TWR Canada past-president Ray Alary blogged every Thursday, telling behind-the-scenes stories and ministry updates you won't find anywhere else. You can still access his stories and read about his time as a missionary with TWR.
In a recent blog I shared how Alex, director of the ministry in the Ukraine, had listened to TWR as a boy with his father. Alex followed that story by showing us a video of his father holding a reel-to-reel player so that the family could listen to the programs more than once; this let them listen to them as many times as they needed to completely understand the teaching. All of this took place while the Iron Curtain was still in place. No one took for granted that there would be a church to attend and, if there was one, that they could attend without being watched by those sympathetic to the government. This is the only time I have heard a story where someone carried a reel-to-reel player around to share the message with others.
Just seeing the reel-to-reel player brought back a flood of memories. Not too many years ago, TWR used reel-to-reel machines to play most of our programs. When I arrived in Swaziland in 1997, we had 21 of them to run our operation there. We had a technician whose primary responsibility was to keep them serviceable. Each office in the region also had a number as most of our programs were recorded using the reel-to-reel in the country where the language was spoken. Just getting tapes to Swaziland was a major task, and often things went wrong. Boxes of tape would get lost in getting to us, or they would get caught up in customs. You can imagine how happy we were when new technology was developed to simplify the process.
While many of you may have never seen a reel-to-reel machine, most of you will remember cassette tapes. In my home on Bonaire, cassettes were important. On Saturday mornings, TWR Bonaire had a children’s block of programs, but it aired so early that often the children missed it. That was not a major concern because we had a TWR library, and you could sign out cassettes of “A Visit with Mrs. G” and “Focus on the Family.” Every week we would hear those programs not once, but many times. I loved both of the programs and by the end of the week I could recite the program almost word for word. Those stories had a great impact on many of the families on Bonaire, including my own.
From reel to reel, there have been many changes on how we can listen to TWR programs. Today, most programs can be downloaded over the internet. You can listen at your leisure, and you can listen as many times as you want. Radio is still a great way to get the message to the masses, but what if you miss a program, or what if you don’t have a signal in your area? What if you live in a Muslim village where everyone is watching you and if you are caught listening, you are in a difficult position with your village elders or with your family? What if you want to listen to the program multiple times, or what if you want to share it with others?
TWR Canada has done multiple projects in recent years using media players, and in many cases now we can give an interested listener an SD card that can be put in their mobile phone. A few years ago, we did a project in West Africa. We distributed SD cards and got back amazing stories. An Imam came to Christ! In a Muslim village, an Imam! The mayor received a player and invited a local Christian leader to build a church in the community. One community in the Sahara Desert recently got in touch with us and told us how a number of small groups were now meeting together. The traveling pastor was so excited. Even though there was no radio signal there, this Muslim-background group was listening to the programs. In India, there are over 2,000 radio home groups meeting weekly using this modern technology, and the number grows weekly. The exciting part of this story is that the programming is in indigenous languages.
The point I want to make is that the only thing that has changed since the 1960’s is the technology. In the 1960’s, the player weighed at least 15 lbs for a portable player; today it weighs just ounces. A portable player in the 60’s cost in the hundreds of dollars; today a media player can cost as little as $10-15 depending on the features. Reel-to-reel tapes took up a lot of space; today the SD card is 2 cm square and can have hundreds of hours of programming on it.
The impact is the same; the message is the same. And lives are still being changed! I praise the Lord for the part that TWR Canada has played over our 45 years of ministry. The only thing that has changed is how we deliver the message.