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Medium changes; message stays the same

Celebrating 75 Years of media ministry

Back to God Ministries International (BTGMI) will reach a major milestone on December 17, 2014 – 75 years of proclaiming the gospel through media!

What began in 1939 as one radio program, in one language, broadcast on one radio station in Chicago, Illinois has grown to a multi-language, multi-media international outreach that touches millions of lives each year. (See earlier story in CC on October 13, 2014).

Visionary leaders in the Christian Reformed Church sensed the potential of radio as a means of spreading the gospel and created what would become The Back to God Hour. Thousands of listeners across North America were soon listening every Sunday morning as Rev. Peter Eldersveld – and later Dr. Joel Nederhood and others – delivered powerful biblical messages over the airwaves. 

As the audience grew, listeners requested discipleship resources. So in 1950 the Today devotional (originally The Family Altar) was created. Soon the subscription list swelled to 40,000 – then nearly doubled over the next four years. This little devotional book has blessed hundreds of thousands of people throughout many generations.

The CRC was convinced of the power of media to proclaim the gospel, disciple seekers and new believers, and grow Christ’s kingdom. The ministry continued looking for ways to be on the cutting edge of media outreach.

In 1953 Dr. Eldersveld used the next wave of media delivery – television – to launch a teaching series, Law and Love. And the ministry continued to grow as leaders saw the potential to reach beyond North America. Outreach expanded into other languages, first Arabic (1958), then Spanish (1965).

“In the decades that followed its humble beginnings, Back to God Ministries International continued to develop outreach in French, Indonesian, Portuguese, then Chinese, Japanese, Russian and, in 2009, Hindi,” says BTGMI director Rev. Kurt Selles.

Countless opportunities
In fact, to better reflect the worldwide multimedia impact, the ministry’s name – The Back to God Hour – changed in 2008 to Back to God Ministries International.

“Today, we work in 10 major world languages. We still use radio in places where radio remains the primary form of communication,” Selles adds. “But more and more we use the internet and social media channels to deliver our programs.”

Jerry An, BTGMI Chinese program director, has been instrumental in developing an in-country presence that is changing the future of Christian broadcasting in China.
He notes, “The daily average that people spend on smart phones is more than 2.5 hours. Do they have enough good Christian content? Can we share the gospel on smart phones? That really is the biggest opportunity for us.”

The Chinese ministry – along with several other BTGMI language teams – are developing social media and e-magazines to advance ministry through these new media channels.

Rev. Steven Koster, leader of ReFrame Media (BTGMI English outreach) explains the mission vision for reaching people through media. “We really want to be there for people wherever they are. Whether they are old or young, close to God or not close to God. We can reach so many more people worldwide through the internet than we could through a local radio broadcast or with paper and ink.”

When visionaries dreamed more than 75 years ago of how God might use radio, the “new” media tool, they most likely never imagined reaching millions of people in nearly every country of the world! Television, internet, social media and smart phones hadn’t been invented yet!

“As we look back over the past 75 years we are so grateful for God’s faithfulness,” says Selles. “We are grateful for the countless opportunities we’ve had to share God’s love and to see people come to know Jesus. We don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know how media will change. But God is faithful. We trust him and we remain committed to proclaiming the Good News, to helping people grow in their knowledge of Jesus, in order to see the church grow and God’s Kingdom to come.”   
 

  • Nancy Vander Meer has worked with Back to God Ministries International (BackToGod.net) since 2004. She’s a graduate of Dordt College and has been a teacher, youth and worship leader and children’s librarian.

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