How do you see persecution? According to Open Doors, 1 in 8 Christians worldwide experiences persecution for their faith. That’s 1 in 8 of us whose faith can come at great cost — in some cases, even at the cost of life itself. This month, in response to this painful statistic, we will be sharing stories in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who so often live out their faith in the shadows. We pray this would shine a light in the otherwise-darkened corners of our world and connect us all to these hidden members of the body of Christ.
From its remote setting in the western Pacific, KTWR radiates messages of hope to believers and nonbelievers living in lands where the gospel regularly encounters aggressive antagonism.
Several of these countries hold positions on Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List, which annually identifies “the top 50 countries where it’s most difficult to follow Jesus.” Among them are Indonesia, India and the biggest country of all, China. At the very top of the list, for the 20th year in a row, sits North Korea.
The kind and degree of adversity faced by Christians tend to vary widely among and within these countries. But the very existence of the adversity hinders or even halts believers – especially new believers who are most in need – from learning more about Scripture, being encouraged by brothers and sisters, and sharing in prayer and worship experiences. Gospel radio broadcasts like the ones from the powerful TWR shortwave transmitter on Guam can overcome the barriers and bring tools for spiritual growth to people who can’t freely practice their faith.
This is the whole purpose of KTWR: proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ so that it can transform the lives of individuals in these Watch List countries and many other lands, as well. But now a serious problem is threatening its future. Constant maintenance and plenty of upgrades by the KTWR staff have kept the station on the air, but 44 years of sun, sea salt, water and wind have taken a heavy toll on much of the equipment – especially the 300-foot broadcast towers.
For a little context, think about this: When KTWR first went on the air, the tumultuous decade of the Cultural Revolution in China had only recently ended and Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of current President Kim Jong Un, still had 17 years to go as ruler of North Korea. If TWR’s biblically solid Christian programming is to continue reaching out to these and other countries all these years later, an all-hands-on-deck effort is necessary to restore the heavily worn facilities on Guam and at the same time get them ready for fast-approaching digital broadcasting.
That’s the purpose of A Strong Tower for Asia, a huge project that is already underway and expected to take up to two years to complete. In excitingly short order, generous supporters of TWR ministry have made a significant dent in the $1.5 million fundraising goal. This means the next big step in the process – bringing contract estimators to Guam to draw up bids on the work – will go forward as soon as the governor lifts the COVID-19 quarantine of the island.
“In the meantime, many of the staff at KTWR, who are certified tower climbers, and others in support roles, have gone well above their normal duties to replace many tower braces, rusted shackles, corroded guy turnbuckles and guy wires to restore needed strength to several of the tower masts,” Darin Alvord, the TWR missionary who serves as project manager, said during the last week of March. “This has been emergency remediation to prevent catastrophic failure of these big structures during the wet season. The work has been of great benefit during a time of pandemic with its very real limitations.”
Alvord’s update on the status of the Strong Tower project is welcome news to Boaz Seong, national director of TWR Korea, and May Chen, who leads TWR’s vital Chinese Ministry. Seong said access to the internet is extremely restricted in North Korea but KTWR’s shortwave signal covers the whole country with uncensored Bible messages.
Before Korea was divided, Christianity was thriving in the north with a church in every village. When the split came, severe persecution drove believers into hiding; the remnant that remains faithful is said to be small. However, unexpected developments have led to new believers even among the North Koreans.
During times of severe shortages in the past 20 years, he explained, some North Koreans secretly crossed the border to obtain food and while abroad heard the gospel and became believers. When they returned home, the only help they had to grow in Christ came over the airwaves.
In China, Chen said, “Although the internet has been gaining popularity, the latest internet report revealed that 33%, or 463 million of the population, are offline. Shortwave broadcasts can be a viable channel to reach these people who are not connected to the internet.”
Put simply, KTWR is an indispensable partner in the Church’s work in China. A pastor in that country who works closely with the Chinese Ministry to distribute shortwave radios among the large populations of unreached people groups offered a compelling observation from the field. China sits far below No. 1 North Korea on the World Watch List, but it has moved in the upward – the wrong direction, in other words – by 26 places in only three years.
“In China today, Christianity is a sensitive topic,” said the pastor, whose name is withheld for security reasons. “Religious books, publications, WeChat public accounts and WeChat accounts are basically blocked. From now on, it’ll be more and more difficult to obtain spiritual provision. Hence, we find radio at an advantage now because it will not be bound by these. The need will be great.”
If you want to be a part of the indispensable outreach from TWR’s station on the remote island of Guam, the Strong Tower project needs your help. May we urge you to pray about whether the Lord has a role for you in this ministry and then to let us know here?
* Stock images are used to protect the individuals’ privacy.