Author Archives: Bob Bartz
Just a few weeks ago, we were making our final preparations. It was time to head out from the frozen plains of the upper Midwest to return to the humid tropics of Southeast Asia. Our Christmas and New Year’s celebrations with family were now memories to take with us. We were busy taking care of last minute personal details, packing up our winter clothes in storage for the next trip back to the USA while ensuring what remained would make the trip to Asia. After one final cold snap and a dusting of snow we boarded our flight from Minnesota. Roughly 24 hours later we stepped into the humidity of Jakarta where a midnight shower ushered us back home.
We are grateful for the past 4 months back in the US. We were able to connect with several of our friends and partners. We welcomed new opportunities (some unplanned) to share stories from our work in media across Asia. We met new friends even though we weren’t able to schedule times with everyone on our list. Through the faithfulness of many, we are able to return to Asia with the resources we need to continue what’s been started.
Now we are back in our office in Jakarta, renewing our relationships with colleagues in ministry. While there have been a couple unexpected surprises upon our return, it’s been mostly uneventful. We are grateful for the warm welcome back.
We needed to get right into our work activities. One of my immediate responsibilities includes coordinating FEBC participation in media training as part of a conference in Thailand. There will be 16 FEBC staff coming to join in training workshops offered prior to the conference. I’ll also be introducing the “Content in Context” workshop concept to delegates at the conference as well as giving a more detailed overview to the steering committee of Asia by Media, who are promoting its use. Please continue to pray that these opportunities will raise interest among media ministries to participate in the workshop. The response to these sessions will give us a good indication of interest and opportunities to schedule the workshop for other media teams.
Barb and I will value your prayers over the next few weeks as I prepare for this conference. Shortly after that, both of us will be on our way to Hong Kong to help with the FEBC International annual meeting.
The last couple of months have gone by quickly as we’ve traveled around the US with updates about our ministry with FEBC. We are grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to share, and for the people we’ve met who are interested in the impact media has in communicating the gospel in other cultures.
The major holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are now upon us, so we are focusing our time on family. We were in southern California for Thanksgiving, visiting with Barb’s sister, brother and their families. It was good to strengthen family ties and catch up with the changes in their lives.
Back from California, we are now shifting to visiting our children. First on the list will be Nathan, who is currently living in central Florida. We are now driving there from Minnesota. He recently started a new job with the city of Orlando and is getting settled into that routine. He’s involved in his church and is spending time with his girlfriend on a consistent basis. We are grateful for that developing relationship.
From there, we’ll return to Minnesota in mid-December and then head over to North Dakota to visit with my mom and brother. Mom continues to adjust to her new home at an assisted living facility. My brother is currently studying online with Minot State University. We’ll be celebrating Christmas with them which will include a concert for the residents at mom’s home and also sharing with my brother’s church on Christmas eve.
For New Year’s, we will fly to Texas to be with Emily and her husband Alex. Emily has received approval of her dissertation and is shifting towards completing that major project. She also continues to teach English classes at Texas A&M. Alex is pursuing his doctorate in electrical engineering at the same university. We’re looking forward to catching up with them and learning more about their progress.
The month of December has always been a special time to focus on the good things that God provides, first of all through the coming of His Son, Jesus. We are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to serve Him. May you have a wonderful time with loved ones, growing relationships with family and friends during the coming days. It is my prayer that God will bless you with times of reflection on the way He has been at work in your life. Have a Jesus-centered Christmas and a blessed start to the new year.
Even though we returned to the US in the third week of September, there’s not been much time to slow down. Following our arrival and brief time in California, our next stop was Colorado. I was invited to join fellow FEBC colleague, Guy West, at his church’s men’s retreat. We enjoyed the beauty of the Colorado Rockies while meeting new friends, members of Guy’s church family. The view of Pike’s Peak did not disappoint.
After that brief 4 day visit, we quickly found ourselves in the upper Midwest of the US. It was an enjoyable time meeting friends over the past few weeks. We met several of our supporters and churches near our home area in west-central Minnesota as well as in North Dakota. We were able to get a glimpse of the fall colors as the trees in the region dropped their leaves in preparation for winter. We were even able to squeeze in a few days along the north shore of Lake Superior with some close friends and former colleagues in ministry.
Our visit to North Dakota included an extended time with my family who still live in the state. We were glad to be there for a few days as we worked through a variety of issues that needed attention. While our visit perhaps raised more questions than answers, we have a better idea of my family’s circumstances. We will appreciate prayer for my mom and brother as we work through the adjustments that are taking place.
Our next month looks to be filled with a variety of experiences while traveling through the central US visiting churches and supporters along the way. Our current schedule includes:
- Oct. 29 – Immanuel Lutheran Church, Springfield, MO
- Nov. 5 – St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Napoleon, OH
- Nov. 11-12 – Autumn Ridge Church, Rochester, MN
- Nov. 19 – Crossroads Church, Fergus Falls, MN
For those of you who may be nearby one of these locations and would like further details, please contact me via this blog. If you wonder if we could be passing near your place, please let us know. We’ll see if even meeting for a coffee somewhere might work out.
We stepped out of our home early one September morning to load our bags into a taxi headed for the Jakarta airport. We had done this several times in the past. Yet this time, the journey would be much longer. Instead of just a week or two, this trip would be nearly 4 months long with multiple stops across Asia and the US.
Content Innovation Summit
Our first stop was in Chiang Mai, Thailand where FEBC held its first program directors’ conference in 10 years. The event drew directors from all across Asia and even from a country in Africa. The three-day summit was intended to promote sharing of innovations in programming. We learned from one another about a variety of approaches to connect with audiences around the FEBC world. Some of the innovations included movie conversation starters, children producing content for children, storytelling, and many others. The directors found several ideas to try. One highlight of the discussion was the many commitments to assist one another across ministry teams. For the next few months, the directors will be going back to their teams to explore their new ideas further.
Asia by Media Meetings
From there, we continued on to Tokyo, Japan for a series of meetings with Asia by Media. A major portion of our steering committee meeting involved reviewing the recent “Content in Context” workshop conducted in Indonesia. I was quite encouraged by the warm reception from the steering committee as they heartily endorsed the concept and encouraged me to repeat the workshop in the near future. We are currently considering a workshop in Thailand next year. I’m also in discussions with another media conference to introduce the concept, gauge interest and develop further opportunities for media teams to join.
Arrival in US
Barb and I are now in the US, starting our time of home assignment. We spent the first week in California with a visit to the FEBC-USA office on the agenda. We then made a stop in Denver, Colorado where I spent some time with our co-worker and good friend Guy West. His church was having a men’s retreat in the mountains. I was invited to join them to lead worship, share some songs, and work with the ministry’s leadership team.
We have now arrived in Minnesota for a few days as we get prepared for upcoming meetings with supporters and churches.
Meetings in October
Our schedule is starting to come together. We expect the month of October to be busy with a variety of events where we will be sharing our ministry. Here’s the current schedule:
- Oct 7 – Steer Banquet in Bismarck ND
- Oct 8 – First Baptist Church in Wishek, ND
- Oct 15 – First and Lucky Mound Lutheran Churches in Parshall, ND
- Oct 22 – Covenant Village in Golden Valley, MN
- Oct 29 – Immanuel Lutheran Church in Springfield, MO
Over the past few weeks, my time has been focused on preparing for a pilot workshop for media teams in Indonesia. This workshop, called “Content in Context” was held on Aug 8-10 and is sanctioned under Asia by Media, a network of international media organizations operating in Asia. Offered to teams located in Indonesia, the workshop created environments for a team to explore their media efforts from their unique perspectives of their audience. It is the first time this framework, formulated during my time in Africa, has been presented in this way. It assists teams to discover meaningful and creative ways of delivering their messages in ways the audience would value.
There were four teams from Asia by Media member organizations participating in the workshop. It didn’t take long for the teams to appreciate what they were learning. Brief introductions to tools to help them explore their audiences and evaluate their content set the stage for individual team discussions. Each team then applied the tools to their issues and strategies. This allowed the teams to find answers to the questions most important to them. As I visited each team at various times, it was quite clear the workshop was giving them fresh and valuable perspectives on their content. New discoveries were surfacing, including the need to understand more about their audiences.
The workshop was quite interactive, both within the teams and during sessions when we all met together. Some of the comments heard from participants included:
- “We need to visit our listeners regularly so that we can learn more about their values and needs.”
- “Once or twice a month, our team is going to listen to one of our programs from the perspective of our audience.”
- “We need to review the different programs we produce to evaluate how well they match with our intended audience.” The workshop introduced a tool to help with this.
- “I realized that I need to know more about my audience.”
There are already discussions starting about conducting this workshop again for other teams, both here in Indonesia and elsewhere around Asia. I’m currently working on a report for Asia by Media to share the results of this pilot. In September, at our steering committee meeting in Japan, we will review these and make some decisions about how to proceed with the concept.
This was also the first time Barb and I had organized this kind of workshop. Barb was instrumental in handling the registration details, coordinating with our hosts, and communicating with the participants prior to the workshop. Her diligence to the many logistic details to organize the event made a huge contribution to its impact on the participants.
For those who have prayed with us about this workshop, please thank God for the answers to your prayers. There was much evidence that God was at work.
We anticipated being busy in May. Now that I look back at the month just past, all the places we’ve been, and the variety of people we’ve met, it is no wonder we’re feeling just a bit tired. Barb and I traveled together to Bali and Hong Kong. I made my first visit to Australia while Barb tossed in a trip up to Bangkok in Thailand. So after visiting 6 different airports last month, we’re ready to stay in Jakarta for a few weeks so we can get some focus for the coming months.
The month started off with a visit to Bali, another island in Indonesia. We’ve been there several times in the past so are getting familiar with the place. This time, we spent a few days meeting up with several of our former colleagues at TWR. We built some wonderful relationships with several staff, both in Africa and in Asia. While they were part of TWR’s emerging leaders’ summit, Barb and I were able to cross paths with them as well other members of the FEBC family who also joined this inter-mission conference. It was encouraging to see younger leaders from the different media ministries working and preparing together.
I then paid a visit to the eastern side of Australia for meetings with Asia by Media, a forum of media ministries in Asia. The two days of planning focused on an upcoming workshop for Indonesian content teams currently scheduled for August. I also participated in a conference on Christian media. This conference was quite helpful as there was a major emphasis on the use of digital media and the networking opportunities available with our audiences through today’s social media platforms. This is a key topic for many of our teams using social media to engage with their audiences.
Shortly after I returned from Australia, Barb took a special trip to Bangkok Thailand to visit with some of her good friends from the Philippines who were part of a Bible study group several years back. The three of them had a wonderful time exploring Bangkok together and encouraging one another.
Soon after her return, Barb and I traveled together to Hong Kong to participate in a digital media conference sponsored by FEBC for content teams focusing on Chinese languages. The teams explored approaches to their online ministry efforts. This conference confirmed a number of principles I’d heard in Australia. I was particularly encouraged to see the steps that our colleagues are taking with volunteers to interact with those contacting FEBC through social media channels.
We have now returned to Jakarta and are prepared to settle in for a few weeks. We need to focus our efforts to prepare for the Asia by Media sanctioned workshop which I will be leading. That will be followed by a FEBC programming directors’ summit in Thailand in September. We will value your prayers for clarity and diligence as I work on the agendas for each conference and Barb assists with the logistics.
Following these upcoming events, Barb and I are planning to return to the US for a few months of home assignment beginning at the end of September. We’ll be in the country through sometime in January 2018. We anticipate a fair bit of travel when we are home but look forward to meeting family, friends, supporters, and churches involved in our ministry.
As with any journey, there are always adjustments to be made. Since we see the future through a dim lens, we trust the Lord to guide our steps. Such is the case every year when we, the International Service Team (IST) gather together following the annual FEBC International conference of our leadership. This year, our meeting took place in Seoul, South Korea, just as the cherry blossoms were blooming. Coming from the tropical temperatures of Indonesia, the cooler spring air of Korea was a refreshing welcome.
In the dynamic ministry environment of media, particularly when working in so many cultures and languages, we frequently deal with change. We know that adjusting is just part of the process as we learn more about the needs of our international ministries across the FEBC world. We adjust the way we work together and apply the years of cross-cultural experience in the team to be more fruitful.
So over the past few months, I’ve been working to refine my roles in the IST. While I am still maintaining my project management role, I’ve noticed that the need in this area is diminishing. Most projects don’t require the kind of international coordination IST was offering to help them succeed. So this has freed me up to shift my focus to supporting production teams across FEBC International. I’m now working on the preparations for two conferences that will impact FEBC teams producing content not just for radio but for a wide variety of media channels available today. Here’s a brief focus of each:
- Media Retreat Pilot: In cooperation with a network of international Christian media ministries known as Asia by Media, I’m developing a new concept called a “Media Retreat”. This involves bringing content production teams together into an environment where individual teams can review and develop strategies for impacting their audiences.
- Content Innovation Summit: It has been several years since FEBC programming directors have met together. This summit is being designed to bring these leaders face to face to share what has worked in their context. They can learn new approaches that can encourage audiences to follow Jesus. We also look for new ways of partnering together for greater impact.
With these two events happening in calendar year 2017, there are many details to address to maximize the impact of these conferences. They don’t necessarily provide the answers, but offer environments of discovery where leaders and their teams are inspired to produce content relevant for their individual audiences.
Barb and I will appreciate your prayers as we work together in helping plan and coordinate these two events in the coming months. I’m currently working with others in and outside of FEBC to craft the agendas and approaches for the conferences, while Barb is assisting me with logistical details and venue arrangements. We have much to sort through in the weeks to come. Pray that these events will ultimately result in greater impact among the many different audiences FEBC serves.
Just after Valentine’s Day last month, I had the opportunity to visit one of FEBC’s FM radio stations here in Indonesia. This station was the second one to be constructed in what would soon be the birth of the Heartline network. I had visited this city of 300,000 people back when the station was first envisioned in 2001. So who would have thought, after 15 years of operation, I would have the chance to see how the station has been doing.
Much has changed since 2001. I arrived at a much different airport (in a different city, though) than the one I visited back then. It has been significantly upgraded because of the economic development in the region. It turns out that the island of Kalimantan has a number of natural resources which make it a destination for many investors. The city of Samarinda, where the station broadcasts, has grown considerably. Roads are in better condition. The signs of economic progress are everywhere, from construction taking place to a thriving port on the river passing through the valley. While FEBC’s station was one of the first in the city, I was privileged to also see two other stations during the visit.
FEBC’s station is still faithfully broadcasting from a residential subdivision nestled back against a hill that overlooks the city. The tower is located just below the summit. Programming is in the national language and in English. Much of the original studio equipment is still in service today.
The station has not been without its challenges. Just recently, the original transmitter was replaced with a much smaller and more efficient unit that still provides a strong signal. The tower supports not only the station’s antenna, but a number of other services. A few months before my visit, the top portion of the tower collapsed because the tower is getting older. It had been repaired by the time I arrived. The station already has a newer tower ready to put up, but it is still waiting for clearance from the government to do so.
A special part of the visit included a thanksgiving service that was hosted at a prayer chapel right next to the transmitter site. Approximately 30 people came on Saturday morning to pray for the broadcasts and to thank God for the provision of this new transmitter. Many have been faithfully listening to the station over the years and expressed their appreciation for the broadcasts. I met several of them after the service, including one woman who is completely blind. Heartline’s broadcasts have been very special to her.
Continue to pray for this radio station as they face a number of challenges in their operation. Besides struggling to upgrade their equipment, they face significant competition from the other stations in the city. Pray that the station and its staff would not only survive, but learn to thrive in the dynamic environment of growth that will broaden their audience beyond the churches in the community. I’m encouraged to see that God is still at work in a station I had the privilege, in a small way, to help get started.
Wow, after five weeks in the US for holiday time with the family, we are grateful to be back in Indonesia, where the air is significantly warmer and not a single snowflake in sight — anywhere! Yet, we certainly appreciated the opportunity to visit with family and friends in our three different locations during the visit.
Our stop in the upper midwest gave us our fill of winter and cold temperatures. Following -30 deg F in Minnesota, we were greeted by 12-15 inches of snow and a blizzard on Christmas Day in North Dakota. We did our best to stay warm as winter tried to give us its best shot. I was doing fine until I opted to assist my family in digging out from the snow. After some shoveling and slipping on a patch of ice, I dislodged a kidney stone that gave me enough grief that I had to visit the emergency room in Bismarck. In the middle of the holidays and the aftermath of the blizzard, I could not deal with this problem there. It would have to wait until I got back to Jakarta. With the pain medications, a return to the “warmer” climate of California, and some exercise, I could complete the rest of the visit relatively pain-free.
Now that we are back in Jakarta after the new year, I have had more work done to resolve the kidney stone. Too large to pass on its own, I underwent a procedure that broke up the stone into many small pieces, much like sand. After about 90 minutes, the stone disappeared, indicating success. After this, it’s a matter of getting rid of what I call “the leftovers”. My kidney also swelled from the experience, so I’m likewise hopeful that the kidney will return to normal eventually. Under the urologist’s care here in Jakarta, I’m drinking plenty of water!
As FEBC keeps on expanding its ministry across Asia, it’s inevitable that some of our radio stations will be outside the warmth of the tropics. With the reminder of the winter in the US firmly in my memory, I learned about progress made with the growing FM radio network across Kyrgyzstan. Rushing to beat the approaching winter with its snow and wind, FEBC’s local team was able to install the third transmitter in the network in the middle of October, 2016. Winter comes early to these parts, but we are grateful the team could reach the mountain transmitter site before the snow came. Another region of this central Asian country now has the opportunity to hear the gospel. I encourage you to hear the whole story from the FEBC website. Please select this link for video and photos that tell the story of getting this newest transmitter up and running. I am grateful to see projects like these completed so more people can hear the story of Jesus.
It’s been a busy past couple of months for Barb and me. November was filled with team meetings in Jakarta and a regional meeting of Christian media ministries in Penang, Malaysia. Then we departed Jakarta to return to the USA for a December holiday to celebrate Christmas and visit our family. This particular adventure includes the sunshine of central Florida, the snow and cold of the upper Midwest, and the crisp morning air of Southern California. For the next three weeks or so, we’ll be traveling across Minnesota and North Dakota, where the temperatures are chilly and the snow is already piling up.
The change in routine and shift in focus has offered some time to reflect on Christmas and the story of Jesus that is at the heart of the celebration. As I’ve remembered again the various characters in the story, whether it’s Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, or the wise men from Persia, their routines of life were interrupted by the significant. There were changes in expectations, surprise developments and life changing decisions.
In each case, their contribution to the story started with a discovery. First, Mary became pregnant in a most unusual way. The shepherds were surprised by blinding light one night. The astronomers saw something in the heavens that had never been there before. Each discovery led them into wondering what all this could mean. Why were these circumstances suddenly demanding their full attention and changing their lives? Their individual discoveries drew them into the mystery as these events intertwined with one another, impacting them in ways they never could have imagined. They were captivated, even compelled, to participate in something that not only changed them but ultimately impacted the entire world.
I wonder if we have, over the years, missed some of that mystery and meaning that comes with Christmas. Maybe this year we’ll come back to discovering, exploring, contemplating and appreciating what the birth of Christ really meant, not only for the characters in the stories but also for us. As we marvel at the mystery, let God’s Spirit draw us even deeper into the treasure we call the good news of Jesus’ coming to this earth.
As we approach this season, I’m offering a few songs that try to capture some of the intrigue and mystery that surrounded that first Christmas and what the characters in the stories might have discovered. You will find the Discovering Christmas trilogy available online at SoundCloud. It’s my prayer that these songs will highlight the greatest gift of Christmas in a meaningful way.
From Barb and me, we wish you each a very merry, meaningful and joy-filled Christmas.