There was a time when families gathered together to listen.
They listened to music. They listened to stories. They listened to news. And suddenly, with this new thing called radio, people were connected to and through people they couldn’t see. Through the radio came the stories of war and of victory or defeat. Through it came tunes that mothers and fathers would hum to themselves long after the box was switched off. And through these radios came messages that would inspire, educate, and change hearts.
For the times, radio was revolutionary, and Adventism recognized an immense opportunity. This new media (as it was then) provided a way for the gospel to travel as it never could have before. Years after that, television entered in, again changing the world: now the Word could go out with a face attached to the message. Later still, the Internet has now forever linked the world and the church’s ability to reach even more with programming available on devices as small as the size of a hand, available anytime, anywhere.
Not all programming available on radio and television in those early days was appropriate. That certainly has not changed today. Many faithful Adventists, both leaders and lay members, struggled against using the same modes of communication that may have provided questionable content to then deliver the good news of Christ and His second coming. But the reach of this type of media was unquestionable. So yes, perhaps the “devil’s box,” as my grandmother used to call it, caused many a family to lock it out of their homes altogether. But think about it: Where would we be today without Faith for Today, Voice of Prophecy (VOP), Breath of Life, 3ABN, Hope Channel, and others? Could Adventism have made such strides during the past century without embracing the media of the day?
James Aitken, secretary of the Radio-Television Department of the General Conference, said this back in 1968: “When I say that television is a God-given instrument to bring a message of hope to the multitudes, I am speaking of the individual or family which needs help. How can they be reached behind the fortress walls of the high-rise apartments and the sprawling residential districts and across the vast and mighty plains, where individuals and families often live isolated?”1 Those words ring true even today, nearly 50 years later.
Once the church harnessed this technology, radio and television became a huge game changer. This era in church history saw remarkable inroads into previously difficult-to-reach groups because of it, and it caused growth—both in membership and in the church’s ability to produce quality programming for these modes. Faith for Today, for example, as the church’s first televised media ministry, continues now with what it started then. “Faith for Today is a ‘first contact’ ministry,” says Mike Tucker, speaker/director. “Few people today will be baptized without first forming a relationship with people in the church. Faith for Today helps form these relationships by creating television that focuses on areas that matter to secular people, such as relationships and health.”
While not owned or operated by the Church, 3ABN is a supporting ministry whose humble roots have grown into something much greater, providing a platform for other media ministries as well. “The world has greatly changed since 3ABN began broadcasting on satellite television more than 30 years ago,” says Danny Shelton, founder and president. “I thank the Lord that He has used 3ABN as the catalyst for many other Seventh-day Adventist television networks and media groups. In 2016 there is no way we could fulfill the gospel commission without using the avenue of media and broadcasting. Praise God for what He’s doing through each one!”
While the power of television and radio have not been diminished with new media developments, they have certainly increased in strength—just think of satellite radio and Internet-based streaming services. Everything televised can now easily be found on the Internet through Web sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, among so many others. Adventist media ministries would be inadequate without a solid Web presence, as that is the primary way Western society goes about finding information these days. It is now a significant part of their operations.
Broadcast content, whether through television or radio, is often archived on ministry Web sites, making it easy to stream or download programming for sharing. Web sites increasingly generate traffic through the use of social media in a variety of platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. A strong social media presence is a crucial part of any reputable organization seeking to make a mark in the world, and it is no different for ministry. The ability for anyone, regardless of who they are or where they are, to create video and post it instantaneously with nothing more than a smartphone has created an unparalleled explosion of information accessibility.
What does this mean for the church? Everything, because the message now goes faster and farther than ever before, only building as time goes on.
Radio and television in the early days of its influence were undoubtedly cutting edge. And if you think about what is said in Matthew 24:14—“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (KJV)—media evangelism is a natural progression.
“Every day our Hope Channel team is reminded of the global impact of our media ministries,” says Derek Morris, Hope Channel president. “The words of Jesus are true: the harvest truly is great.” Today we can Snapchat stories out to the world in seconds. We can build Pinterest boards focused on so many aspects of the Adventist message. We develop and post short videos available to download within minutes of release that are then shared through any number of social media outlets. What was started all those years ago has endured and become something much greater than anyone could have foreseen. And it’s a mind-boggling fulfillment of prophecy.
“I personally believe we now have the technology in place to take the story, the saving, life-transforming story of Jesus to the entire world,” says Connie Vandeman Jeffery, daughter of It Is Written founder George Vandeman and former associate manager of the Adventist Media Center. “Through the Internet; through mobile phone technology; through traditional media of radio and television; through social networking. And through traditional evangelism. We need every tool—traditional and new—to tell the story.
“That’s the enduring legacy of all Adventist media ministries.”
H.M.S. Richards begins a radio ministry with other Adventist ministers in the Los Angeles, California, area.
The first broadcast of the Voice of Prophecy radio program debuts. J. L. Tucker begins a daily devotional radio program out of Portland, Oregon. Called Quiet Hour, it is now based in Redlands, California.
VOP launches its first national Adventist Bible correspondence school and Braulio Perez Marcio started La Voz de la Esperanza (“Voice of Hope”) in Spanish.
William Fagal begins broadcasting Faith for Today in New York City on May 21. By December it has become the first national religious telecast.
George Vandeman founds It Is Written. It is the first televised religious program to broadcast in full color.
Amazing Facts is started by Joe Crews in Baltimore, Maryland, as a radio idea to attract new listeners from all backgrounds. It expands to television programming in the mid-1980s. Now based in Sacramento, California, it features Doug Batchelor.
The church leases shortwave airtime in Portugal, and Adventist World Radio is born. AWR now operates a comprehensive podcasting service. Today all programs in more than 100 languages are available online to listeners worldwide.
The General Conference establishes the Seventh-day Adventist Radio Television and Film Center in Newbury Park, California (north of Los Angeles). Faith for Today and It is Written relocates there. Voice of Prophecy joins them in 1978.
Breath of Life joins the new media center, with Walter Arties as director and C. D. Brooks as speaker.
A carpenter by trade, Danny Shelton founds Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN), a 24-hour television and radio network. Today it has expanded to include several networks.
The church forays into satellite ministry with Mark Finley preaching out of the Home Shopping Network studio in Los Angeles to five churches.
With Mark Finley speaking, the first national NET event is broadcast from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to 650 churches in the United States and Canada. More national and international NET events follow.
Loma Linda Broadcasting Network (LLBN) launches. Based in Loma Linda, California, the network is 100 percent viewer-supported and features programming in multiple languages via seven networks.
Hope Channel North America is officially established specifically for the United States and Canada. Esperanza TV also launches, aimed at North and Central America.
The board of the Adventist Media Center votes to sell the facility and calls for its six media ministries to relocate.
While no longer based in California, Adventist media ministries such as Faith for Today, Voice of Prophecy, ItIs Written, Breath of Life,and La Voz de la Esperanza, along with newer ministries LifeTalk Radio and Jesus 101, continue on.
Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review. She also edits KidsView.