The Bible Bus left Bonaire for the first time in 1973 for a trip across Latin America. Since then many listeners have climbed aboard the Bible Bus and journeyed through the Word of God. A Través de la Biblia (Thru the Bible in Spanish) is the most popular program broadcast from TWR radio station Shine 800 AM Bonaire and from hundreds FM radio stations across Latin America. Monthly, TWR receives more than 800 responses to the program. A Travès de la Biblia is a Bible study that takes five years to complete and then starts over again. Listeners can jump on the imaginary “bus” – a narrative device providing the framework for each program – anytime they like.
Recently we had the chance to ask Gregg Harris, CEO of Thru the Bible, a few questions.
What is the connection between Bonaire and TTB?
In the early ’70s, the founder of TTB, Dr. Vernon McGee, came to the island of Bonaire while making a cruise. He visited the radio station, and one of the staff members asked Vernon McGee, “Why not translate your Bible studies into Spanish?” At first, Dr. McGee was reluctant. However, he and Paul Freed were close friends and respected each other very much, and finally, Paul Freed was able to convince Dr. Vernon McGee to at least try Spanish programs as an experiment.
In those days, Samuel Montoya worked for the Spanish department on Bonaire, and he was asked to make 30-minute programs out of Dr. McGee’s Bible study. When Montoya first saw the scripts, he thought it was almost impossible to do this in 30 minutes, but he managed! He translated the theme song, “How Firm a Foundation,” into Spanish, and together with three other men on Bonaire, he formed a quartet and recorded the song in Spanish. This song is still being played in the program. Once the program was broadcast, the response and support came in so quickly and powerfully that within three years we went from being on the air only in English to 15 languages. And by the time, Dr. McGee died, in 1988, we had 37 languages. In 15 years we went from nothing to 37. Now we are in over 100 languages, and it all started in Bonaire.
What is the secret of the program that, after 45 years, people still like to listen to it?
The secret is that there is no secret. It is God’s Word. We are just giving out the Word of God. Thru the Bible is not about Dr. McGee, it is not about Samuel Montoya. They are vessels in the grace of God. But in the end, it is about God’s Word, which never dies. Our Bible-study program is now on over 1,000 radio stations. The Word of God is timeless; it blesses people when it is taught well. It is the policy of TTB that we don’t do active fundraising. Dr. Vernon McGee, when he knew he was dying, said to us, “Play the tapes until the money runs out.”
What makes a TTB program in Spanish different from, for example, a TTB program in Arabic?
We have always encouraged the producer to contextualize it. We tell them the theology should stay the same, but they can change the stories and the music. Our philosophy is that we want the listener to hear a culturally original program, not something that was brought from another part of the world. We don’t want it to be an American thing. In fact, in 125 languages we are now in, many don’t have the name Thru the Bible. In Arabic, it is called Treasures of Wisdom, for example. So every program we broadcast, we want it to sound like it comes from that country.
Is TTB a multigenerational thing?
I remember listener letters we read, and many of them say, "I grew up listening to A Travès de la Biblia from Bonaire. And then I fell away or moved away and years later I heard that familiar voice again and I am now back to listening to the same voice." The multigenerational effect of TTB is extraordinary.
Only last week Carol Munger (a retired TWR staff member) sent me this letter about Saul from El Salvador, who listens to ATB in Miami, Florida:
I was taking my morning walk and passed by a worker filling a couple holes in the street with asphalt. He was by himself doing a job that seemed to require at least two men working, but he completed his work with great care and precision. I walked a little farther on and then turned around toward home. I passed him again as he was finishing up, and the Lord told me to talk to him. I had forgotten my promo cards, and so I thought to myself, "I’ll show him my phone with this week’s ATB lessons on Daniel." After a brief greeting, I showed him the twr360.org website on my phone. When he saw it, he recognized it immediately and began telling me that he had been listening to the story of Daniel’s dream. Then he began to tell me how the ATB program with Samuel Montoya and Lemuel Larrosa is the only teaching that can be trusted today.
What has made the biggest impression on you working for TTB?
To see the unstoppable power of God’s Word. Nothing can stop God’s Word if he wants it to get to people. We often say that we are the ministry that should not exist. We don’t do things that make sense. We have a voice in our program that is dead for 33 years; we have programs that were recorded almost 40 years ago in English. We don’t ask for money. These things together are not a recipe for success when you use your brain. It is a faith venture. It is about faith, prayer and the Word of God. Month after month, we see that the Lord provides what we need. Sometimes it doesn’t look so good. But we say, “Lord, this is your ministry.” And we have a front-row seat to see that this is God’s ministry. We get to see the actual power at work.
Pictured from left to right: Jim Stone, TTB board member; Gregg Harris, TTB president; and Mariette Oosterhoff, TWR communications director for Latin America and the Caribbean.