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Fulton Co. man beams hope 'round the world

February 08, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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Fulton Co. man beams hope 'round the world

HARRISONVILLE, Pa. - A casual observer passing a nondescript frame building on U.S. 30 West in central Fulton County may not know that a handful of people inside are producing radio programs that are broadcast around the world to more than 50 million people in six languages.

The Rev. J. Otis Yoder, 83, started the Heralds of Hope radio ministry after an inspiration that came to him one day in 1965 while he was driving between Allentown and Harrisburg, Pa.

"The Lord spoke to me," he said,`There's room for another voice. You can be that voice,'" Yoder said.

He said he translated the message to mean a radio voice.

Once a week Yoder dons a headset and sits a microphone in his tiny acoustically correct studio in the basement and reads a script that he wrote. In reality it's a sermon based on strict biblical interpretation in the way he has been trained to do all of his life. He mingles his fatherly message with canned religious music.

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Yoder's broadcast runs for a half-hour every week on 17 religious and commercial radio stations in the United States.

He doesn't know how many foreign stations carry his programs. He buys air time through programming distributors and networks that air them over regular and shortwave broadcasts. He estimates his worldwide listeners to number more than 50 million.

His foreign broadcasts run for 15 minutes and are translated into five languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish and Guarani.

The only place it can be heard in the Tri-State Area is at 7 a.m. on Sundays on WCHA in Chambersburg, Pa.

Last year Heralds of Hope spent $156,000 buying broadcast time on stations and networks around the world, said J. Mark Horst, administrative assistant at the ministry and Yoder's protege.

Horst is one of nine full-time employees at the ministry. All of Yoder's scripts are printed in a shop in the building and are sent, along with their cassette tapes, to broadcasters.

The ministry's operating funds come from donations, Yoder said.

Yoder was a tenured professor at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., when he started the ministry in Lancaster, Pa., in 1967 with 10 other men. He had been teaching at the university off and on since 1947.

Ten years later he was asked to join the faculty of a new Bible school being started in an old Fulton County elementary school. It became the Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute in Harrisonville.

Yoder sold the ministry property in Lancaster County and moved with his wife, Isabelle, into a large 1881 brick farmhouse in Fulton County. He operated the ministry from the farmhouse until the new ministry building was dedicated across the road in 1979.

Yoder was born in Colorado in 1914. He said he almost died of pneumonia when he was 2.

"The doctor said I would probably die, but my parents prayed and promised to give me up to the Lord and here I am.," Yoder said.

His family gave up their 160-acre farm in Colorado after bad times and moved to a 40-acre farm in Michigan. Yoder's father died in a farm accident when he was 14, and the son assumed family responsibilities.

He attended a series of divinity schools until he earned his Doctor of Theology degree from Northern Baptist Seminary in 1954. He has been an ordained minister since 1938.

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