from the earliest time God has wanted to relate closely to the people of his Creation. Throughout the Old Testament we read how he dwelt among the Israelites through the Ark of the Covenant. Before the building of the Temple, the Ark spent much of its time resting in the tabernacle – a tent – that travelled with them as their mobile place of worship..
When Jesus came to planet Earth God took on human flesh and became one of us. He "dwelt among us" keeping up the same tradition and making the same point - that he wanted to closely identify with human beings. This was the essence of the Christmas story and it was lived out by Jesus in the 33 years of his life that followed. When the veil of the temple was ripped from top to bottom, at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, it made the point very eloquently that the way to God had now been opened up.
The notion of God dwelling among us also provides the template for us today — not just as his followers, but as Christian broadcasters.
Incarnational programs are journalistic, deeply rooted and grounded in the narrative of everyday life. They begin with people, and take the Good News about Jesus - by word, deed, or both - to people right where they are today. As such they ably demonstrate that Christians are not from another planet but are ordinary, compassionate, down-to-earth fellow pilgrims, struggling with the same issues of life, while relating to it meaningfully. This is because of their first person encounter with the Living God, the Author of the Universe.
It is easier to specify characteristics than to provide a definition for Incarnational Radio - since it is so encompassing. Here are some characteristics:
Broadcasts or programs that exhibit any of the above characteristics might be described as having "incarnational" qualities. But in the Christian context the constant characteristic, surely, is that each will in some measure reflect Kingdom values. Broadcasters, journalists, community workers need to be all doing the kinds of thing Jesus would be doing today in our communities, interacting with people in the course of their daily lives.
In Christian terms we might say that being "incarnational" is effectively extending Jesus' ministry in the world as described in John 1:14: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The literal meaning here is that Jesus "pitched his tent among us". A very tangible bridge had been built between God and mankind - and as his disciples we need to continue to demonstrate that. As Bishop Graham Cray points out: Jesus came to bless, to do good, irrespective of other people's opinion of his behaviour or their hostility. We are called to show the same character, becoming those for whom not to do good to others is unthinkable. (Graham Cray commenting on Mark 3:1-6 EWG June 21 2008).
Cray also introduces the idea of our role as being to bless others:
It is the nature of the Kingdom of God as embodied in the life of Jesus, to bless. Jesus always brought a blessing; he always set out to do good. That was why he healed irrespective of people's broader response to his claims. His life was one of proactive goodness. (Graham Cray commenting on Mark 1:40-45 EWG June 17 2008)
Some might ask if it is really possible to do this by radio, especially as radio was not around during Jesus' time on earth. (What do you think?)
Others ask if we are in fact really describing community radio in another form. It is true that some characteristics could be used to describe aspects of community radio. It would be easy to describe some community radio stations as incarnational, but to suggest that incarnational is simply another name for community radio would be both limiting and misleading. For one thing, community radio means different things in different countries depending on the licencing laws. In many countries it is generally confined to local stations. Incarnational ministry can be performed through broadcasts from international radio stations. Moreover, a definition of community radio prescribes a specific genre of radio station and assumes a specific style of ownership and access by the community. See Wikipedia for description of Community Radio.
Participants in FEBC's 2008 RadioFest were moved by Keiko's "Showcase" on Compassionate Ministry. It highlighted her counselling program Keiko's Mailbag, a longstanding daily feature of FEBC's Japanese service. In each program she focuses exclusively on one letter from a listener and seeks to let Jesus minister through her to that listener who has opened up their heart. See Examples below.
We might call such a program "incarnational" - but it is not community radio in the accepted sense. It is broadcast via mediumwave from Korea to Japan. It can also be heard via the Internet.
Attitudes and relationships are critically important too; how the presenter positions himself/herself relative to the listener has a lot to do with it. Stepping out of the station and coming alongside people is a major characteristic. The presenter needs to be vulnerable, open to be challenged or interrogated - even disagreed with!
Let us examine the characteristics more closely. They fall into four basic groups which we now look at in turn...
The question needs to be asked for a number of good reasons. We may even have our own doubts, wondering why we need to go beyond simply talking about Christian belief and the need to be "saved". Even when we are convinced of the need to put our belief into practice and outwork our faith in 21st century life, we still need to know how to explain it to churches and supporters who have not yet arrived.
Here are a few basic considerations:
The Levitical law had a lot to say about providing for the needs of the poor and laid down guidelines for such practices as gleaning the left-over wheat.
In the New Testament James picks up the same theme writing that true religion is caring for the widows and the orphans in distress. He rightly points out that faith and works are needed in equal measure: our faith saves us but it is our actions that validate and verify/authenticate the spiritual changes that we claim. “Faith without works is dead!” he declares.
"Whole life discipleship" is a phrase used often by Bishop Graham Cray. He writes:
Life and doctrine go together. As we believe so we live. Our lives show what we have chosen to believe even if that contradicts what we claim to believe. The choices of our hearts are revealed in our words and deeds. (EWG 10 Jul 07 Graham Cray 1 Tim 4)
Alistair Campbell also comments on this in writing about Psalm 100:
The word translated 'worship' can also be translated 'serve' and this reminds us that worship cannot be limited to singing in church but involves the offering of our whole selves in active service. We need both: without praise service becomes mere busyness; without service praise becomes nothing but an emotional spasm. (EWG 27 Apr 08 Alastair Campbell comment on Ps 100)
Bryant Myers in his book Walking With the Poor (Orbis books 1999) describes the theological basis for transformational development (which is what Incarnational radio is all about) in terms of a story, the end of which is the end of history. At the end of history there will be - finally - no more tears, nor death, crying or pain. There will be no more famine or drought, because everything is made new. (Rev 7:16, 21:3,4). The point of the story is to show that since the beginning of time God has been at work redeeming his people and restoring everything that fell apart at The Fall. At the centre of that story is the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus - the pivotal point in human history. The goal of this story is to reconcile all things, on earth and in heaven with Christ as the head. It is a story in which we are all invited to participate.
A lot is being written these days about the missional nature of the church and what this means in practice in contemporary times. The Micah Challenge campaign is working hard to bring an awareness of our Christian social responsibility to the church. Dr Tim Chester has identified some of the major barriers the church faces. "Holistic church planting" is a term used to convey the basic truth that mission is much more than verbal alone, but extends to practical demonstration of Christian love and compassion as well. Many stories are coming to the fore of churches engaging the community through practical programs of help. The Word becomes flesh in improving people's living conditions, in restoring broken relationships, in improving health and sanitation, access to clean water, in raising the status of women and orphans.... the list goes on and on...
Two years later in 1999 DXFE was awarded the Most Outstanding Corruption Prevention Unit award in Mindanao for its valuable contribution in the field of graft prevention and public assistance.
The program calls for Keiko's total honesty and integrity, and in so doing she makes herself vulnerable to her listeners. She sees being honest as the most important thing. She also meets her listeners as equals - even to the point of how she replies. If they write by hand she or her team also write by hand. If the listener sends and e-mail then they respond by e-mail.
When most drivers don't notice the faded pedestrian crossing lines on the road is it enough to air spots to remind them to give way? WIND-FM (FEBC Mongolia) staff made a large cardboard STOP sign and took to the streets to interview drivers at pedestrian crossings. While one person held the sign, another asked drivers about their understanding of pedestrian crossings. Their physical presence made that one crossing safer, and the live vox-pop encouraged drivers to start looking more attentively for all crossings.
The program has now been running for 8 years in Bangkok. It generates many phone calls and FEBC-Thailand staff often respond with personal visits to listeners. It has also been successful in one of the provincial cities in the northeast – Korat — but FEBC staff have no access to the feedback. The overall response is around 300 letters per month – plus many phone calls to the follow-up department in what is best described as a team approach that well integrates both on-air and off-air ministry.
FIRST Response, FEBC's emergency response team, was on the scene immediately following the Bihar Flood disaster in September, 2008. Working with partners, FIRST Response India, whom they had trained just 3 months earlier) they fielded a team to the flood-affected area. This team, using a studio-in-a-suitcase, produced 60 minutes of programs daily for broadcast via shortwave. These programs included live interviews with officials, medical teams and affected people who fled to the state capital. Many of these were encamped along the railway and road embankments for many kilometres.
There was a significant response from people hit hardest by the floods. As soon as the first program was broadcast listeners began calling a special number set up for the broadcasts. They also used SMS (text) messaging They shared their experiences, asked for help and asked questions they needed answers to.
Download this entire chapter 4 as a PDF file
Last updated 14 July 2010