|weat beaded the foreheads and ran down the faces of those packing the African courtroom that day in February 2008, but their concern wasn’t the oppressive heat. Instead, it was the future of the man sitting before them.
“Give us justice!” they appealed to the judge. “Make him pay!”
It might have been difficult for some to believe that this slight-of-build man, as a leader of what was commonly considered a terrorist group fighting against the government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), had plundered villages, raped women, and brutally tortured and killed hundreds of people. Gideon, together with his followers, was guilty of atrocious crimes. But when the United Nations instituted an amnesty program promising not to prosecute if they surrendered, Gideon decided to do just that. He handed over his AK-47 and placed himself at the mercy of the judge. But that day, before the judge could speak, Gideon slowly rose to his feet.
“I did not ask my lawyer to appeal for me to be set free,” Gideon said, shocking the crowd and essentially signing his death warrant. “I’m ready to stand trial and accept responsibility for my crimes.”
A few weeks later, under guard, he was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Impossible? No—not with God and the “instruments” He uses to reach a dying world. In Gideon’s case, that instrument was Hope Channel.
How Did It Start?
Hope Channel—the official television network of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—has its roots in satellite evangelism. First developed to broadcast the church’s NET evangelism satellite events in 1995, the network began airing regular monthly then weekly broadcasts. In 2003, when the media organization was given the name Hope Channel, it was broadcasting on both English and Portuguese channels. Six additional channels soon were added.
“We were born in evangelism, and satellite evangelism continues to be our core ‘business,’” says Brad Thorp, president of Hope Channel, based at the Adventist Church world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. “Evangelism is the reason we exist.”
Indeed, it was through a Hope Channel satellite evangelism series called Safari Africa uplinked from Kenya in 2007 that Gideon learned about the Adventist Church and a God who loves him. Gideon’s wife, Monga, attended the meetings at a downlink site and was baptized. She and a pastor began studying the Bible with Gideon, who was then in prison. He accepted Jesus as his Savior, which led to his surprise announcement in court. Gideon later was convicted for his crimes and sentenced to death. His lawyers are appealing the death sentence.
Hope Channel in 2010
Today, Hope Channel has grown into a 24-7 international organization of 65 media centers throughout the world broadcasting in nearly two dozen languages potentially to about 98 percent of the world population.
“The only areas not covered by Hope Channel are Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic portions of Canada, and a slice of West Africa,” Thorp notes.
Along with English and Portuguese, the network’s major languages include Spanish, German, Romanian, Russian, and Ukrainian. It is developing Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern channels “in the common languages and cultures of those areas,” Thorp explains. Other languages, such as Czech, Norwegian, and Bulgarian, have Internet rather than satellite channels.
“Our mission,” Thorp says, “is for everyone, everywhere, to hear the gospel message through Hope Channel.”
Keeping Things in Context
Hope Channel leaders at the Silver Spring headquarters realize the importance of contextualizing the programs in the various world regions where media centers are based. According to Hope Channel vice president Gary Gibbs, it’s the local leadership who knows best how to present the gospel to their people.
“They develop their programming using their own people, in their own language, within their own culture,” Gibbs says. “That’s what makes Hope Channel unique.”
Kandus Thorp, Hope Channel’s vice president for programming and international development, agrees.
“It’s a point of ownership,” she explains. “Hope Channel is owned by the church members around the world. It’s their channel.”
A child Kandus met in India, she says, exemplifies this concept of ownership. After giving a presentation about Hope Channel to church leaders in the Southeast India Union Section, local Hope Channel coordinator Swamidass Johnson discussed the need to raise funds to keep the network not only functioning but growing. Then, Kandus says, something surprising happened.
“This young boy walked up the center aisle to the front of the church—it was totally unplanned—carrying a piggy bank,” she explains. “He then presented it to Pastor Johnson to use for Hope Channel. It brought tears to my eyes. Even that young boy understood the concept of ownership—a 10-year-old boy.”
“Think global, live local—that’s our motto,” Brad adds. “Our goal is to facilitate and empower a Seventh-day Adventist presence in every community.”
With 14 satellite footprints, more than 400 Adventist Church-owned television stations, and scores of media centers worldwide, they’re well on their way to accomplishing that goal.
What About Training?
Hope Channel leadership doesn’t “reinvent the wheel” when they take their team to a community to produce programs for Hope Channel. Along with portable television equipment, Kandus notes, “we come in with one person as a technical director, but we use volunteers entirely from that region. Many take vacation time to work with us. We train them how to use the cameras, how to do audio, how to do floor directing. It’s really mammoth!”
Their first such project was in Lusaka, Zambia, in 2007.
“In 19 days we produced 114 programs,” Kandus says. “We used volunteers who had never been in front of a camera before, and they rose to the occasion.”
From there they went to the Philippines, which led to the installation of a media center in Cagayan de Oro. Next it was Kenya, then North America, Australia, and Lebanon.
Referring to Lebanon, Brad adds, “That was the foundation of the Middle East media center that just opened recently.”
Kandus has since put together a 120-page instruction manual detailing how to develop and produce programs. Based on that manual, staffers at the South Africa media center last January produced 200 different programs—all with volunteers and the 10 media center employees.
“We call these events Project Hope,” Brad says. “Around the world in 2010 almost 2,000 programs will be produced on the Project Hope model. It just works!”
In the fall of 2009 Mark Finley, GC vice president for global evangelism, led out in a Hope Channel NET event uplinked from São Paulo, Brazil, and Cochabamba, Bolivia—the largest-ever satellite evangelism series for South America. Some 15,000 Adventist churches participated, with about 1.5 million nightly viewers. Approximately 350,000 of them were visitors, of whom 180,000 followed up with Bible studies.
“A very significant number of those visitors were the result of members telling friends to watch Hope Channel,” Brad says.
“In March this year, following an evangelistic initiative culminating in a NET event from Panama, pastors throughout the Inter-American Division baptized more than 60,000 people in one Sabbath,” he adds. “Conservatively, some 2.5 million people have become members of the Adventist Church through the major influence of a NET event that Hope Channel has broadcast.”
Along with evangelistic series, Hope Channel airs documentaries, health and lifestyle programs, live interviews, news reports, children’s programs, parenting programs, musical performances, education programs, and others.
“Viewers get to see the work of the Adventist Church around the world,” Gibbs says. “We show how Adventists live—not just what we say.”
How Much Does It Cost?
Because of the help of so many volunteers, Brad estimates the total cost to produce a half-hour program to be under $1,000, far below the many thousands of dollars that used to be the church’s only production model, he says.
“We value the more costly productions, but the Project Hope model enables us to create fresh programming for our eight 24-7 channels at a price the church can afford,” Kandus adds.
Where Do the Funds Come From?
To pay for Hope Channel, the General Conference provides a subsidy that covers core administration expenses. Local divisions and unions also provide funds for Project Hope series and Hope Channel media centers in their particular regions. Beyond that, Gibbs explains, everything depends on donors.
“Donor support is critical to Hope Channel,” he says. “Some individuals provide regular weekly or monthly donations. Others give funds for a specific project. Donors contribute amounts both large and small, and all are vital to continuing this ministry.”
Gibbs adds that donor money doesn’t pay administrative salaries, core satellite costs, or for marketing. “When donors give to Hope Channel,” he explains, “they can know that 100 percent of their donation is going specifically to evangelism.”
“There’s a real transparency with Hope Channel,” Kandus adds. “Because we’re an official church organization, our books are audited regularly.”
Hope Channel in North America
U.S. residents can find Hope Channel on DIRECTV, channel 368. Launched on DIRECTV in April 2009, this, as Brad describes, is “one of the biggest opportunities the Adventist Church in the United States has had to reach out to its neighbors.”
Because of DIRECTV, Hope Channel has the potential of being a 24-hour presence in one of about every six homes in the United States—a total of some 19 million homes, or 50 million people. Viewers in both the U.S. and Canada can also tune in via satellite G19.
“We’re continually getting calls from viewers,” Kandus says, “many of whom request Bible study materials or the address of a church that teaches what Hope Channel teaches.”
Some local conferences and churches are providing every newly baptized member with a personal Hope Channel dish to provide discipleship and nurture. These regions include British Columbia, California, Texas, and Washington. The initiative, called Homes of Hope, is “making a huge impact,” Kandus says.
“Sometimes they put the dishes in the members’ homes and invite people into the homes instead of the church or an auditorium,” she adds.
A New GC Facility
General Conference and Hope Channel leaders officially broke ground in March 2009 for a new state-of-the-art media center, an extension to the church’s world headquarters in Maryland. Hope Channel staffers are excited about the possibilities the new facility, financed by GC funds, will provide.
“GC leadership recognized the need for a facility here that will give us the physical capacity to reach the world with the three angels’ messages,” Brad says. “Hope Channel wouldn’t be what it is today without their vision and support.”
For the past seven years Maryland staffers functioned with a 20- by 20-foot studio—a “broom-closet studio,” they called it—with low ceilings and numerous technical limitations.
“Television is a hungry monster 24-7. It’s got to stay fresh, relevant,” Gibbs says. “This new facility will greatly increase our productivity. And we can now produce in high definition.”
Integral to “Finishing the Work”
How is Hope Channel integral to fulfilling the commission to take the gospel to the world? Gibbs explains: “Television makes the message very accessible. It’s there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We reach people on their time schedules instead of ours. They don’t have to leave their comfort zone. We’re making it available in their language and in their cultural realm. How more accessible can it be?”
With all the progress and advancements Hope Channel has experienced these past years, staffers are quick to emphasize that God gets the credit. Kandus compares the growth of Hope Channel to the story of Jesus and the boy with the loaves and fish.
“All he had was a simple lunch, but Jesus took it and fed a multitude. I see that happening with Hope Channel,” she says. “God takes the few resources we have in our hands, blesses them, and we watch Him feed the multitudes. That’s the story of Hope Channel.”
Sandra Blackmer is features editor of Adventist Review. This article was published May 27, 2010.