Jim Bowman ’61 started collecting butterflies as a missionary kid in the Philippines, a passion he still pursues. Samples of his countless specimens illustrate talks he gives at schools and retirement homes. “The transformation of a butterfly is a clever way to express the gospel,” he says.
During his long career with Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) Jim has heard many stories of the transforming power of faith. Now retired, he is archiving thou-sands of letters the ministry has received from grateful listeners. A man in rural China loses everything in widespread flooding. As he walks through a village, he hears Christians singing with great joy despite the disaster, and he embraces the gospel. A young Korean girl diagnosed with terminal cancer decides to end her life. She gets into a taxi, hears a Christian radio program and comes to faith, which brings her happiness as she faces death. A Guatemalan man sets off to kill his wife and her lover, when a voice on the radio asks, “Are you thinking of doing something really stupid?” He stops to listen to the speaker, who says you can’t solve life’s problems without God. He becomes a believer, his life changes, and his wife comes back. When a man in Myanmar loses his leg to a tiger, his fiancee breaks off the engagement. He’s on his way to kill himself the radio asks, “Are you at the end of your rope?” He chooses to live instead and joins the village church.
These stories touch Jim. “I used to be so gung ho for my strategies and plans, but things like this helped me realize that God is at work in ways impossibly out of range of my ability to organize or control,” he says.
Jim came to Westmont to play tennis and wasn’t very committed to his biblical studies major. One day, the late David Hubbard warned him of the consequences of poor grades. “That talk was pivotal in my life,” Jim says. “It was a good combination of discipline and encouragement. I wanted to impress Cynthia, my future wife, and regain Dr. Hubbard’s approval, and that was enough to change my direction. Even today I think about how God brought along the right people at Westmont at the right time to get me on the right track.”
The son of Bob Bowman, a founder of FEBC, Jim never wanted to join the ministry. But when other plans fell through, he ended up teaching English to Spanish-speaking people in Latin America over the radio for 17 years. In 1977, he became director of operations responsible for more than 35 stations, primarily in Asia and Latin America. He traveled extensively and worked with the indigenous broadcasters FEBC has always relied on. “It’s been a great experience expressing the gospel in so many different cultures,” he says. He served as president from 1995-2003.
FEBC set up its first short-wave station in the Philippines to reach China in 1949, just before the Communists took power there. For nearly 30 years, they continued broadcasts despite silence from the country. “I often questioned the use of resources for that station,” Jim says. “But when China started opening up, we learned a surprising number of people were listening. The mail began arriving, and the miracles and responses reminded me of the book of Acts. Now China has all the problems of the Western church.”
Radio still plays a role in our high-tech age, and FEBC focuses on tribal groups beyond the reach of cell phones and the Internet. “People still listen to the radio in their cars,” Jim says. “There will always be a role for radio.”