75 Years and Counting . . .
SGA On the Air . . . And Cyberspace
Bless our God, O peoples, and sound His praise abroad (Psalm 66:8).
Since the earliest days of our mission, SGA has used every available means to help evangelical churches take the life-changing Gospel across the lands of Russia. When communism ruled in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, these countries were known as “restricted or limited access” in terms of ministry. That made radio outreach, especially powerful shortwave radio, vitally important.
Even today, we hear gripping testimonies from Russian believers who remember risking arrest by secretly listening to the forbidden Gospel broadcasts — lookouts posted at the windows of their apartments watching for surprise raids by the Soviet secret police. SGA president Dr. Robert Provost believes these testimonies are treasures of an historic legacy. “I am really excited about how the Lord used SGA’s radio ministry. For Russian believers in the worst of times, it was their church, their seminary, their Bible institute, and their greatest source of encouragement. And the sponsors of the radio ministry — both SGA partners and the supporters of the global Christian radio stations that aired our programs — served as a great army of prayer warriors who sustained our oppressed brothers and sisters. It truly is a powerful, God-glorifying story!”
It All Started in South America
During a five-month tour of South America that began in 1940, SGA founder Peter Deyneka preached the Gospel in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile. Numerous Russian-speaking refugees had fled there from their homeland. His final stop was Ecuador, invited there by Mr. Clarence Jones, the founder of shortwave radio ministry HCJB. In March 1941 — at Mr. Jones’ urging — Peter made history by delivering the first-ever shortwave Russian-language evangelistic program. Later, on June 22, 1941, the first regular Russian-language broadcasting schedule began emanating from HCJB’s studios in Quito, beginning a long, fruitful relationship with this global Gospel powerhouse.
Seizing the Opportunity
SGA’s leadership realized the powerful potential radio had in piercing through the impenetrable Iron Curtain, and quickly began developing programs to broadcast. In the years that followed, several thousand Russian-language Gospel radio programs were produced and broadcast into the closed Soviet Union. Missionaries Helen Zernov, Const and Elizabeth Lewshenia, Jack and Ruth (Deyneka) Shalanko, Stella Jarema, and many others followed Peter Deyneka on the air with Gospel programs. SGA broadcasts also emanated from TransWorldRadio transmitters in Guam, and in Monte Carlo, where Nick and Rose Leonovich served between 1962 and 1985. TWR also used medium wave for these broadcasts to cover Eastern Europe. Add to that number the programs broadcast from Far East Broadcasting Company in Bonaire, Seoul and later Saipan Island, the Philippines and HLKX in Inchon, Korea. Voice of Hope and King of Hope — both in Lebanon — and KICY in Nome, Alaska, also broadcast SGA programs, with the Alaska signal reaching into Russia’s far northeast.
And They Listened . . . Eagerly and Secretly
By 1956, 25 half-hour shortwave radio broadcasts aired each week over HCJB, continuing the Russian-language Gospel radio ministry begun by Peter Deyneka. Eleven years later, Mr. Deyneka’s son Peter traveled to Russia, reporting that Christian radio was reaching Russians with the Gospel like never before, with an estimated 25 million shortwave sets in use across the Soviet Union at that time. “I visited five cities while in Russia, and preached in six churches. Wherever I went, when people found out I was in Russian radio work, I was literally mobbed by those who just wanted to thank me and the others responsible for the radio ministry. We here in America have no idea how much the Christians of Russia appreciate and value these broadcasts.” At the very peak, a total of 600 programs were broadcast each month, with 160 of them being new programs.
As SGA missionaries traveled quietly within the Soviet Union, like Peter Jr. they heard first-hand just how much the broadcasts meant. About 95 percent of those listening had no Bible of their own and no way to obtain one, so one of the SGA programs featured the Bible being read at dictation speed. As the Russian believers listened secretly in their homes, many would copy by hand the words from Scripture being read slowly over the air. This was the only access to the Bible that they had!
Defending the Faith and Feeding the Flock
There were numerous other programs designed for maximum impact among listeners living under atheistic communist regimes. One was called Airmail, a response to atheistic arguments that challenged unbelievers and encouraged the churches. According to SGA’s Nick Leonovich, another popular program was the Radio Academy of Science, or RADAS. “Because the Soviet people were taught ‘scientific atheism,’ using science to argue that God does not exist, RADAS was very popular. It gave listeners a different viewpoint to the one they had heard all their lives. The program gave examples from science and nature to show that there is a God who exists and established the order in the universe — a God who is sovereign and active in His creation today.” Other key programs were the Seminary of the Air and theBible Institute of the Air, offering curricula adapted from the programs at the Russian Bible Institutes in Canada and Argentina. These were vital programs for training deacons and pastors, because such training was not allowed or available in the communist Soviet Union.
There were programs that addressed concerns of the family. And young people were not forgotten. The program Amazing But True was produced for junior high-age young people in the Soviet Union, and provided Bible-based answers for those who were searching spiritually. For younger children and youth, there was Nature World — similar in manner to RADAS but specifically geared for youth. SGA missionary Constantine Lewshenia recorded key programs called Bible Doctrines and Major Bible Themes. Jack and Ruth (Deyneka) Shalanko not only recorded music and evangelistic programs, but for Russians who wrote letters to HCJB asking biblical questions, Jack had a special program called Bible Questions and Answers. On TWR, there was even a Russian-language version of J. Vernon McGee’sThru the Bible program, recorded by then SGA-missionary Alex Jaruchik in Spain.
And the thousands upon thousands of letters and testimonies! Nick Leonovich still has the letter written to him by a man in Kaliningrad, Russia, in 1992 . . .
“I especially thank God for you and remember your name so well because I was listening to you on the radio 30 years ago. You called people to repentance and the Lord spoke to me, and I came to trust him. Now I am always telling people to hear the Word of God on the radio — my way of witnessing to them. I am not well and cannot go to church. Oh, how many souls have come to Christ through your broadcasts?” SGA workers and missionaries heard this echoed wherever they went — thousands and thousands of people received the Lord through these broadcasts while sitting at their radios. It is truly a tremendous legacy for which we are thankful to the Lord.
SGA Radio for the 21st Century
Seventy-five years have passed and technology has changed, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not changed. And millions of people across the lands of Russia have yet to hear. SGA is still in the business of broadcasting Christian programs; only today we are taking advantage of the unrestricted power of the Internet — at sgaradio.org!
Through this new SGA website, Russian speakers around the world are able to hear great messages and lessons from our substantial library of radio programs built up over the years. Newer offerings include Russian translations of messages by Dr. John MacArthur and SGA’s Dr. Roman Dechtiarenko, in addition to Irpen Biblical Seminary president Dr. Igor Yaremchuk and Russian UECB youth leader Eugene Bakhmutsky. In time, portions of other historic SGA programs will be made available, including Constantine Lewshenia’s programs on the doctrines of the Bible.
Join with us in praising the Lord for the new opportunities this opens up to serve evangelical churches, and to proclaim the Gospel across Russia and her neighboring countries!