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 nearby locations.
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 prayers.”
Shelley Nolan Freesland is Adventist World Radio communication director at the General Conference world headquarters.