Ministerio Reforma uses every kind of media, enabling us to reach millions of people in Latin America, Spain, North America and other parts of the world,” said Serrano.

“Our audience trusts us because we establish a relationship with them through the voice and through email. Over the years our audience can be calculated in the millions.

“We are grateful to God, because he has given us the opportunities to proclaim the powerful message of the gospel and to see people come to faith in Christ.”  

He added, “We cannot fully anticipate how media will change in the future, but we continue trusting that God will lead us to use all the resources available to proclaim the Good News to Spanish speakers throughout the world.”

A listener, Requejo, wrote: “When my father was alive he listened to the program called La Hora de la Reforma. After more than 30 years I now have the desire to personally know Christ and now I listen to Christian radio stations and Internet.”

“Thank you for faithful support through the years to BTGMI Spanish outreach, through ministry shares, individual gifts, and church offerings,” said Rev. Serrano. “Without your support it would be impossible to do this ministry. Your prayers and support help Mrs. Contreras and so many others grow in faith and share God’s Word with others.”

Prayer Requests

  1. Praise God for faithfully leading the BTGMI Spanish-language ministry team for 50 years.
  2. Pray that the Spanish ministry will help listeners such as Requejo to grow in faith.
  3. Pray for the ongoing production and broadcast of the children’s audio and web-based program Las Aventuras de Elisardo, developed in partnership with our English Kids Corner ministry.
  4. Pray for BTGMI’s partnership with Spanish Radio Moody in producing a live radio program. This joint broadcast has the potential of increasing the North American audience of our other programs.
  5. For monthly prayer updates, visit BackToGod.net/pray.

About the Authors

Kristen Van Stee, Back to God Ministries International

Nancy Vander Meer is a staff writer with Back to God Ministries International in Grand Rapids, Mich.
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