The Seventh-day Adventist radio broadcaster faced a dilemma.
Protests were taking place in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and radio studio staffers in Hong Kong wondered whether to mention it on the air.
“We were facing a lot of pressure. Should we tell our people what was happening?” said Billy Liu, his brow furrowing as he remembered that day on June 4, 1989.
“We prayed, and we decided, ‘No, we are only going to preach the gospel,” he said. “Jesus’ teaching was that His kingdom was not of this world. We are to submit to higher powers and should not be involved with earthly affairs.”
The decision proved prudent for the Chinese Voice of Hope radio team, whose Hong Kong production center had only been established two years earlier in a cramped room at the headquarters of the Adventist Church’s Chinese Union Mission. Other Christian media saw their broadcast signals jammed. The Adventist broadcasts continued uninterrupted.
Keeping the focus on Jesus and biblical principles of healthy living is a strategy that has prospered the Chinese Union Mission media center, which now consists of the Xi-Wang (“Hope” in Mandarin) radio production center and Chinese Hope TV.
Remarkably, about 8 million Mandarin Voice of Hope radio programs are downloaded as podcasts every day in mainland China, according to Adventist World Radio, which also broadcasts the programs on shortwave from the Pacific island of Guam.
“We are thrilled that the good news of Jesus is being downloaded by so many people,” Robert Folkenberg Jr., president of the Chinese Union Mission, said Thursday. “Can you think of any other media platform where we can share Jesus directly with people all across China — right into their computers and into their mobile phones where they can listen freely at their leisure? God is good.”
The media center has only three full-time employees and one part-time staff member. They produce 10 hours of Mandarin programs a day, including segments that some Chinese believers record in their closets.
“There are natural acoustics there,” said Liu, a former producer who now serves as the media center’s executive director.
The media center’s impact has astonished senior church administrators. Ella Simmons, a general vice president of the Adventist world church, called the operation “impressive” after taking a recent tour.
“They are reaching far more people than I expected,” she told the Adventist Review. “At first glance I thought it was a small operation. But when I found the range of their reach, it was just astounding to me.”
Adventist World Radio started broadcasting from Guam in 1987 from a shortwave station built with funds from a special offering at the 1985 General Conference Session and donors around the world.
“That station was built primarily to reach the people of China,” said Greg Scott, senior vice president of Adventist World Radio, who served as the program director in Guam from 1987 to 1995.
Today, the Guam’s broadcasts blanket not only China but also the entire continent of Asia with the gospel message in more than 30 languages. The station transmits 320 hours a week and has the capacity for even more.
All programs aired worldwide by Adventist World Radio have been available as downloadable podcasts since 2010, Scott said. The podcasts have grown to 12 million subscribers for programs in more than 100 languages.
Chinese Hope TV, which began broadcasting via satellite in 2011, can be viewed by potentially 300 million Chinese people. TV programs are supplemented by material that producers in Hong Kong dub into Mandarin from Hope Channel’s headquarters in the United States.
While the media center is small compared with the largest Adventist media center, located in Brazil with 300 staff members, its potential audience is enormous.
The majority of its Chinese audience is Christian but not members of the Adventist Church, Liu said. About 60 million people in China’s population of 1.4 billion are Christian, according to Chinese government figures. The Adventist Church has an estimated 410,000 members in China, or less than 1 percent of all Christians.
“There is much more we need to do,” Liu said in an interview in his small office.
Media, he said, is the best way to reach the Chinese people in a part of the world where it is challenging to invite them to attend church and to send missionaries.
“I truly believe in media,” he said. “Media is the way we can go into people’s homes to spread the message.”
Restrictions remain in place for media in China, and many Christian broadcasters beam their programs from other locations. A major concern for Liu is to keep his media center’s broadcast standards high so it can be competitive now and can apply for an official television channel if that becomes possible one day.
“If God opened the media door in China, do you think we as Adventists could go in and compete with them?” he said. “We are trying to prepare ourselves.”
The key ingredient to being prepared is keeping the focus on Jesus, just as the media center decided to do in 1989, he said.
About two months after the 1989 decision, the media center received a letter from a listener in China who was grateful that the radio was still on the air. It read, “We prayed for the station and for you because we need you and your message.”
“It’s some kind of miracle,” Liu said. “God keeps protecting this small studio and what we do.”