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Radio Ministry Proves:
"It's All About Compassion"

By Dan Wooding

ASSIST News Service

  LAKE FOREST – In this era of sprawling ‘mega-churches’ and well funded evangelical ‘para-church’ organizations, visitors to Compassion Radio’s office facilities in Lake Forest are often surprised by the modestly-sized and simply-adorned operations center of the international ministry.

"We often joke that we're the lemonade stand on the way to renowned Saddleback Church just up the road from us," said Norm Nelson, president of the 64-year-old ministry. Saddleback's pastor, Rick Warren, opens his book, The Purpose Driven Life, with the words, 'It's not about you.' We believe that here. It's not about us!"

  It is, however, about compassion – the compassion of Jesus. Since the ministry changed its name and redefined its purpose nine years ago, Compassion Radio has distributed more than $5 million of humanitarian assistance to suffering people in 30 needy countries of the world.

  “The amazing thing about that is that we’re not a relief and development organization,” said Nelson. “We receive no government money, and we have only five full-time employees. We don’t have any extra money that would tempt us to waste it on fancy facilities or cosmetic displays of success. Yet, our yield of humanitarian aid amounts to over $1 million per employee. That’s a real ‘loaves and fishes’ story.”

  But humanitarian aid is not the whole story at Compassion Radio. Nelson and his wife, Cher, travel the globe as “Ambassadors for Hope” looking for evidence of God’s reconciling work in places of conflict and despair, and finding projects where they can get on board with what God is already doing. In addition, they participate in respectful dialog with representatives of other faiths, and engage in “back-door diplomacy” with political leaders whose countries are often at odds with the United States. The Nelsons broadcast on-site reports and interviews on their daily half-hour program aired in major markets across the United States.


Traveling to trouble

  The Nelsons have landed in virtually every trouble spot on earth. Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, North Korea, Sudan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Bosnia and Palestine are but a few of the 155 countries in which they’ve worked. Nelson points to years of experience in diverse forms of work overseas.

  “From being involved in the first State Department approved delegation to visit China after Nixon opened up that country in 1973, to more recently participating in an Inter-religious dialogue with top Islamic scholars from Iranian Universities in Tehran in 2004, we have met with presidents, diplomats, national parliaments, terrorists, war lords, prisoners, refugees, scholars and slaves, and always we have seen the power of God’s Good News bring positive change into seemingly hopeless situations.”


Full ministry slate


Compassion Radio has been instrumental in the founding and maintenance of four orphanages in Africa and Asia. It has helped shelter more than 500 abandoned infants in South Africa. It was on the scene giving relief aid to tsunami victims in Sri Lanka. It has renewed schools destroyed by the Taliban in Northern Afghanistan. It has rescued children from the filth of the garbage district of Cairo, Egypt. It has fed refugees in Kosovo, the Palestinian territories, Pakistan and Darfur, Sudan. It has ministered to earthquake victims in Bam and Mazandaran Province, Iran. It has funded 800 eye surgeries curing correctable blindness in Ghana, and the distribution of more than 350,000 Bibles in China. It monitors and supports the cause of religious freedom for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in repressive countries. And these are just a few of Compassion Radio's projects.

  All of this with just five full-time employees.

  “We work through strategic partnerships,” Nelson said. “First of all, we partner with radio listeners who are not content to be just listeners. They respond to the stories of need that we share on our broadcasts. Once informed, they care, then they give, and pray, and consequently, they change the world through the compassion of Jesus. Second, we partner with volunteers. They pack boxes, sort and address mail, and sometimes travel with us. And, third, we partner with relief and development agencies, and with churches at home and in the countries where we work. Partnerships are the key. They make us stronger, smarter, more efficient and more effective than we could be on our own.”


On the ground

  The uniqueness of Compassion Radio’s activist approach to broadcasting is captured by the graphic that appears on the ministry’s informative brochure and website. It’s not the slick geometric creation of a design artist. It is a picture of dusty, well-worn work boots, an appropriate symbol for a go-anywhere, ‘boots-on-the-ground’ ministry.

  “At Compassion Radio, we are soldiers in Christ’s Army of Compassion,” Nelson said. “I’ve been shot at in the streets of Baghdad. We’ve been trapped in Afghanistan for days with no heat, water or electricity by a storm so severe that people we had seen earlier in the day froze to death. We’ve been followed by intelligence agents and detained by hostile authorities in repressive countries. Obviously, we’re not about ‘Cruise Ship Christianity.’ But, we believe the adventure is worth it. We go where the compassionate Christ leads us. And, thank God, there are partners who travel with us by means of their prayers and donations.”