Interview with Bill McClure

Bill McClure is welcomed to the campus of Eastern Bible Institute in Yangon, Burma, by two young Rawang women in traditional dress.
By Brad Dupray

Bill McClure received his initiation to the world of broadcasting as a student at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri. His subsequent experience in secular broadcasting led to a role with the Revival Fires Ministry in Joplin and ultimately to his appointment as executive director of Gospel Broadcasting Mission (GBM) in 1978. Today, GBM reaches millions worldwide through short-wave radio transmissions and via The Christians’ Hour radio broadcast, which can be heard on radio stations in the United States and worldwide via the Internet. For more information about Gospel Broadcasting Mission and Bill’s daily radio program, Uplift, visit www.gospelbroadcastingmission.org.

How has broadcasting changed the face of missions over the past century?

Broadcasting has enlarged the audience for the message of missions and given the common man the opportunity to hear the gospel in his own language. With the high cost of sending missionaries, it seems to me that using electronic means to spread the gospel makes good sense. It’s an economical method of reaching masses of people with the gospel. Someone said, “By radio we can reach more people at one time than Paul reached in a lifetime.”

What does radio do that other missions cannot do?

Radio can reach behind locked doors. It can reach behind walls of all kinds that are constructed by governments—friendly or unfriendly. Radio is a great method of communicating with people who don’t have ordinary access to a church building or who must listen secretly.

Is there a specific part of the world where broadcasting the gospel message is especially needed?

Our broadcasts are directed primarily at the 10/40 window*. That’s where most of the unreached people in the world live. In some of these countries less than 2 percent of the people are Christian.

And that hits a lot of the Muslim world?

Yes, the Muslim world opposes the Christian message, of course, but they’re not able to turn off the power of international radio. We broadcast by short-wave, so consequently they cannot terminate the message made available to their people. It doesn’t mean they’re all listening, but it’s much like the Internet without the restrictions.

Why is short-wave radio a better choice than other types of broadcasting?

It helps us reach people in remote areas. Our programs on Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) are transmitted from Manila. They bounce the signal off the ionosphere (it’s like a magnetic belt around the earth) with some accuracy and it is reflected down on the country we’re trying to reach.

An example: We have several daily broadcasts heard in Burma, but actually transmitted from Manila. The Buddhist government in Burma does not want the Christian message heard, but as long as people have short-wave radios, they can hear.

How available are short-wave radios to residents of third world countries?

We work closely with Asia Christian Services and other missions to place them in the hands of men and women who will deliver these short-wave radios to villages. It is not against the law to do that. In China we can purchase radios for $10 and they will last for years. Even in remote villages they can buy batteries for them.

Are all of the programs produced in Manila, or are some recorded here in the U.S.?

Actually, neither. The programs are produced within the country we are trying to reach. They are then sent, or hand-carried to Manila, where they are put on short-wave and beamed back to the country of origin. In Yangon (formerly Rangoon, the capital of Burma), it is not against the law to have radio studios, and some of our programs are produced in those studios. We also have small house studios in central and northern Burma for local languages.

So you are able to use preachers who are local to the targeted broadcast.

Nationals who are graduates from several of our Christian colleges are teaching on radio and developing radio broadcasts within their homeland. We are currently broadcasting in 16 languages, and most of these are daily programs broadcast every evening.

How do people in targeted countries become aware of your broadcasts?

We have been on their radio for almost 50 years, working with missionaries like the Morse family and others, so word gets around. For as long as I’ve been part of the work, we have sponsored the Lisu and Rawang programs—and have added many others. Basically, some of our programs are the only ones heard in those languages. Listeners help recruit other listeners.

How many people are you reaching?

There really is no way to determine an exact number of listeners. We do have an idea that if we have the only Christian broadcast in that language serving that part of the world, and if the number of Christians is increasing, and the local Christian workers report growth of listeners through their personal visits, that we’re pretty effective. T. Lunkim in northeast India reports hundreds of churches started and thousands of converts as a result of years of broadcasting in the Kuki and Meitei languages.

So you do have some means of “connecting the dots” to people reached with the broadcast message?

Yes, we have an increasing number of churches that are being established in that part of the world, often by the broadcasters themselves and the workers they have trained. For example, one of the men who was trained in Cincinnati has a broadcast in Pa-Oh. It’s the only broadcast in that language. There is a Pa-Oh man who was a Buddhist priest for 18 years and listened to the broadcast. He began studying the Bible, has now become a Christian, and is enrolled in a Bible college studying for the ministry.

What has been the biggest surprise you’ve encountered in this ministry?

The biggest surprise is the fact that sometimes churches and Christians in the United States seem to forget the power of international radio. In the U.S. we’re “covered up” with media. But in parts of the world like Asia, especially in remote areas, radio may be the only medium they have. Some Americans may think radio is not as effective in the U.S. as it was 30 years ago, but it is effective, especially when used to preach the gospel worldwide.

How has the development of the Internet changed the way you do ministry?

We’re on the Internet with our English program, The Christians’ Hour. Our goal is eventually to have our international programs on the Internet. Currently the Internet is highly controlled by the host countries. During the recent Cyclone Nargis, the Burmese government turned off the Internet (every country has that option). So they very carefully monitor what is going on. That’s why we use short-wave. It goes over and around the monitors’ ability to prohibit or restrict.

Do those in different generations respond differently to a broadcast ministry?

It’s trans-generational in remote areas. Young people like their music, which sometimes is not the music of their mothers and fathers—that’s the same worldwide. Of course when the Internet is available they can listen to American or European music and develop their own tastes. I was recently in Ching Mai, Thailand, and they have a group called the Omega Band. They’re Lisu, and their music would sound very much like American Christian rock and it is very popular with Thai and Burmese young people.

So you broadcast more than preaching?

Yes, the studios we sponsor record local Christian music CDs and videos, but most of our radio programs are biblical. Short-wave stations like FEBC, Trans World Radio, and HCJB encourage producers to include things like health tips and hygiene practices, but every broadcast centers on the gospel.

You’re really connected with a wide variety of missions.

Yes, we network mostly through our Christian churches and churches of Christ and friendly evangelical groups. By that I mean ministries like Far East Broadcasting, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and other well-known ministries that have a visible presence in Southeast Asia and other countries where we have broadcasts. The issues that divide us at home are not really as evident on the mission field because the enemy we face is so vast in terms of numbers.

Do you have plans to expand your ministry beyond Southeast Asia?

We’re working with Good News Productions on a new radio station in Uganda that will train broadcasters for African and Muslim audiences in several languages. Additionally, we’re working with World Christian Broadcasting, an a cappella ministry, building a transmitter on Madagascar that will reach every Arabic-speaking country in the world. They are building the transmitter site, and we hope to work with them on Arabic programming.

What makes your ministry vital?

It’s vital to the missions programs of our churches because it gives us a worldwide outreach. A few years ago one of the churches that started supporting us said they did so because they wanted to get involved with the whole world and not just an individual country. While we’re not reaching the whole world by ourselves, we‘re cooperating with people who have the same goal.

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* “The 10/40 window” is an area that contains the largest population of non-Christians in the world. It extends from 10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator, and stretches from North Africa across to China.

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Brad Dupray is senior vice president, investor development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.

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