NRB International Insider
A Tale of Two CountriesI know better. Spending a few days in a couple of countries does not make one an expert on them. Reading about them in Operation World gives good background, but can’t provide the experience needed to fully assess these lands. Visiting with people in these countries is a help in knowing the conditions and history that impact lives on a daily basis...but still can come up short. So my comments today, compiled from all these sources, are limited in many ways. So much for the disclaimer.
It seems to me that God is working in amazing ways in Eastern Europe. This former Communist stronghold could be one of the great growth areas for Christianity in coming months and years, with impact into Europe, the Middle East, and other regions.
I base this on a small area of opportunity that appears to be growing in some of these countries...Christian media. God is opening doors and calling His people to media-related ministries that have great potential for spiritual impact. Yet, the work is not easy, nor is the message always welcomed.
Let me briefly talk about two countries, Romania and Bulgaria. They have some similarities in their history, but some important differences in how things happen today. As usual for me, these discussions center around God’s faithful servants in these lands.
I was in Romania in late 2005, invited by Dr. Paul Negrut, president of Emmanuel University in Oradea. While there for a few days I met Lucian Despa, the director of Radio Voice of the Gospel, based in Bucharest. Through the years Lucian and I have become friends as we work in the same arena, namely using media to get God’s message of hope in Jesus to those who need to hear.
Radio Voice of the Gospel has 9 FM stations across Romania, and uses satellite to further the signal within and beyond Romania. We are working to help Lucian get radio programming into the mountain villages where their current radio signals don’t reach. I know the work isn’t easy, but God is blessing.
Alpha Omega is a television ministry, headed by Tudor Petan, that has been serving the Lord for over 10 years. Based in Timisoara, Romania, it has had wonderful success in providing solid Christian programming through the years. While Alpha Omega TV has often provided programming in languages other than Romanian, the limited time on one channel has kept that facet rather small.
Tudor Petan’s vision is multiplying...literally. His hope is that Alpha Omega can acquire a digital multi-channel television platform that would allow them to provide several satellite TV channels to serve the various languages and dialects spoken in the Balkan region.
These are but two broadcast/media ministries operating in Romania. God has blessed the faith and the work of these servants who have followed the Lord’s vision for their country and beyond.
Bulgaria, Romania’s neighbor to the south, is another story. Like Romania, Bulgaria made the transition from Communism to democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s. But as you survey the country, you don’t see the network of Christian radio stations or find Christian TV stations impacting the lives of the Bulgarians. Yet God is at work.
Dr. Stoyko Petkov is a university professor of communications at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia. In addition to that he heads up a Christian TV production ministry called Studio 865. With financial support from outside Bulgaria, Stoyko and his team produce weekly programs that air on local TV and cable outlets. There is a vision to grow the Christian TV programming produced by Studio 865 into additional cable presence through some new channels available in Bulgaria.
I met Stoyko when I attended the Fellowship of European broadcasters conference in Sofia last spring. We were able to spend some time together during my stay as I sought to learn what conditions were like under the Communist rule, and what was happening now in Bulgaria. Stoyko told me of the persecution suffered by many Christians, particularly pastors and church leaders, who did not waiver or compromise their faith in the face of Communist pressure. Stoyko’s uncle served time in prison for his faith, and many were marginalized in their work opportunities or desire for higher education due to their active worship of Jesus as Lord.
So, how have things changed in Bulgaria? Though officially citizens have freedom to practice their faith, there are still barriers. The Orthodox church mounts campaigns to cast evangelicals in a bad light and to diminish their influence. The government often puts roadblocks in the path of those desiring to touch other lives with God’s Truth. Still, evangelical churches are growing in a strong way, even as Bulgaria’s population is shrinking.
When I asked Dr. Petkov why their neighbor to the north, Romania, was seeing great strides in Christian media, and Bulgarian evangelicals were still struggling to get a media foothold, he painted an interesting picture.
Romania became known in the Western world for their atrocities under the Communist leaders like Nicolae Ceausescu. There was much focus on Romania for reform and openness. While there was much oppression in Bulgaria, it did not rise to the level or gain media attention like in Romania. Therefore the pendulum did not have to swing very far to satisfy outsiders looking into Bulgaria and its new “freedom”. Many leaders under Communism remained in leadership, changing labels, and continuing a milder form of oppression on believers. Therefore, Christian media has been slow to take root in Bulgaria.
This may be a simplistic explanation of the differences evident today between these two former Soviet-influenced nations. Undoubtedly there are many other factors that come into play as evangelical Christians work to spread God’s Good News to their people. But it does give insight into the levels of opposition still faced throughout the Balkans. And it calls us to pray...and as God leads, provide help...for those faithful servants who stand tall in the faith and who serve our Lord Jesus with fervor and enthusiasm.
In the US these days we are concerned, and rightly so, with the continued freedom to broadcast the full Gospel of our Lord. Legislation before Congress has the strong potential to limit our free speech in telling forth God’s Truth to a dark and hurting world. Others around the world have experienced this oppression, and much worse, for years. Yet in all places, people need Jesus. There is an urgency to maintain what we have in the US as far as our broadcast freedoms. And there is an urgency to build up those in other places around our globe where God is at work, that they might be the lighthouse of truth shining into the darkness.
If you would like to know more about the ministries mentioned, Alpha Omega TV Ministry, Radio Voice of the Gospel, and/or Studio 865, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can reach me by phone at (817) 446-1094. And I invite you to visit our website, www.nrbpartnership.org, to learn more about helping Christian media ministries around the world.
Ronald L. Harris, DD
Senior Vice President for Strategic Partnership
National Religious Broadcasters
703-330-7000 (NRB HQ)
National Religious Broadcasters
Dr. Ron Harris
Senior VP for Strategic Partnership