The Franco regime ruled Spain in 1952, when Helmut Gaertner was sent there to serve as a missionary. The assignment was made just one year after Germany Missionary Fellowship (abbreviated in German as DMG) was founded and in connection with the Evangelical City Mission Darmstadt-Arheilgen.
In Franco’s Spain less than a decade after the end of World War II, evangelical Christians faced difficult lives. In one of the first prayer letters, Gaertner wrote: “A young Spaniard, who had been enjoying his salvation in Christ and had been serving his Savior, lost his job because of his faithful testimony. With the help of the police, they tried to make him deny his faith ... but he remained steadfast.”
Gaertner would go on to serve in key roles as TWR and its partners introduced and expanded gospel radio in Europe. On the first day of 2021, this dedicated man of God passed away at the age of 93.
In other installments of those early reports from Spain, Gaertner told of small congregations that were ordered to pay high fines "for illegally holding church services.” He also shared about the spiritual fruit of the ministry. "After talking for hours, a young man gave his heart to the Savior,” one report said, and another said, "Recently, seven young converts gave testimony of their redemption in Jesus Christ as they were baptized."
After a short time, this very first DMG missionary was expelled from Spain, and he moved across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier. There, the American missionary Dr. Paul Freed had founded the Voice of Tangier Christian radio station in 1954. Gaertner teamed up with him and produced radio broadcasts in Spanish. Thousands who were reached with the good news of Jesus wrote to the station, and Gaertner replied. Additionally, he served as the pastor of the local Spanish community.
Starting in 1956, he also produced radio broadcasts in German. He married in November of that year, and he and his wife, Kaethe, served in the administration of the ministry that had now taken the name Trans World Radio (TWR). They also taught at the newly founded Bible school in Tangier and served as dorm parents. Tragically, however, after just two years, Kaethe died from an unrecognized rare form of ectopic pregnancy. Gaertner continued in his blessed ministry – going beyond his strength.
Tangier was strategically located, and Christian radio programs were soon to be broadcast in 27 languages. After the change of government in Morocco in 1959, all radio was nationalized, and TWR moved its operation to Monte Carlo. Dr. Freed asked Gaertner to set up the German branch of TWR in Wetzlar, which became the home of Evangeliums-Rundfunk, known today as ERF Medien. Helmut took leave from DMG and served as the first managing director of ERF.
As Bill Mial, the first TWR missionary sent to Tangier, recalls:
“The impact of this efficient, dedicated man made an immediate impression on us. … At the conclusion of 1959, when the Voice of Tangier was transitioning to become Trans World Radio, Helmut became heavily involved with Brother Hermann Schulte in the formation of Evangeliums-Rundfunk and the implementation of a plan to get churches and believers in Germany behind the new Monte Carlo project. … Helmut was tireless and detailed in their strategy and played a major role in seeing the ministry move forward and grow at an amazing rate."
“Helmut was an unusual brother who served as a wonderful example to these ‘young missionaries,’ such as me, during their formation years.”
Helmut Menzel, who served as technical director for TWR in Europe for many years, started out as an intern for ERF in the winter season of 1960-61. This is where he met Helmut Gaertner, who was CEO of ERF and whose leadership skills made a deep impression on him.
“I remember that I did not envy him. … He had to deal with Christian businessmen, established church leaders, bishops of the German state churches and government agencies as well. … He continued to serve the Lord by leading people. He impressed me with his seriousness.”
After the death of Kaethe, Gaertner married again. His second wife passed away only a few weeks before his own death on Jan. 1, 2021.
Twenty years ago, DMG mission leader Manfred Bluthardt wrote, “Even if not a single DMG missionary had been sent out apart from the Gaertners, the establishment of DMG would have been worth it. God had richly blessed the dedication and commitment of this first missionary and multiplied it a hundredfold.”
Images: [top] Helmut Gaertner recording a program in the early days of TWR, [top, right] TWR staff in Tangier in 1959, Helmut Gaertner is standing seventh from the left, [center, left] early ERF administration, Helmut Gaertner on the far right, [bottom, right] courtesy of DMG: Helmut Gaertner, far right, at a team meeting of the Voice of Tangier.
Original text written by DMG, translated from the original German here.