Flying home to Bonaire after TWR’s Latin America and Caribbean Partners Conference, Mariette Oosterhoff read troubling news reports of violent protests in Paraguay and arrests in crisis-ridden Venezuela.
She was struck by the realization that her perspective on these current events had changed because “every country now has a face and a story,” a viewpoint voiced by several others among the more than three dozen conference attendees.
"Conflicts, dictators, unstable political situations we hear and read about in the news,” wrote Oosterhoff, who became TWR’s marketing and communications director for the region less than a year ago and is based at the ministry’s transmitter station on Bonaire. “But this week I have learned that in all these countries, servants of the Lord are faithfully searching for ways to tell the people about Jesus, who can heal and change hearts.”
Bonding and learning from one another are a lot of what the conference, held this year during the last week of March in Cary, North Carolina, is all about. In Latin America and the Caribbean, TWR has national partners in 16 countries – in other words, indigenously run media organizations closely affiliated with the international media ministry.
Steve Shantz, TWR vice president for the region, said, “This week was very positive in terms of our Latin America and Caribbean partners becoming more closely associated. I think that relationships were deepened. I was especially encouraged by the amount of focus on funding their ministries through local donations and the fact that many are doing this very well and others are beginning to learn how to raise funds for their people.”
Representatives of the national partners reported on the work in their respective countries, with RTM Venezuela’s account of conditions amid the political and economic crisis in that country eliciting strong sympathy. RTM Venezuela (RTM is the Spanish version of TWR) director Gabriel Fernandez and board chairman Ramon Munoz said food is scarce, disease is on the rise while little medicine is available, and some poorer people have abandoned their children.
Funding shortfalls mean RTM Venezuela staff are working fewer hours. They are continuing to produce and broadcast radio programs, however, and listeners call in for advice on how to get by during the difficult circumstances.
“Listening to the brother from Venezuela touched me a lot,” said David Gonzalez, who works alongside his father, Alberto, TWR’s representative in Cuba. “We [in Cuba] have been there. For us, we feel like we are on the way back from that place and they are in their way to that place. It’s like passing each other on the highway, and you know their destiny is not going to be nice, because I came from there. You know they are going face hardships, and their faith is going to be tested.”
Striking details also emerged from accounts of RTM Colombia’s outreach. Juan Marcos Neira, director of the Colombia ministry, said criminal outfits such as the notorious drug cartels aggressively oppose the church.
“They’ll do anything to prevent Christians from sharing about Jesus,” Neira said. “But they cannot stop radio, especially not the broadcasts coming from [the TWR transmitter on] Bonaire. In some areas, criminal organizations try to force churches to close. In that way, the youth will not be influenced by Christians and they can make them join their organizations.”
The Seminary in the Next Room
One of the most inspirational features of TWR gatherings such as this are the letters, phone calls and email from listeners sharing how the Word of God carried over various media channels has transformed lives. Esteban Rodas of Radio Cultural TGN in Guatemala told about the time he became friends with a local pastor while scouting a remote mountainous area for a spot to place a radio tower.
“I wanted to make an appointment with him, and he said, ‘I can meet you at 6 a.m. because at 7 a.m. I have to go to seminary.’ I asked, ‘Can I go with you?’ I walked with him to another room, and he turned on the radio and started to listen to [TWR’s broadcast of] Thru the Bible! He took his notebook and made many notes. He said, ‘This is my homework. I cannot go to seminary, but this how I prepare my sermons.’”
Photo of the national partner representatives at the Latin American Partners conference of 2017.