Although its broadcast team is split between Iasi, Romania, and Odessa, Ukraine, New Life Radio continues its ministry of sharing the Russian-language gospel amid myriad challenges.
New Life Radio is Russia’s first-ever Christian FM radio station and has been broadcasting since the 1990s. Program content includes Bible-focused music, scripture content, and explanatory preaching.
The station quickly expanded to broadcast in several surrounding Russian-speaking countries, including Ukraine, through the use of satellite radio, and now also broadcasts worldwide via the Internet.
After broadcasting for years from Russia, New Life Radio moved its central broadcast location to Odessa, Ukraine several years ago due to increasingly restrictive Russian media laws.
The station was again forced to change location in February after the war began. This time, some team members moved to Romania after a long and tedious journey.
A member of the team remained in Ukraine so that the station could operate from both locations. The broadcasts continued, but soon new obstacles began to arise.
Adding to the security concerns sparked by the ongoing conflict, the station must now navigate a new Ukrainian media law restricting Russian music in the country, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed last week after much debate.
Daniel Johnsonone of the founders of New Life Radio, said that although he understands the reasoning behind the law due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is frustrating because it calls into question the ability to function from New Life Radio.
“The law makes no exception for a specific type of programming you do,” Johnson said.
“Our challenge now is how can we, as a Christian radio station, keep up with this new law on mass media, while remaining in the country providing Christian programming in the Russian language to millions of Ukrainians who speak Russian.”
Johnson said he’s even heard reports that the Ukrainian government is working to restrict the country’s internet to only allow websites in Ukrainian.
“We are working to see exactly where this mass media law affects us, and it may be that if we continue our Russian-language broadcast, we will actually have to move our operation outside of Ukraine,” he said.
Johnson said New Life Radio began work at the start of the war to develop a second world broadcast in the Ukrainian language.
The new law may make such a show a necessity, and the organization may simply have to find another location outside of Odessa to broadcast its Russian-language show.
“We have to find a way to do both national channels in both languages,” Johnson said.
And now the team is working to continue broadcasting in compliance with legal requirements amid the escalating conflict in Odessa.
Johnson said Russian forces were targeting the town in order to overtake it. He said missiles are launched into the city almost every day and Ukrainian forces are fighting back as hard as they can.
A missile strike at the station building would naturally magnify the problems they face, but they continue.
Johnson moved to Russia to join other founders of New Life Radio in the early 1990s. Now in the United States, he organizes the station and oversees the group responsible for supporting the station called “Christian Radio for Russia”.
He explained that 97% of all communities in Ukraine do not have a local evangelical Christian radio station and there is little evangelical influence in Russia. The station’s goal is to bring the gospel to Russian speakers in a way they wouldn’t otherwise.
“We need to keep doing the work we’re doing, and there’s been an increase in listeners tuning in from Russia,” Johnson said.
“Part of our mission is to be a spiritual link between the believers who make up our audience in these two countries. Our job is to connect these countries through the Word of God and focus on building peace and forgiveness between these nations.
Johnson said that during the station’s song request hour, listeners in both countries will call in and offer cheers in addition to their song request.
“It’s like the body of Christ coming together for an hour, no matter where they come from,” he said.
“They don’t care where people are from, they just want to encourage the body. We get responses from our listeners just saying they thank God we exist. People say ‘thank you for giving us strength’. hope’, but we just give them that hope through the Word of God.
Despite the obstacles, Johnson said he believed God would continue to provide for the station’s needs throughout its mission.
“We are not at all discouraged because this has been the story of Christian life since the New Testament,” Johnson said. “We understand that there will be trials and tribulations, so we are not shocked by any of this. It’s a challenge, but sometimes ministry can be fun and exciting. It is the best job and the greatest privilege that we can have.
“As long as it is God’s will for us to do this work, then no matter what comes against us, be it laws, war or relocation, God is going to empower us to present the gospel clearly and effectively.”
More information and updates on New Life Radio and Christian Radio for Russia can be found here.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press staff writer.)