In 1922, the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle began some of the first use of radio for Christian programing in the city. Soon Tabernacle leader Paul Rader tapped Clarence Jones, a musician on the Tab’s staff, to lead the radio department, which broadcast fourteen hours on Sunday and programs every day of the week.
In 1928, Jones and his wife Katherine received a missionary call to begin work in South America and he went to that continent the same year to scout out possible sites for a radio ministry. Jones returned to the United States without finding a workable location, but in 1930 he fortuitously met Reuben and Grace Larson, along with John and Ruth Clark, Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) workers from Ecuador who were on furlough.
That meeting marked the beginning of a great effort for radio evangelism that continues to this day. Reuben told Jones about his efforts to start a religious radio program in Ecuador and the contact he was developing with the Ecuadorian government to get a broadcasting permit. Jones began raising money for the project using his contacts among churches in Chicago, with much of the initial funding coming from supporters of the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle.
The first 250 watt transmitter was dedicated in a special service at the Tab. In the all-hands spirit of the day, engineer Edward Williams had built the transmitter in his garage. With funds gathered and the basic equipment ready, Jones finally set out for Ecuador in August 1931. The country would become his home for the next four decades.
On Christmas Day 1931, Jones and Larson began broadcasting from the converted sheep-shed at Quinta Corston in Quito, Ecuador that housed their brand new station HCJB. In Spanish, the call letters meant “Hoy Christo Jesus Bendice” (Today Jesus Christ Blesses) and in English “Heralding Christ Jesus’ Blessings.”
The station and its parent organization, World Radio Missionary Fellowship (later renamed to Reach Beyond) soon became one of the major Protestant institutions in the country, a supporter of both missionary efforts and the indigenous Evangelical churches.
Several other C&MA workers, such as Paul Young, Stuart Clark and John Clark, were deeply involved in the work, although HCJB was always an independent, rather than a C&MA, ministry. And so it continues to this day, with numerous evangelistic, educational, medical programs in the country as well as short wave broadcasts around the world.
Particularly in its early years, HCJB continued to draw heavily on support from the United States, as seen, for example, in this letter from the WCBGC Archives’ Collection 330: Records of Moody Memorial Church. The letter was written by Larson to H.A. Ironside, pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago (Box 9, Folder 9):
An even better example is the striking series of five posters below, from the Clarence Jones papers in Collection 349. They show the growing variety of HCJB’s work in Latin America. But they were not directed to the station’s primary audience in Ecuador. Rather, as shown by their English language text, they were intended for churches and other Christian audiences in the United States, encouraging American Christians to support ministry and missionary work in South America through their surrogate of HCJB.
HCJB’s case is typical of many Evangelical foreign missions that found their major base for money and personnel in the twentieth century in American churches. Find out more about HCJB and its connection to American, and especially Chicago churches, through Collection 330: Records of Moody Church, Collection 349: Papers of Clarence Jones, and Collection 86: Records of the International Broadcasting Association, as well as oral history interviews with HCJB workers Americo Saavedra, Sally Bell, Robert Savage, and Curtis Cole.