Gospel on forbidden radio

Low German broadcasts offer spiritual insight to isolated colonists in Belize

May 22, 2017 by and

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Evangelical radio broadcasts helped Henry and Tina Rede­kopp understand the gospel. Now the couple are doing the same for others, operating a Low German radio station, De Stemm (The Voice), for the 3,700 Old Colony Mennonites in Belize.

“We both grew up in the Old Colony church setting, so we’re very familiar with the theology they have,” Henry Redekopp said in a May 15 interview.

Allen Kehler, conference pastor of the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, and his wife, Anita, left, talk on air with Henry and Tina Redekopp, hosts of De Stemm (The Voice), a Low German gospel  radio station reaching Old Colony Mennonites in Shipyard, Belize. — Rachel Redekopp/EMMC Recorder

Allen Kehler, conference pastor of the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, and his wife, Anita, left, talk on air with Henry and Tina Redekopp, hosts of De Stemm (The Voice), a Low German gospel radio station reaching Old Colony Mennonites in Shipyard, Belize. — Rachel Redekopp/EMMC Recorder

Living among Old Colony Mennonites in Seminole, Texas, Tina Redekopp had questions about her church’s beliefs and practices that couldn’t be answered to her satisfaction. She found some answers while listening to evangelical radio broadcasts but was slow to accept them.

“It sounded blasphemous, because of the way I was raised, to say that you can know you’re saved,” she said.

Henry and Tina Redekopp were married in 1995.

“I believe I was saved before we were married,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to follow God and serve him, but I didn’t really know how that looked. It looked like following a bunch of rules, and if I was good enough, I could go to heaven.”

After the couple attended a Family Life marriage conference, Henry Redekopp said it was the first time the gospel was clarified for him.

“After reflecting on what had been taught there, the Holy Spirit somehow penetrated my hard shell,” he said. “I caught on and embraced it, and I accepted Christ.”

They approached their church leadership about starting a Bible study to share what they had learned, but that did not happen.

“They gave us their blessing to move on,” Henry Redekopp said.

A new voice

After attending Steinbach (Man.) Bible College, the couple moved to the tiny Central American country of Belize and became part of Gospel Fellowship Chapel, an Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference congregation of about 70 people in Shipyard, where they have been for seven and a half years. Henry Redekopp is pastor there.

De Stemm Radio, which began broadcasting in April 2016, reaches the Reinlander Mennoniten Gemeinde community in Shipyard, Indian Creek, Little Belize and New Land with music, teaching and tips on cultural interaction.

“Our culture is very isolated . . . very limited in outside influence,” Henry Redekopp said.

Most of the men speak Low German and some English or Spanish. Most of the women only speak Low German. Many people are illiterate.

Although having radios and listening to music outside of church singing are prohibited for church members, the ­Redekopps know people are listening.

“Our culture loves music,” Henry Redekopp said, describing the station’s selections of hymns, country gospel and contemporary Christian songs, all in Low and High German. “That’s kind of the gateway into their hearts.”

Teaching programs take the church’s catechism and help listeners better understand the biblical foundations of their own beliefs and practices.

“It’s very biblically sound,” Tina Redekopp said about the catechism. “We had to learn the catechism by heart. Before you get baptized, you have to stand in front and answer the questions. They learn it, but they don’t really understand it, because it’s in High German.”

De Stemm also features programming geared toward women about cooking and women’s faith, children’s programming in the evenings and general programming on health, farming, weather and news.

In addition to the local radio broadcast, De Stemm can also be heard online and recently launched listening apps for Apple and Android devices.

“We are starting to see some fruit of broadcasting,” Henry ­Redekopp said. “We know we’re investing our time into something that’s making a difference. . . . When the transmitter was down a couple weeks, we got a lot of calls asking where we went.”

Much of the feedback the ­Redekopps receive is secondhand because church members don’t want to admit they are listening to the radio. But they’re encouraged to know people are listening.

“We definitely feel like God is blessing it,” Henry Redekopp said. “We’re not asking people to reject their culture. We just want people to accept Christ and make him the priority in their life.”

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  • Conrad Ermle

    From this article we are led to assume that Reinlanders are not Christians or are not saved. That’s a pretty serious judgement, isn’t it? Only God knows the heart. – Conrad Ermle

    • Rachel Stella

      That’s a good question, Conrad. Henry and Tina Redekopp only said that *they personally* felt like they didn’t understand the gospel. Of course, they can only speak for themselves. But it makes sense that they would expect at least some people from their culture to have the same understandings they did while growing up.

    • Matthew Froese

      I don’t want to speak for Henry and Tina Redekopp, but I would guess that they might be talking more about the differences in theology from Old Colony Mennonites to more evangelical groups. So Old Colony teaching would likely exclude being certain about being saved, but not because of a lack of faith or non-Christian belief, but instead an understanding that living out faith requires ongoing commitment to God through a life within the rules and practices of that community. A living faith is what saves, faith without works is dead, and works are centered in the church community.

      In contrast, more evangelical groups like the EMMC tend to put personal salvation, personal calling, and personal relationship with God more front and center.

      There’s an english translation of the catechism they are probably referring to here: http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Elbing_Catechism

    • Conrad Hertzler

      Isn’t the Gospel good news for all? Even in a religious community there are people who have not confessed and believed, as Paul states it, and are not displaying the fruit of true life in Christ and need to hear these things. For those of us who have believed, the Gospel message is still relevant and wonderful.

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