If you’re like me, a lifetime member of a BMA church, you have a vague sense of BMA history and an awareness of her departments. But if you’re an average BMA church member, you probably don’t know a lot about BMA history. I won’t go down that road completely, but I would like to take a short walk down Lifeword’s memory lane as we prepare for the 2014 Walk and continue to search for new frontiers with the same spirit as the numerous men and women who have contributed to this unique ministry these 49 years.
Harvest Gleaner Hour, as it was first named, has a rich history of individuals whose strongest desire was to be used by God and who poured their lives into broadcasting the Gospel over the airwaves. With health issues forcing him stateside, BMA missionary Harold Morris (Brazil) was the first Director and KSTL in St. Louis was the first radio station to broadcast the reel-to-reel audio tapes recorded in Morris’ living room at 2114 Arkansas Avenue in Conway, Arkansas. The first broadcast included a men’s quartet with piano accompaniment. (One fourth of that quartet was George Reddin, and the pianist was Jerene Burch, later Reddin.) Although the first broadcasts were in English only, Spanish and Portugese had been added by 1969 with broadcasts on seventeen American stations and one Trans World Radio station in Monaco.
Little Rock’s Temple Baptist Church donated space to HGH so the Morris family’s home and garage could be vacated. Next, HGH rented two different spaces in downtown Conway, and in 1975 HGH purchased its own building in Conway’s Industrial park, where it remained for 32 years.
In October of 1969 The Reaper, edited by W.J. Burgess, was first published to encourage support and, as Harold Morris said, ”to inform you of the great challenge of Radio Missions, of the opportunity that God has given us in these last day to take the message of …Jesus Christ to every creature under heaven by means of radio.” With ten staff members (only four them on salary) and three board members, HGH had the same vision as the Lifeword of today. Harold Morris wrote, “Today the entire world is literally within reach of our voice. Not only has God built these transmitters, but He has brought us to the electronic age…Transistor radios are in most every hut in the jungles of Brazil, Africa and Asia where many times electricity has not reached. The people can hear our message. Oh, what a challenge!”
Following the death of Harold Morris in November of 1970, A. R. Reddin was named director, and Ilongo (Filipino), Mandarin and Arabic were added to the broadcast languages. By December of 1979 broadcast areas included the United States, Puerto Rico, Africa, Middle East, China, Haiti, Mexico, Panama and the Philippines. Support continued to be raised through The Reaper and Harvest Gleaner Hour Emphasis Sundays.
In 1980 Director of HGH Bro. Paul Bearfield (1972-1986) got the idea for a new kind of fundraiser called a “walk-a-thon” at a conference and adapted it as the Harvest Gleaner Hour Walk-A-Thon. It was a twenty-mile Walk at that time, and the goal was $50,000, but receipts totaled $82,000 for that first walk and continued to rise during the following years. Mike Jones, the first National Walk coordinator said, “When Bro. Paul approached me with the idea of the walk and set the goal at $50K, I was skeptical. But we put our hands and hearts into the task and God, as He always does, honored our efforts abundantly, ‘above and beyond what we ask or think.’”
In a June 30, 1980 Baptist Trumpet article, Bro. Bearfield explained that the money would be used to add new stations to the Harvest Gleaner Hour network, “Negotiations are now underway to place our Spanish program on a super powerful South American station which will beam our broadcast to all of South and Central America and Mexico.” At that time, HGH broadcasters spoke in five languages. Because of God’s tremendous blessings, that number has now grown to 34 languages.
By 1985, to distinguish it from walk-a-thons popping up everywhere and to emphasize the spiritual purpose of the Walk, the name of the event was changed to Walk of Faith. Just three months before his death in January of 1986, Bro. Bearfield walked nineteen kilometers early, then invited well-wishers to walk his last kilometer with him at a rally on the CBC campus. Nine hundred people attended that event and receipts for that year jumped to $383,000, approximately $100,000 more than the previous year’s walk.
Another name change occurred in 1988 when Lifeword Broadcast Ministries, Inc. became the official name of the former Harvest Gleaner Hour. By that time, it had become a ten-mile walk and remained so for another eighteen years until it was reduced to five kilometers (3.1 miles) to make it easier for people of all ages to participate.
In 2008, the name became Walk for the World and in 2010 a record $438,000 was raised through the annual event. That record number has not been achieved since.
As I type this retrospective, I can’t help but become emotional about the people I have discovered in my research, many of whom I remember from my childhood, who donated their time and resources to what was once a radio ministry and has now become a multi-media ministry. They built cabinets, installed speakers, made pot holders, washed cars, stuffed envelopes, preached sermons, sang songs and walked millions of miles. Brotherhoods and auxiliaries have voted for HGH/Lifeword to be their annual missions project, and young children have brought their pennies. We thank God that so many have supported and continue to support what started as a prayer in the St. Louis home of Ashford Conrad in August of 1965, uttered because of his and Harold Morris’ frustration and desire to reach the multitudes.
Throughout these almost 50 years and for Lifeword Directors Harold Morris, A.R. Reddin, Paul Bearfield, George Reddin and Steve Crawley, there has always been a common vision. Though the name has changed, Lifeword continues to focus on the “Harvest” of souls and the spread of the “Words of Life.” For the 2014 Walk for the World, Lifeword Sunday will be on October 26, 2014. It will be a day for churches to pray for, give to and celebrate what God has done through Lifeword Media Ministries.
It has been a privilege to be a part of Lifeword since January and to research and record just a small part of BMA history. I would not have known many of these facts without the efforts of George Reddin, (a true archivist and historian who has recorded them for posterity), Rick Russell and Mike Jones. Please join them and others for the 2014 Walk for the World and Lifeword Sunday.