The kingdom of Bhutan is tucked into a corner of the eastern Himalayas, between China and India. Known in the local language as Land of the Dragon, the country was closed to foreign visitors until the mid-70s, and television sets only arrived in 1999. Today, Bhutan draws attention for coining the term Gross National Happiness and possessing national wonders such as the cliffside monastery Tiger’s Nest, among others.
Although the population is small—less than 750,000
people—it encompasses 16 ethnic groups. Buddhism is
deeply ingrained, and an anti-conversion law strictly limits
Christians’ ability to worship openly. There are more than
a dozen small Adventist congregations in Bhutan, but they
must meet discreetly in homes or isolated areas.
The Adventist leader assigned to the territory lives in another
country, and makes short trips across the border to minister
to the members. Many times, he must walk 10 hours “up
the riverbanks” at enormous peril to reach believers and people
living along the river. He also does his best to avoid suspicious
border guards, who are always on the lookout for familiar faces
seen crossing frequently at the country’s check points.
“We have long wanted to start producing programs for
Bhutan, but were unable to find someone who spoke the
language and who could be trained to be a radio speaker,”
says Adventist World Radio (AWR) president Dowell Chow.
“The conditions in the region are tenuous, to say the least.
Workers labor in very dire conditions, surrounded with
violence and unrest. Sharing the gospel freely through radio
to the people of Bhutan is a classic illustration of AWR’s
slogan, ‘No walls – no borders – no limits.’”
After a long search, a group of potential producers was
finally assembled. Out of a dozen volunteer producers and technicians, two are native-born Bhutanese who speak
Dzongkha, one of the official national languages widely used
in the area. Others are Hindi- or Nepali-speaking gospel
workers. Some live in Bhutan itself, while others reside in
AWR provided all of the studio equipment, installation,
and training for the young team members, most of whom
are in their 20s and 30s. During the intensive training course,
each new producer prepared a short script for radio. All of
them were required to sit before a microphone and record a
short speech – a new experience for almost all of them. With
some ongoing training and much practice, they all will be
ready to start full production very soon. Luckily, they will be
able to draw on a large collection of scripts already prepared
by a seasoned producer in Nepal, and once translated and
recorded into Dzongkha, their fledgling programs will be
broadcast through shortwave and online in the near future.
“These very young people have an interest in radio
because they feel that it’s a tremendous way to reach into
Bhutan, which they cannot do from the inside,” Chow says.
“There is an enormous need for family-life topics, advice
on marital relations, child rearing, health, all kinds of social
topics, and obviously religious and devotional talks. I am
incredibly encouraged by this breakthrough.”
Surachet Insom, AWRs Asia/Pacific region director,
adds, “God loves and cares for the Bhutanese, even though
they are small in number and despite Satan’s obstruction.
Please remember the new Bhutanese studio in your
Shelley Nolan Freesland is Adventist World Radio communication
director at the General Conference world headquarters.