A few years ago, RTM* Paraguay staff were planning a luncheon meeting with their board members and settled on barbecue for the main course. Maralina Alfonso, the ministry’s executive director, got in touch with a barbecue caterer, who agreed to serve the meal.
Arriving for the event, he said, “RTM? You don’t need to pay me anything. I want to do the barbecue with all my heart because RTM is a very powerful name for me.”
When he was 8 years old, he explained, his mother gathered her eight children around the bed every evening, put the radio on the bed and turned on the gospel programs from “RTM, the light that illuminates the road from Bonaire” – in other words, TWR’s powerful transmitter in the Caribbean. The man even sang the jingle he remembered from those radio broadcasts.
“I cannot believe it that all that time has gone by, and now you call me from RTM Paraguay!” he added, obviously pleased to be reunited with the source of those long-ago family Bible sessions.
This year TWR’s national partner in Paraguay is celebrating 25 years of that kind of life impact through media ministry. Growing out of efforts to minister to German speakers in the southern portion of South America, RTM Paraguay today produces programs for men, women and children and broadcasts over 42 Christian radio stations and multiple AM and FM commercial outlets. The ministry also operates its own online radio station, an effective outreach to women in prison, and media-training seminars for pastors and seminary students.
TWR German Partner Had Leading Role
In its ministry of over half a century to South America, TWR has long been aided by the stalwart efforts of its national partner in Germany, ERF Medien. German, after all, is the fourth most common nonindigenous language on the continent, and millions of people of German ancestry are dispersed across Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and other countries.
Long before RTM Paraguay was organized, a young woman whose parents had immigrated to Paraguay from the Soviet Union was hoping to find a way to serve the Lord, but she didn’t feel cut out to teach a Sunday-school class. Then Gisela Walde, whose maiden surname is Loewen, heard a call for volunteers issued by Pastor Alberto Ziegler, the Argentina-based leader of an audio ministry supported by TWR and ERF and aimed at German speakers of southern South America.
Her new volunteer job involved representing the ministry and distributing radio programs to German speakers in the country. The distribution list kept expanding, and eventually she began raising money to grow the outreach even more. Then she teamed up to continue the work with Ernst Weichselberger, who was appointed by the Committee of German-speaking Mennonite Brethren Churches to oversee the TWR- and ERF-based ministry in Paraguay.
On Jan. 31, 1994, RTM Paraguay was officially established with Weichselberger as founding director. The media ministry has been growing and developing ever since.
“Our strength is that we always are thinking, asking God to inspire us to be a good option for the listeners,” said Alfonso, who became director in 2014. “And to be relevant, we ask ourselves what people need in this time, this digital time. We like innovation and search out how can we improve and innovate to reach the millennials and to reach and build bridges between the generations.”
Meeting Christ in Prison
One of those heavenly inspirations came early on, when a highly fruitful ministry to women in prisons was started by Annie Weichselberger and Marli Spieker, the founder of TWR Women of Hope. At a recent celebration of RTM Paraguay’s 25th anniversary, a woman inmate told of the prison ministry’s impact on her life. She had turned away from suicide, which she seriously contemplated after facing rejection by the other prisoners during her lengthy sentence.
“In the prison, we saw the living Christ in the Women of Hope team,” said the woman, whose name is withheld to shield her identity. “… That is what Women of Hope is for us; it really is hope. I have changed. ” And she added, “There are so many women there in the prison who are coming when the Women of Hope team visits the prisons, praying with them and giving them words of life and hope.”
Just last year, RTM Paraguay launched an internet radio station, offering Bible-based music, messages, reflections, interviews and resources for discipleship. Weichselberger said the station, easily accessible from anywhere via a free cellphone app, dovetails with the ministry’s “goal of responding to the needs of modern-day listeners” and “allows the message of hope to reach more people and more places.”
RTM Paraguay’s newest innovation involves video programming on the internet. Alfonso said the ministry has already built a small set for use in video production and created a list of pastors ready and willing to participate in the upcoming outreach.
“We want to produce content for social media,” Alfonso said. “We will start with a program providing powerful answers to powerful questions from listeners.”
* RTM is the Spanish and Portuguese equivalent of TWR.
PHOTOS: [top] From left, Olav Hardang of P7 Kristen Riksradio, Norway; Esteban Larrosa, TWR regional ministry director for southern Latin America; RTM Paraguay Director Maralina Alfonso; and Alejandro Mainero, president of the RTM Paraguay board, [middle, right] Board members of RTM Paraguay gather for a group photo, [middle, left] Claudia Schmidt of ERF Medien, Ernst Weichselberger and Gisela Walde (second, third and fourth from right), along with members of Weichselberger’s family, took part in RTM Paraguay’s 25th anniversary celebration at the TWR National Partners Conference in October