A God-ordained Appointment with a Listening Group in Nicaragua: Audio Bibles and Salvation

Here, no one has a first name. Here, obtaining a meal is a matter of fighting off rats and buzzards for scraps of rotten produce. Here, employment means chasing garbage trucks, hoping for first dibs on the prized cargo they bring. Here, children die from eating disease-filled scraps. Here, the only aspiration is survival.

This is the worst part of the largest dump in Managua, Nicaragua, infamous for its acres of filth and the suffocating smoke of countless spontaneously-erupting fires. La Chureca, as this area is locally known, is home to nearly one thousand of some of the most desperate people on earth.

A group of African people gather around to
hear God's word.

This has been his home for the past six years. Like so many of the others, he is a slave to the short-lived euphoria of a hit of crack. He lives for one reason—to somehow get another dose. It’s been months since he has bathed, and he has no recollection of ever having had a full stomach. He has been in jail more times than he can count; there, at least, he is guaranteed something to eat.

He hates this place, of course, but admits that a dump accurately describes what his life has become. Although his childhood was difficult, he does have fragments of happy memories—the smell of his mother’s tamales cooking, the warmth of her embrace, playing soccer in the dusty street in front of his home. But even the best of those memories are now tinged with pain and regret. He knew from the moment he inhaled that first joint at age eleven that he was hooked. He had never known anything like it before: a magical (though short-lived) sense of calm.

As he graduated to stronger, more expensive drugs, he learned to steal and market whatever he could to fund the addiction. He had reached an all-time low, he knew, when he figured out how to take his mother’s tamales and sell them to her regular customers at a lower price. This way, he not only stole her merchandise, but her customers as well. He was almost relieved the day she kicked him out of the house; after all, he would no longer have to deal with the shame of hurting her.

Now, as the afternoon sun scorches everything within its reach, he staggers out of the dump and into the surrounding barrio. He has a “business” deal to attend in an unfamiliar section of town. His attention is suddenly drawn to an unimpressive church building. If it were larger he might wait until the collection is received, then look for a chance to help himself. But this is a small church on a poor street. It wouldn’t be worth the effort.

A God-ordained Appointment
It’s the sounds flowing from the building’s open doors and windows that capture his interest. There is some kind of a show going on inside. Intrigued by the voices, music, and vivid sound effects, he slowly approaches the humble structure and notices a crowd of people intently listening to a simple tape player.

He freezes, instantly captured by the story they are listening to—that of a man healing the sick, raising the dead, and setting folks free from addiction.

Then he hears what he will never forget: God loves everyone in the world equally—even someone in his state. He is even more surprised when he is approached by a clean-cut man with a soft smile. Instead of telling him to get lost, the man actually invites him to join them, gesturing to an open bench near the back door. It has been years since he has been inside a church and he’s suddenly aware of his offensive appearance and stench. Still, he is mesmerized by the possibility that even he is loved by God.

When the show ends, no one leaves. They stay and discuss what they’ve heard. He is impressed by the sincerity of those gathered. At the close of the meeting, the same kind man invites him to come and listen with them again.

He has no choice but to return to La Chureca, but the next day he has an odd excitement within him. Better than the expectation of a hot meal, or even another hit of crack, is his anticipation of returning to the small church and again hearing the drama. All day long, his thoughts are occupied with the idea of the love of God.

That next night, he arrives on time and recognizes several of the same people as before. More of them smile at him now, accepting him even with his foul odor. He soon becomes a regular at the meetings, and often finds himself in tears, yearning to know this God of love—to have the burden of addiction and self-hatred lifted. So when an invitation is given, he jumps at the opportunity to give his life to Christ. Repeating a simple prayer for forgiveness and a new life, he senses a peace and joy which he has never known. Although he doesn’t know it at the time, his craving for drugs is being broken—never to return. He is soon invited to the home of a new friend for a hot meal, bath, and haircut. Some of the men from the church pool their meager resources and provide him with some clean clothes.

Today, Rogerio is totally free of addiction
and has shared Christ with many of his
former drug associates.

A New Life—A New Name
Eager to repair his relationship with his family, he returns to his mother’s home. He is greeted there by the snarling and barking of the family dog, who doesn’t know him in his clean and odor-free state. It is not until he speaks that the dog approaches him. His mother is equally skeptical; although she knows with certainty it is her son, she mistrusts his motives and refuses to allow him to return.

As he starts to get his life in order, he regains his birth name—Rogerio. Previously, he had been known only as the witch—befitting his frightening appearance. It takes time, but he eventually proves to his mother that his transformation is genuine. She forgives him and allows him to move back into her home. Instead of stealing from her, he finds a steady job and helps provide for the family.

Today, Rogerio is totally free of addiction. He remains employed, and has shared Christ with many of his former drug associates. When asked about his life, he replies, “I’ve changed. No, God had changed me.” He adds that he now finds real satisfaction in his job, in contrast to slaving just to feed an addiction.

Audio Bibles and Listening Groups
What Rogerio came upon that glorious day in Managua was something known as a listening group. Such groups gather all over the globe to take time to listen to recordings of the word of God in their heart language. After listening for a specified amount of time, they are free to make comments or ask clarifying questions. While it is mainly Christians attending these sessions, curiosity often attracts others as well.

An example is in Ghana, where groups of believers often gather under trees to listen to the audio New Testament. It is not uncommon to see other groups sitting under nearby trees, within earshot of the Audio Bible. These are groups of non-believers, not wanting to associate with the Christians, but sitting close enough to eavesdrop. Over time, a few brave souls will migrate from the second tree to the first. This simple act of faith is their way of identifying with Christ and acknowledging his Lordship.

Over half of the world’s population is functionally illiterate. In some places, churches are even being led by pastors who cannot read God’s word. In this type of setting, it is easy to see the importance of being able to hear scripture in a recorded form. And as Rogerio’s testimony shows, it is not just believers who are benefiting from Audio Bibles—it is also a powerful tool for evangelism.

Faith Comes By Hearing
Jerry Jackson, founder and president of Faith Comes By Hearing (FCBH), the world’s largest Audio Bible ministry, says,

Rogerio is just one example of what occurs when people listen to the pure word of God in their heart language. I am normally a very reserved person, but when I read the hundreds of testimonies like this from all over the world I want to shout, “Hallelujah!” God’s word in the mother tongue is so powerful that not only does it change the individual’s life, it impacts their entire community as well.

According to Jackson, this aspect of FCBH’s ministry was not originally expected:

The mandate that the Lord gave us was to “bring his Church together and make disciples.” We saw the Audio Bible as a means of spiritually strengthening believers who for whatever reason—often illiteracy—had limited access to scripture. It came as something of a surprise to us when people began to come to salvation and quickly grow in discipleship—and then very quickly establish churches built entirely on God’s recorded word!

While Jackson does not advocate abandoning preaching or traditional means of evangelism, he adds, “It has been refreshing to prove that God’s word is as powerful as a two-edged sword cutting to the spirit and soul and does not return empty.”

Currently, FCBH has recordings available in over three hundred languages, with dozens of others in the recording process. The ministry’s goal is to record an Audio Bible in two thousand languages by the year 2016, which would reach ninety-seven percent of the world’s population.

With thirty-two trained recording teams in twenty-one locations around the world, FCBH is able to use native speakers for every one of the languages they produce. The Audio Bibles are then made available in a number of ways, including free internet downloads, miniature Mp3 players called Biblesticks, and a dedicated playback device known as a Proclaimer. In the past 2 ½ years alone, some eighty-seven thousand Proclaimers have been shipped—and FCBH recordings are now being used in over ninety-five countries.

It is not only the illiterate who benefit from Audio Bibles. Some two-thirds of the world’s population lives in oral cultures, where historical, moral, and religious lessons are passed on via stories, dramas, and other non-written means. Some forget that a great portion of the Bible is told in story form—making it a natural fit for oral cultures.

Just ask Rogerio.

Jerrid Stelter's nineteen years in vocational ministry include extensive travels in the Muslim world, as well as a variety of teaching, writing, and consulting on missions. He currently lives in New Mexico, USA, with his wife and two children.