25th September, 2012
Christine Platt, who only took up the post of CEO of the Australian arm of global mission organisation Global Recordings Network this month, spoke with DAVID ADAMS about GRN's work in using audio technology to take the Gospel to some of the world's smallest language groups as well as those who can't read...
Firstly, can you tell us a little about what Global Recordings Network is all about?
"Our passion at GRN is that everyone can hear the Good News of Jesus in his or her first language, what we call the 'heart language'. We specialise in small language groups that are typically too small for a Bible or even a New Testament. We are also dedicated to providing our audio recordings to the two thirds of the world’s population who can’t read or prefer not to read."
I understand the organisation was founded more than 70 years ago. What are its origins?
"Global Recordings was founded in Los Angeles (in the) US, in 1939. At that time Joy Ridderhof, a missionary, had returned home ill and came up with the idea of producing recordings of Bible stories on phonograph records. Since that time we have expanded to have bases in over 30 countries."
"GRN has now produced recordings in over 6,000 languages. It’s hard to comprehend a number like 6,000, but that’s a recording in a different language about every two weeks for over 70 years. Many of these are the least reached language groups in the world, and they may be the only Christian resources in these languages."
- Christine Platt, CEO of Global Recordings Network
What are the advantages in using audio recordings to spread the Gospel compared with using written material?
"In many communities written materials including Bible translations have limited effectiveness due to people’s inability or unwillingness to read. So in addition to our own scripts we work with Bible translators to produce audio versions of books of the Bible as they are translated.
"Audio is a very easy medium to distribute. It can be downloaded, bluetoothed and emailed. It can then be accessed via CDs, DVDs, MP3 players, computers and mobile phones."
How many different languages do you now have audio recordings of the Gospel in and what are some of the more obscure languages you've recorded it in?
"GRN has now produced recordings in over 6,000 languages. It’s hard to comprehend a number like 6,000, but that’s a recording in a different language about every two weeks for over 70 years. Many of these are the least reached language groups in the world, and they may be the only Christian resources in these languages. We have thousands of obscure languages that your readers will not have heard of. For example, this year we are planning to go to two remote people groups in Nepal which require two local plane flights and five days trekking to get to each group."
Where does the recording take place and who does the translation work? Do you work with other missionary organisations in this regard?
"The recording takes place with the people group themselves. An essential part of our strategy is to use native speakers of each language, so that the message doesn’t feel foreign to them.
"If there are trained Bible translators in the area our preference is to work with them for the translation. But often there isn’t and in this case we have developed a strategy that allows us to use whoever is available. Our scripts are designed to be simple, so, for example, we can’t talk about Jesus being the 'good shepherd', since many cultures don’t have an understanding of this.
"When we translate something we then have a process of back checking to ensure that the correct meaning has been communicated. It’s a well developed process that we have refined over the last 70 years. It is, however, a time consuming process sometimes taking up to an hour for each minute of recording."
How has the technology GRN uses changed over time and how has the internet changed what you do?
"When we began in 1939 we used phonograph records and were renowned for developing a low cost cardboard record player. The record could be be turned with a sharp stick to play. Later, we developed a cassette player which didn’t need batteries but was powered by a generator turned by hand.
Now everything is digital. We provide a hand-wind MP3 player for use in the remotest communities, but the bulk of our materials are now downloaded.
"The internet is an unimaginably effective distribution medium for us. Every month over 100,000 people access our website, from the remotest regions of the earth. Our recordings are freely downloadable from our website. Each day hundreds of hours of recordings are downloaded and missionaries then burn them onto CD’s and other mediums for distribution."
How important are mobile phones in your current strategy to reach people?
"There are now four billion active mobile phone devices worldwide. Difficult to access places like Mongolia, Iceland, Afghanistan and Vanuatu all have high penetration of mobile phones. There is a 98 per cent penetration rate amongst Tanzanian families for example. To reach these users we have developed a mobile phone outreach website - www.5fish.mobi. Anyone anywhere with internet access can now freely download our audio recordings in their heart language. And once we get the first recording into a community it can then spread virally. The phone users are familiar with the Bluetooth transfer of popular music and so can use the same methods to transfer our materials."
On a personal note, how did you come to be working for GRN and what is it about the organisation's work that attracts you?
"I’ve had an interest in the work of GRN for many years. It was the prospect of being a recordist with GRN that led me to Bible College in the mid-1990s. After 10 years being involved in the establishment and development of Radio Hope in southern Ecuador, I returned to Australia, wondering where the Lord would lead me next. Early this year I received a phone call asking me to consider applying for the role of GRN’s CEO, and as the process continued it became apparent that GRN is where the Lord was leading me.
"Revelation, chapter five, presents a picture of people from every tribe, nation and tongue worshipping God together in heaven. What attracts me to the work of GRN is that we provide the good news of Jesus Christ to people in the language they understand best via the medium they are most comfortable with, and we make a priority of the smallest and hardest to reach people groups. We are part of making Rev 5 a reality. We provide an invaluable service to missionaries and evangelists around the world."
"What attracts me to the work of GRN is that we provide the good news of Jesus Christ to people in the language they understand best via the medium they are most comfortable with, and we make a priority of the smallest and hardest to reach people groups...We provide an invaluable service to missionaries and evangelists around the world."
I understand you're currently looking for young people to be trained as field recordists and audio editors in Sydney? What do these jobs involve?
"We believe these jobs are an incredibly rewarding and exciting opportunity for young people. Imagine travelling to remote locations in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and living in villages with the local people. This is what our field recordists do. Each recording typically takes from one to four weeks. During this time both the translating and recording takes place, and then the recordist will produce an audio program for distribution. For the less adventurous we also have opportunities in our local offices to
produce the audio recordings."
In what other ways can churches and individuals be involved in supporting GRN?
"Our latest initiative for churches is our new Adopt-a-Language program. There are three parts to this - Pray - Give - Go. We decide together with the church on a language group for them to “Adopt”. The church then decides to focus a missions program on this people group. They pray specifically for them and raise funds for their language to be recorded. Once the language has been recorded, where suitable the church is able to send a short term mission team with GRN personnel to the language group to distribute the recordings. The team will give out CD’s, Saber MP3 players and micro SD cards for mobile phones. They also play the recordings to groups in schools and villages settings.
"Individuals can support GRN in many ways. Some work from home virtually just a few hours a week and assist with tasks such as software development or graphic design. Others join our prayer team and pray for us. Many donate or even leave a bequest, or sponsor a recording. The opportunities are endless and I encourage anyone interested to contact me directly to discuss how they would like to be involved."
What can we be praying for with regard to GRN's work?
"GRN values the prayers of our supporters. In particular at the moment we would appreciate prayer for:
• More Field Recordists. There are thousand of language groups that still have nothing in their language. Our passion is to get the good news of Jesus to them;
• Training of national recordists. Australia plays a vital role within the GRN network of training national recordists. Please pray for good trainees and the resources to equip and fund them; and,
• For the production of messages in new languages and that our recording would be widely used and used of God to bring many into His kingdom.