Outside the windows of the small high-rise apartment, the predawn surroundings are pitch black. It’s the middle of winter in northern China and bitterly cold. Zhang* leans into her microphone and welcomes her online listeners to the live Internet worship program, called Good Morning, China.
One by one, the names of group participants pop up on the chat screen. Some people are listening on their own, while others are gathered in small groups: families at home, youth groups, or clusters of people in their churches. They tune in through their computers or mobile phones every weekday morning.
The program is highly interactive. Some listeners queue up to read part of the featured Bible passage, while others submit questions to Pastor Jin as he presents the spiritual talk of the day.
“We decided that 5 A.M. is the best time to dedicate to God,” Zhang says. “In big cities like this, it’s easy for people to grow cold spiritually, so we want to help them focus on God as they start their day. We have prayer time together and sing-alongs.”
In the background of the tiny studio, another young woman is rapidly transcribing the program. By midmorning, a complete transcript will be posted online for those who wish to absorb the messages in written form. The audio recording is also repeated for listeners who can’t quite make the early morning live broadcast. Last but not least, some of the recordings are aired by Adventist World Radio (AWR) as shortwave broadcasts, which can be picked up across China, much of Asia, and beyond.
This scene is currently duplicated in three other cities in China, and it represents a huge breakthrough in church outreach. AWR has broadcast to China through shortwave from the first day the station on Guam went on the air on March 6, 1987. But until recently, these programs were produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan, where church workers could operate with much more freedom.
“Some restrictions have been partially relaxed in recent years, so we approached AWR about setting up studios within mainland China itself,” says media director John Chen. “We felt that producers who lived in the same communities as their listeners would be able to relate even better to the daily issues and circumstances faced by listeners there.”
So AWR funded the equipment for four mini studios in 2012, and the new producers began quietly operating out of anonymous apartments in the selected cities.
Going on Faith
This broadcast ministry is largely driven by the keen dedication of young people. The average age of radio team members here is 28. They’re persevering despite considerable financial and personal sacrifice.
Zhang, for example, is highly trained as a Japanese translator and could easily land a well-paying corporate job. But like her team members, she is living on an income that is 30 to 40 percent lower than the local average. Even these funds are not guaranteed because the young people are actually working on a self-supporting basis. This includes paying the rent on the apartment where the studio is set up.
“It’s a struggle,” Zhang admits. “We feel guilty that we can’t do more for our parents, who are working hard on farms far away from the city. Also, the reality is that many of us would like to get married, but it’s not really possible at the moment. However, I choose to keep serving here. Radio is a good way to tell people about God.”
Chen regularly visits the teams to coordinate their work and encourage them. He says, “I come, see, and am blessed by these young people! I really respect them.”
These talented radio workers are using every means possible to share their message of hope and fund their ministry. Periodically, they collect their program transcripts into thick books and announce on social media that they’re for sale. They also store their recordings on tiny MP3 players and sell those as well. Recently, they conducted a comprehensive audio-video training event, which other young people paid to attend. “Through this training, young people can find their talents and their dreams,” Zhang says.
To appeal to young people who may not be interested in attending a traditional church service, Zhang’s team members use their own money to rent a coffee shop on Saturdays and hold a Sabbath service there. They also fellowship with students at a nearby university and have established a second church there that focuses on young people. The student in charge is 20 years old.
Caution and Optimism
Alongside these highly encouraging reports, however, runs a continuous thread of caution. The degree of freedom varies greatly among the current studio locations. In some places, radio hosts and listeners feel free to use their real names; in other spots, everyone goes by pseudonyms. The size of the online chat groups must be capped to avoid scrutiny. And the radio topics are carefully selected to focus on God and specific needs in society but never politics or end-time issues.
Nevertheless, these modest studios and the faithful young people behind the microphones and keyboards are satisfying a real need in the hearts of listeners. Zhang says, “Up north, people have half a year of winter. It’s very cold, with lots of snow, so it can be difficult for them to get to church. Other members can’t attend because of handicaps or their professions. So even though the Internet is sometimes slow or our transmission is fuzzy, people are hearing the voice of hope through our broadcasts. Praise God!”
* All names have been changed.
Adventist World Radio (AWR) is the official global radio ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Its mission is to broadcast the Adventist hope in Christ to the unreached people groups of the world in their own languages. AWR’s programs can be heard in more than 100 languages through AM, FM, shortwave radio, on demand, and on podcasts at awr.org and iTunes.
Thank you for supporting AWR through your mission and world budget offerings!
Fast Facts about AWR’s work in China
-China is the church’s largest mission field.
-Today, AWR’s Mandarin shortwave programs are broadcast for 10 hours a day from Guam.
-AWR also serves China with programs in Cantonese, Min Nam, Tibetan, and Uighur.
-Mandarin is AWR’s number one podcast language with more than eight million daily downloads.