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Assignment Europe: The Gospel Far From Home

By John Lundy
Europe, Global, Faroe Islands, TWR Women of Hope
13 September 2022

Jogvan Hammer, seen in EVR's newer studio in Torshavn, was the original producer of the EVR programs transmitted by TWR beginning in 1966. He still produces programs for EVR.
Jogvan Hammer, seen in EVR's newer studio in Torshavn, was the original producer of the EVR programs transmitted by TWR beginning in 1966. He still produces programs for EVR. [Image courtesy of John Lundy, TWR]




TORSHAVN, Faroe Islands – Far, far from home, off the coast of Durban, South Africa, the sailor heard familiar words in the language of his homeland.

“I have been listening, and I can hear it quite well,” the Faroese sailor wrote from Durban. “And for us who are … sailing and want to hear the Word of God, it is so good that we have these possibilities.”

The letter from around 50 years ago was read by Poul Johan Djurhuus, one of four faithful men who gathered with our three-person TWR delegation on Monday in a spacious sunlit room of Ebenezer Assembly, the largest Church of the Brethren worship place on the Faroe Islands.

They had set out coffee, tea and cake – ubiquitous at any gathering on the islands – and waited patiently as we arrived late. We had been delayed by, of all things in this capital city of fewer than 20,000 people, a Faroese traffic jam.

The men, in their 70s and 80s, had come to tell us the story of how a partnership between the Faroe Islands and Trans World Radio developed in the 1960s and the impact it had, especially on men at sea.

Svenning av Lofti, seen this week at Ebenezer Assembly in Torshavn, Faroe Islands. His friendship with a former sailor led to the establishment of Faroese as the 26th language transmitted by Trans World Radio.It began with a young sailor named Billy Olsen, half Danish and half Faroese, who would listen to Trans World Radio’s programs in the Norwegian language (understandable for Faroese people) in 1961 when he was on a long voyage at sea. At a Brethren assembly (they don’t use the term “church” for their gathering places) in Copenhagen, he became acquainted with Svenning av Lofti, a Faroese printer and evangelist who happened to be there at the time. Av Lofti, who came with a binder filled with documents, was among the four who joined us Monday and who told us this story.

Their friendship continued after av Lofti returned to the Faroe Islands and Olsen and his wife also established there. On July 30, 1966, they got together because Olsen had something in mind.

“He said to me, ‘What (if we) contact Trans World Radio for the purpose (of broadcasting) the Word of God through Trans World Radio in the Faroese language?’” av Lofti related. “And I was excited about that.”

The next day, they sent a letter to Paul Freed, the media mission’s founder; and Ralph Freed, his father and partner in the work. They explained that their main purpose was to reach Faroese sailors in the waters around Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland (Canada).

Ralph Freed’s response came quickly. To av Lofti’s delight, he also used the word “excited.” The details were hammered out quickly. Trans World Radio would provide the transmission on medium-wave (AM) radio out of its powerful transmitter in Monte Carlo. The Faroese team would produce a weekly 15-minute program.

Neither Olsen nor av Lofti knew how to produce a radio program. But av Lofti knew who to turn to: Jogvan Hammer, who grew up in his village. Hammer, who also was with us Monday, was educated as a wireless operator on ships and later added skills as a radio mechanic.

With additional recruiting, they brought their team up to eight and formed under the name Evangeliska Roddin (EVR), meaning The Gospel Voice. They produced a 15-minute test program and sent it off to TWR, which pronounced it satisfactory.

‘We Were So Excited’

So at 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 29, 1966, a Tuesday, the first program aired. It began with Hammer’s introduction and included music recorded from the Ebenezer Assembly’s choir and a seven-minute message from Andrew Sloan, a pastor at Ebenezer whose father, William Sloan, had come from Scotland to introduce the Brethren church to the Faroese.

They had advertised the debut in all of the islands’ Faroese assemblies and in newspapers. At Ebenezer, where EVR had its production studio, the excitement was palpable.

“I remember how excited we were, and many of us remember where we were that exact day that the broadcast came out from Trans World Radio,” av Lofti said.

The excitement lasted, Hammer said. “We used to hurry from the meetings here [to go] home to turn on the radio to listen to the message. We were so excited.”

Svenning av Lofti, seen this week at Ebenezer Assembly in Torshavn, Faroe Islands. His friendship with a former sailor led to the establishment of Faroese as the 26th language transmitted by Trans World Radio.TWR speaks hope to the world in more than 300 languages. Faroese, spoken by fewer than 80,000 people in the world today, was the 26th language. The broadcasts continued until 1992.

Klaemint Weihe, the fourth person who met with us, joined the team on the production side in 1967 and took over production in 1971 when Hammer relocated to Denmark to further his education. Av Lofti became a full-time evangelist in the 1970s and developed a close relationship with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He was invited to, and attended, Billy Graham’s funeral on March 2, 2018, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Djurhuus, an evangelist who joined EVR later, translated Graham’s message into Faroese at an evangelical event in Europe. With typical Faroese humility, he was careful to point out that he was the second of two translators.

‘It Was ... Their Church’

Over 25 years of broadcasts, the group saw their vision realized. Although av Lofti said Faroese people are shy and reluctant to express themselves, he has letters written from ports in Newfoundland, Denmark, Norway and England, and even from Tangier, Morocco, the original home of the media ministry that became TWR. Some reported being saved by listening to the broadcasts.

Wives and children would listen to their broadcasts at home with the assurance that their husbands and fathers were listening on the ships at the same time, though far away. It was especially important for the sailors, Djurhuus said.

“I believe these Christian radio transmissions, both in English, but especially when the Faroese transmissions came, were their only way to hear the Word of God being preached,” he said. “So it was, in a sense, their church while they were out. … In those days they were out for nine months, a year, even more than a year. They didn’t see their families.”

Although the TWR broadcasts ended in 1990, EVR remained. It broadcasts two times a week on a Faroese station. It still operates out of the Ebenezer Assembly, but its main studio is in a nearby grass-roofed building owned by the assembly. Hammer, still a key figure in EVR, has a copy of every broadcast made through TWR.

Renewed Connection

TWR wasn’t involved on the islands for 25 years. Then Frank Stephenson, communications director for TWR Europe, was invited for a visit. Then and in subsequent visits, he has been re-establishing connections. At the end of a 2018 visit, two women approached him and said they would like to translate the TWR Women of Hope prayer calendar into Faroese. They have been doing so faithfully ever since.

That’s why Dr. Peggy Banks, global director of Women of Hope, is also here this week. She and Stephenson have been hard at work, visiting a conference, other gatherings and prayer meetings; being interviewed on Christian radio stations; meeting people one-on-one and in small groups; and talking about how Women of Hope could play a deeper role here.

It’s a place that’s primed for the powerful work of Women of Hope. The Faroe Islands are largely crime-free – people don’t lock their doors. But domestic violence is a problem. Banks has a special heart for victims of domestic violence and trafficking victims. There are women here who especially need Women of Hope’s ministry.

Anna Simonsen, who directed the women’s conference that began our time here, said Banks’ visit to them was clearly God-ordained. It will be exciting to see what God does next on the Faroe Islands.


Images: (top, right) Svenning av Lofti, seen this week at Ebenezer Assembly in Torshavn, Faroe Islands. His friendship with a former sailor led to the establishment of Faroese as the 26th language transmitted by Trans World Radio. (middle, left) Svenning av Lofti, seen this week at Ebenezer Assembly in Torshavn, Faroe Islands. His friendship with a former sailor led to the establishment of Faroese as the 26th language transmitted by Trans World Radio. [Images courtesy of John Lundy, TWR]

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