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Pulpit on the Airwaves
The community radio program, What Does The Bible Say? Is celebrating five years on Hamilton’s CHML radio.

It was a workday just like so many others, as Hamilton businessman Bill Bartels drove between appointments, flipping through the radio dial. But on this particular day, he was hungry to hear something that would inspire and challenge him with biblical teachings.

George Van Popta, Clarence Stam and Bill Bartels took the idea for a local, Christian radio show and turned it into What Does The Bible Say?

As he searched for such a radio program, Bill recalls how a thought grew in his mind – ‘Why not create a local show about the Bible? Not one where people preach at you, but where people can learn about the Bible through interaction.’

Bill didn’t let the thought slip from his mind. He not only shared it with two Hamilton-area pastors, but he helped convince Reverend George Van Popta and Reverend Clarence Stam to host such a show.

And, for the past five years, What Does The Bible Say? has been doing exactly what its title suggests as a regular weekly program on Hamilton AM radio station 900 CHML.

Reverend Stam recalls the first meetings with the station’s management. “They basically read us the Broadcasting Act of what to do and not to do. They were somewhat nervous about allowing a religious group on the air, due to the legal issues around this type of broadcasting.”

He admits that he and co-host Rev. George Van Popta were nervous too. The pair didn’t know what to expect. They knew they were in uncharted territory and must tread lightly.

“When that first show hit the airwaves on January 1, 2003, even the members of our churches who tuned in were feeling a bit anxious– probably more anxious than us. But we had it planned, and we had back-up plans. That first show went ahead without a hitch.”

It wasn’t long before everyone could relax, including the producers at CHML. In fact, Clarence noticed some of the staff and other radio hosts began to hang around to listen as he and George went live to air. “It was nice to have a bit of a live ‘studio’ audience. As two pulpit preachers, we were accustomed to speaking to a live audience every week, but now we were speaking to an invisible audience. It’s really hard to gauge your output when you don’t get feedback with live facial expressions.”

The lessons learned during those first few shows are now but a distant memory. After five years, What Does The Bible Say? has gained credibility with a loyal following of listeners. Unfortunately three years ago, Reverend George Van Popta had to step away from the program, leaving the sole responsibility of hosting to Clarence. Today, despite health struggles, Clarence has continued on, happy for the challenge. As a retired minister, he says the show keeps him active. His health has taken him away from full-time ministry, but this volunteer work keeps his heart and outreach going.

While the program’s time-slot is paid for by a group of supportive business people, Rev. Stam says he is grateful for the opportunity and freedom to be able to tell listeners “This is what the Bible says. You can accept it or not. It is up to you.

Clarence Stam in the studio at CHML.

“When my Canadian Reformed roots come across a little on controversial subjects and I upset someone, or if I don’t get the calls and the feed-back from listeners one week, I don’t have to worry about getting fired.”

Today the program continues to educate Christians and non-Christians alike about what the Bible really says through interactive radio programming.

“It’s a tragedy that people have very little knowledge of the Bible, yet it is the bestselling book ever, and it’s hardly read.” Clarence goes on to describe the need and premise for the program. “Today many people have been told through the news and entertainment media what the Bible says. Not all of it is right. We provide a forum where people can get those messages sorted out. The best part of it all is, if they are really struggling, or there are personal issues they don’t want to identify, they can call or write to us and get answers to their questions.”

Over the years the hosts of the show have been challenged with various calls: from people of other faiths, those who are trying to find God in the midst of tragedy, those who are uncertain about their future and those who have wandered from their faith for one reason or another. However even with all the hosts’ experiences in ministry, there are times when they get stumped with finding the right answers for their callers.

In one instance a young girl phoned in to ask if her cat, which had just died, was going to heaven. After giving an initial answer of “no,” the show went to break. George and Clarence challenged each other, then went back to air and adjusted their statement.

“We told her that based on what the Bible says, there will be animals in heaven,” recalls Rev. Stam, “but it won’t be like we are accustomed to in this life. One of the things the Bible says is, ‘The Lion and the Lamb will lie down together.’ I think the animals will be more approachable than they are now, but the Bible makes reference to animals being around God, who lives in heaven.” What makes George and Clarence chuckle today is the thought that it was very practical question from a child that sparked them to explore their own perspectives on the Bible.

The show originates from the CHML studio on Main St. W., Hamilton, but callers have phoned in from Owen Sound, Ontario; Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

An elderly lady, living in either a retirement or nursing home, called the show one evening and described Sunday nights in her lodging. “I can set my radio to your show, and then I can go for a walk down the hall,” she told the hosts. “By the time my walker and I are able to reach the end of the hall, and then make the return trip to my room, I have not missed a word of the show because everyone on our hall tunes into your show!’” Such words make all efforts worthwhile.

“I remember the time when a blind lady called in,” reminisces Clarence, “I am not sure where she was from, but she told me that she listens to all our programs, reads her Braille Bible and went to church when she could. She commented on how much the show meant to her and that she ‘wouldn’t want to start the week without listening to the program.’ I think that sometimes we are another connection to the outside world.”

“It is an awful thing when church and religion become irrelevant to society. Often that is why both the young and the old have left. Sometimes they have left because they have not properly understood what the Bible says. If our show can make the Bible relevant to people today, and we can help just one person sort out their understanding of the Scriptures, and if only one person gets it and says, ‘I need to go back to what the Bible says’, then it is all worth it.”

Sandy King is a freelance writer based in Hamilton, Ontario.

Originally published in Beacon, September 2008.

 

 
 
 
 

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