April 2, 2016

3ABN Pierces Guantánamo Bay

No place is beyond the reach of the Seventh-day Adventist message of Jesus’ soon coming — not even the super-fortress prison operated by the U.S. military in Guantánamo Bay.

Alert Adventists noticed that Reuters published a Guantánamo photo essay last week that included a picture of a television set tuned to the Three Angels Broadcasting Network, or 3ABN, an international broadcaster and supporting ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The close-up photo shows a flat-screened television encased in a protective box. The image on the screen is slightly fuzzy, but 3ABN founder and president Danny Shelton is recognizable seated with a guest. 3ABN’s logo is visible in the bottom right corner of the screen.

The photo caption only states the date and place: March 22, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

After contacting Guantánamo officials and the Reuters photographer, the
Adventist Review has learned that 3ABN was not being watched by any detainees when the photo was taken — but the channel is available to all 91 terror suspects being held in the prison and can be viewed whenever they wish.

“Yes the channel is available to detainees,” Christopher Scholl, director of public affairs for the Guantánamo prison and a U.S. Navy captain, told the
Adventist Review.

Scholl said the television in the Reuters photo had been randomly set to 3ABN in an empty prison block that the U.S. military uses for media tours and training purposes.

“That was a random choice,” he said, adding that it might have been the first active channel with clear reception.

Ten journalists were being given a brief tour of the cells and communal area in the unused prison block when the 3ABN photo was taken.

“I wish I had a great story to tell about that image, but the reality is that the image … is of a television screen that was just on in a block of the prison that did not have any detainees in it,” said Lucas Jackson, the Reuters senior photographer who took the photo for his essay, “Inside Guantánamo.”

Scholl said he did not know whether any of the prison’s detainees watch 3ABN. But they very well could be watching. Guantánamo provides satellite television and radio programming from the Galaxy 19 satellite, which offers a wide variety of unencrypted, free-to-air programming, Scholl said. Programming comes in many languages, including Arabic, Farsi, English, Russian, and Spanish, and detainees can choose from more than 300 channels, including news, sports, drama, family, religion, music, arts, and culture.

“Detainees choose their own channels by remote control, which is not monitored,” Scholl said in an e-mailed reply to questions. “Each detainee has their own set of wireless headphones, so they can choose when to listen and at what volume they prefer.”

He did not say which other religious channels are available at Guantánamo, but online listings indicate that Galaxy 19 carries two 3ABN television channels, in English and Spanish, as well as two 3ABN radio stations in those languages. Galaxy 19’s extensive lineup also includes the Adventist Church-owned Hope Channel and its Spanish counterpart, Esperanza TV; Amazing Discoveries TV and Amazing Facts TV, led by Adventist members; and other Christian channels such as Daystar and Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Danny Shelton, center, founder and president of 3ABN, and co-host Yvonne Lewis interviewing concert violinist Jaime Jorge in a studio at 3ABN's headquarters in West Frankfort, Illinois. (3ABN)

3ABN Thrilled With News

Shelton, a gospel-singing carpenter who founded 3ABN in 1984 in West Frankfort, Illinois, said Friday that he was thrilled to learn that 3ABN was available in Guantánamo.

“God works in mysterious ways. We were unaware of our media presence at Guantánamo Bay, but we praise the Lord for it,” he said. “We know the power of the undiluted truth, and pray God’s Spirit has and will reach hearts there with His message of love and grace.”

The Reuters photo shows Shelton speaking with C.A. Murray, general manager of 3ABN Proclaim!, a 24-hour preaching and teaching channel, on the “3ABN Today Live” program, according to 3ABN.

3ABN runs an active and growing prison ministry program that corresponds with inmates, sending them letters of encouragement and providing them with Andrews Study Bibles and other religious literature. Through its efforts, three 3ABN channels were introduced to a prison with 3,000 inmates in the U.S. state of New Mexico just two weeks ago.

But Brian Hamilton, 3ABN’s prison ministries director and chief financial officer, said he never thought that the detainees at Guantánamo — captured when the United States embarked on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — might have access to 3ABN.

“The men being held at Guantánamo Bay are on God’s heart, and He is seeking to reach them with His message of love,” Hamilton said. “We are humbled to think that God would use 3ABN as one of His communication avenues.”

He and other 3ABN executives asked for prayers that detainees would be drawn to watch the channel and would be touched by its message.

“If they watch 3ABN for any length of time, they will learn Adventist Christians walk in obedience to God’s commands as a response to His love,” said Shelley J. Quinn, 3ABN’s program development manager. “They will learn we do not bow down to idols, we do not eat pork or drink alcohol, and we believe in modesty — values that are important to their culture as well.”

She said Muslim detainees would also identify with the Adventist message that Christ is returning soon, a message that is being echoed in the Islamic world.

“Our earnest prayer is they will learn to surrender to His love and obey God’s two greatest commandments: to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love others as we love ourselves,” she said.

Detainees praying in a recreation area at Guantánamo Bay in 2010. (Gino Reyes / U.S. Air Force)

Jesus’ Words Are Being Fulfilled

Other Adventist figures said 3ABN’s reach into Guantánamo served as a reminder that Jesus’ declaration in Mark 13:10 that the gospel would be preached to all the world was being fulfilled.

“It’s fantastic news, and we shouldn’t be surprised,” John Bradshaw, speaker and director of the It Is Written media ministry, said of 3ABN’s availability in Guantánamo.

“God has said the everlasting gospel will be proclaimed to
every nation, kindred, tongue, and people,” he said from Gweru, Zimbabwe, where he was leading a major evangelistic series. “This [3ABN development] is especially encouraging, and it lets me know that if we preach it, proclaim it, share it, and broadcast it, God will see to it that the message gets through. We should have big plans and know that God is the God of big things.”

Bradshaw said he believed Adventists would be truly astonished if they knew where God’s message was reaching. Through media, he said, the message is going behind walls, across borders, and into homes, palaces, and government buildings.

“Stories continually filter back about the message reaching into interesting places,” he said. “This is what God does. I hope this news urges us forward as a church to more fully embrace opportunities God gives us to share Jesus on a wide scale.”

Whether Guantánamo detainees have watched 3ABN is beside the point, he added.

“While we don’t know who in Guantánamo was watching the programming, we do know that if the programming isn’t there, they won’t be able to watch it,” he said. “Christ asked us to proclaim. He never asked us to convince. That’s His job. He wants us to proclaim to the entire world, and His Spirit will work powerfully as we do.”