National Lutheran News

Good news for Bolivia

South American radio station’s signal blankets an entire country.

A Lutheran-sponsored radio station in a remote corner of rural Bolivia is having an impact far beyond anything a casual observer might expect.

Radio Caranavi, a broadcast ministry located in a tropical valley in the Andes Mountains, packs a real punch. Under certain atmospheric conditions — and always at night — its AM radio signal covers the entire nation of Bolivia and reaches into neighboring countries as well.

The Lutherans also operate a TV station, but its reach is limited to the city of Caranavi and environs.

Paul and Jay (Jacqueline) Mikaelsen have parented this operation along for 19 years. Paul was born in Bolivia to missionary parents. He met Jay, a Red Wing, Minnesota, native at what was then known as Lutheran Bible Institute of Southern California. They were married in 1969.

At first, beginning in 1976, the pair worked at World Mission Prayer League (WMPL) headquarters in Minneapolis. But they felt the call to work in South America. They headed to Bolivia in December of 1977.

Before long they were assigned to work at Radio Caranavi. Paul provided maintenance; Jay did administration work. They still have the same assignments today. The station had been in operation since 1969 (television was added in 1998).

Why does this radio station have such amazing reach? Paul says, “In 1979 a radio transmitting system was installed with four towers. They were configured in a square, so that the signal (the radio beam) goes straight up into the sky. It hits the ionosphere and showers down like rain.”

The result: there are no “dead spots.” People can get the signal everywhere, and over an enormous radius.

Surveys and anecdotal evidence indicate a huge audience for Radio Caranavi. Paul says, “Once upon a time the Roman Catholics in Bolivia decided to do a religious news broadcast, but wanted to partner with someone with a good radio presence. They began asking around. Eighty percent of those they talked to said, ‘We listen to Radio Caranavi.’ We thought that was a pretty powerful endorsement of our work.”

The station has enabled unexpected opportunities for mission outreach. Jay says, “People hear the broadcasts and they invite us to come and speak. We get far more invitations than we can possibly respond to. We see them as a great blessing.”

The Mikaelsen’s decided it made sense to start sending nationals (native Bolivians) in response to the invitations they couldn’t fill.

Paul says, “It’s far more effective having natives go than ‘foreign’ missionaries like the two of us.”

Who else is doing religious radio broadcasting in Bolivia? Paul says, “The Baptists broadcast in the capital, LaPaz. The Lutherans have the rural audience.”

In addition to broadcast ministry, Paul assists with emergency medical airlifts. He flies a small plane to and from the capital on a need basis. That’s a real blessing for the locals, considering the only route is a dangerous cliff-hanging mountain road.

How much longer might the Mikaelsen’s stay in far-away Bolivia? Jay says, “I feel God has called us to this work. It’s where we belong.”