From what I can remember, my passion for missions grew as a result of hearing missionary stories at a young age. Their passion and courage resonated with something in my heart that longed to feel that passionate about something and that longed for adventure and the testing of my limits. I’m certain that some of my initial desire to take part in overseas missions was selfish; it was focused more on what I felt I needed in order to feel significant. I would be lying if I said all forms of selfishness have been eradicated from my motivations now, but God has definitely changed my perspective over the years and turned my desires to be more for Him and His concerns than my fleshly concerns and myself.
One missionary’s story God’s used most to increase my interest in overseas missions and humble my heart is Cheryl Beckett’s. Cheryl Beckett went to Afghanistan in 2005 to serve the people with a focus on nutritional gardening and mother-child health. She went to a place that places little value on the lives of women to teach them how to care for themselves and to, as much as she could, show them they have value in Christ. (Cheryl was not able to openly evangelize or share stories of the moments she had an opportunity to evangelize for the sake of her safety and the safety of those she had gospel-centered conversations with.) One of the projects she worked on with some of the locals was a garden that provided the people with various plants for health and hygiene and healthier food options. They literally grew a garden in the desert, which to me was a beautiful picture of what God is able to do in the hearts of individuals and throughout the nations—produce life where it seems impossible to do so.
In 2010, Cheryl was asked to take part in a three-week medical relief journey to the remote populations of Northern Afghanistan. As a Pashto speaker, she had been asked to assist the medical team in translating for women patients. At the end of their trip, the ten members of her team were ambushed by the Taliban and gunned down. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, accusing the workers of spying and trying to spread Christianity. The area where Cheryl worked had become increasingly dangerous leading up to the time of her death, and her family and friends wrote her and asked her to consider returning home. In one of her emails to a friend, she wrote, “I am very at peace and confident in being right here, right now… I want to walk in faith in this place. We are not promised safety… But I know that there will also be beauty and fruit due to walking in obedience to (God).”
So why radio as our family’s avenue for missions? The answer to this question was probably more of a no-brainer for Allen, whose background is in radio and television. Which is actually the first part of my answer to this question. When we’re talking to people about our calling to serve with TWR, Allen likes to mention the fact that his dad runs a radio station in their hometown. Because of that, Allen thought he always wanted to get as far away from radio as possible, but God ended up leading Allen to a degree in radio and television from USI and now to overseas missions with a focus on radio. Just one example of why we should never tell God what we’re not going to do. So the first reason for radio ministry in my mind: it’s how God has gifted Allen, and it’s the experience and background He’s given Allen.
My second, third, and fourth reasons are more logistical. Second, there are many countries that are closed to missionaries and where it is illegal to be a Christian or openly evangelize to nationals. The safest and easiest way, then, to continue to evangelize people in those areas and equip the church that exists there is through radio, specifically short-wave radio. The origin of transmission can’t be traced, and even if someone were to succeed in blocking the transmissions, it’s easier to switch frequencies and continue broadcasting. So where ambassadors for Christ can’t get in physically, radio waves carrying the gospel can.
Third, radio (and other forms of media) is a valuable resource to missionaries who are boots-on-the-ground missionaries. (I would like to mention here that many of TWR’s missionaries are able to physically minister to their radio broadcast and Internet audiences—those in places like Africa and Europe. However, because of our unique position on Guam, an island, our ministry has to be carried out at a distance from our audience.) Broadcasts and web material provide other missionaries with resources to offer those they’re evangelizing or those who have given their lives to the Lord and desire to grow in their faith, especially in languages and locations where Christian materials are scarce.
Fourth, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37, ESV). These words are as true today as they were when our Lord spoke them roughly 2,000 years ago. “The Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary calculates that Christians sent out approximately 400,000 international missionaries in 2010” (Christianity Today). This means that for the billions of people who don’t know the Lord and for the billions of unevangelized people in the world, only 400,000 people were sent to engage them in 2010. I realize this doesn’t include the number of Christians who work locally to engage and evangelize their family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, but it’s estimated that there are over three billion people in the world (42% of the world population) who are unreached with the gospel (see the Joshua Project). While the harvest remains plentiful and the workers few, radio, and general media ministry, is one of the most effective tools for reaching large numbers of people with the Good News until more people in these areas come to know the Lord or until more workers are raised up to go out internationally.
The fifth and final reason I can think of for our family to take part in radio ministry is one of the most personal to me. I love to learn, and specifically, I love to learn about the Bible. We have so many resources available to us in the United States for growing in our understanding of Scripture. Between books in our language, websites that contain free lexicons and Bible commentary, seminary class lectures available on iTunes U or through seminary websites (see Covenant Theological Seminary’s website as an example), and so on, anyone who wanted to do the work could gain the knowledge equivalent to a Master’s degree and almost a full M. Div for free. You just wouldn’t officially get the letters behind your name. Yet there are thousands of Christians throughout the world who don’t even have access to one Bible in their own language. Off the top of my head, I can think of over ten copies of the Bible we have in our house right now. Until the Bible can be translated in more languages, printed in all the languages in which it’s been translated and distributed to Christians who don’t have a copy—many don’t have a copy because Bibles have to be smuggled into their countries, and until more study resources can be printed in more languages, radio offers the ability to have Scripture and discipleship material read in the heart languages of people throughout the world so that more can hear, come to know the Lord, and grow in their understanding of God. One project TWR has been able to launch and that I love, a great example of what can be done for God’s kingdom through radio, is a program to Mandarin Chinese pastors called “Seminary on the Air” (SOTA). This program is equipping pastors in China, many who’ve never had systematic or sustained seminary or Bible school training, to better handle the Word of God and lead their congregations more faithfully. To read more about this program, you can visit this website.
To close out this post, I’d like to revisit the story, life, and ministry of Cheryl Beckett. The year before she was killed, I had the opportunity to meet Cheryl and hear about her ministry firsthand while she was in the States on furlough. As she stood before her supporters and shared stories and her passion for the Afghan people, I could tell she was a woman who was completely committed to the Lord and His calling on her life. God was indeed her God, Christ was indeed her Savior, and the Holy Spirit was indeed her comfort and strength. She is one of those “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38). As many of you know, part of Allen’s responsibilities with TWR on Guam includes working on the PANI Project—TWR’s broadcasts into Pakistan, Afghanistan, and North India. I consider it an honor to think that we will be part of an organization that is potentially building on the work Cheryl was doing in Afghanistan. My prayer is that those she was able to minister to during her time there hear the Word of God clearly over the radio waves and believe, if they haven’t already because of the Holy Spirit working through Cheryl. I cannot wait for our family to get to Guam and begin this specific work to which God has now called us. We are, as always, so grateful to everyone who is partnering with us and helping to send us to Guam. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Philippians 4:19-20, ESV).