Despite the constant threat of danger and destruction from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a small yet resilient Christian radio station in Odessa continues to bring God’s word and hope.
New Life Radio, formed in 1996 by Daniel Johnson, president of Christian Radio for Russia, was an effort to address the need of domestic Christian radio services in the country.
“Russia was a land dominated by state-sponsored atheism by the Soviets,” Johnson said. “For 70 years everything was done by man to destroy the Church, even though God retained His remnant. By 1991 it was clear God had determined the end of this godless nation, and He opened a door for us, like in every generation since the time of the Apostles, to carry out the order of Acts 1:8.”
“So He gave us the vision, and despite how difficult it was to pull it off, the Lord gave us success.”
Long and winding road
However, the journey has been long and sometimes arduous, Johnson noted.
“After three years of dealing with the Russian government to obtain an FM frequency and building a station, finally in November 1996, New Life Radio went on the air,” he said.
But soon after, Johnson realized the rest of Russia did not have local Christian radio and, knowing how difficult it was to get a channel from the Russian government, he developed a strategy to get Christian programming into every community and remote area of the former Soviet Union.
“The key was in pioneering the use of direct-to-home satellite radio,” he noted.
In 1999, Johnson moved to Moscow and near Red Square set up a radio studio that had fiber optic access to a new satellite providing first-time coast-to-coast coverage of the Russian landmass. By 2000 New Life Radio Moscow went on the air right next to the Kremlin, and delivered digital quality Christian radio 24 hours a day, seven days a week nationwide, using small satellite antennae.
Many evangelical denominations used the station for Christian programming, including Bible teaching and preaching. New Life Radio also has served as a seminary of sorts, including teaching on biblical subjects, for many who could not attend a traditional seminary.
“For communities that would never be able to get an FM channel, this satellite signal would provide a resource for local evangelism and discipleship,” Johnson said.
But everything changed when Vladimir Putin came into office as president. It became difficult for Christian media development. In 2006, however, New Life Radio was able to initiate the first domestic Christian Internet radio service to reach a global Russian-speaking audience, including Eastern Europe, the Central Asian republics and Israel, where more than 2 million Russian-speakers live.
NLR hit another roadblock in 2019 as the Russian government set up restrictive laws on press, religion and telecommunications, including the internet, Johnson said.
“In order to save the network for Russia, we had to leave Moscow,” he recalled. “So NLR moved its operation to Odessa, Ukraine, keeping the same media channels, but shifting our work to Odessa with a new radio team.
“We have had hundreds of hurdles to overcome. We have fought state bureaucracies to get permission to work throughout the nation of Russia; we have labored for sufficient funds; we have fought attempts by various entities to close our radio stations; and sadly we eventually lost all of our FM stations in Russia.
“But God gave us satellite and Internet radio and now we cover more area than we could ever imagine.”
A devastating turn
God has moved in powerful ways through New Life Radio, but when Russia invaded Ukraine things took a new and devastating turn.
“Now our current hurdle is a war initiated by Russia that is threatening the city of Odessa where we broadcast from,” Johnson said, “even though Odessa has been spared the horror and destruction of so many other Ukrainian cities.
“We have been forced to set up a remote studio in Iasi, Romania, just to preserve the radio network in case our radio facility in Odessa gets destroyed or loses our telecom network abilities.”
The tragic events in Ukraine are opening up new opportunities for God to work in that country, Johnson said.
“If we can survive intact, we are ready to begin an entirely new aspect of our broadcasting to provide new opportunities for Ukrainians to hear the word of God over local FM or internet, even as we continue to minister to the Russian-speaking world that also will suffer in their own way for a long time,” Johnson explained. “NLR will encourage the church in all these countries to be in the Word, and to do the work of an evangelist.”
There are two keys to continued success for New Life Radio — prayer and financial support, Johnson said.
“Pray for peace,” He urged. “Pray for our staff as they continue to serve these nations at war, even at the risk of their lives from bombing.”
He noted that once the war is over, believers can pray that God opens the hearts of government officials to grant New Life Radio FM radio channels in hundreds of Ukrainian cities.
“Then pray that God provides us new missions partners in America,” Johnson added, “to help us with the funding that we need to subsidize this radio network for the evangelical church in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and other nations that depend on our programming, to aid them in local evangelism and discipleship activities.
“New Life Radio has always provided Russia and Ukraine’s Baptist leaders free airtime, but we have never received Baptist support in America, save two small congregations,” he said. “We hope Baptists across America will step up to help us, because even as Ukraine needs humanitarian assistance, they will also need even more — the word of God — so they will have hope and faith and a reason to continue living.”
New Life Radio has been subsidized for 26 years by Christian Radio for Russia, which works with a small group of some 100 individual Christians across America who send personal contributions every month.