Live streaming of pastoral message reaches global audience

Tony Raker, senior pastor of Grace Evangelical Free Church in Strasburg, makes use of technology to spread their small church's impact by streams their Sunday church services and using podcasts as part of their church's mission. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Hi-tech advances have made spreading the message of God easier for Pastor Roger Anthony ‘Tony’ Raker of Grace Evangelical Free Church.

From social media platforms to interactive websites and live streaming, Raker and his congregation are embracing technology in a new and interactive ways, not just on a local level but internationally as well.

“We’re a fairly small congregation of about 40 members or so,” Raker said. “That’s kind of what makes our story so interesting.”

Across the country and around the world, social media has given small congregations the opportunity to be part of a bigger picture through technology and helping individuals understand the message of God.

While attending a pastoral conference in Ohio, Raker was approached by a company known as BoxCast- whicg video streams events, sports, churches, municipalities, associations and enterprises around the county.

“I approached them and we got to talking,” he said. “They told me if I was interested in streaming messages they’d be delighted to help. I left Ohio feeling unsure but optimistic.”

Ironically before leaving for his trip, Raker and members of his congregation had gotten together to discuss options on new ways to spread the Gospel in their community.

“We’re very word centered here you see,” he said. “When we gathered, we began wondering ‘how can we take seriously what the Lord told us to go out to the whole world and preach the Gospel?’ How could a little group like us fulfill that?”

Upon his return from Ohio, Raker once again approached his congregation on ways to spread the gospel. But this time he had a plan.

“I told them that we had an opportunity to put together a website and stream the messages they received every Sunday to the community,” he said. “I had no idea what would happen next.”

Installing the BoxCast system cost roughly $50,000. Raker’s Sunday messages began live-streaming shortly thereafter with the help of Rob Moses.

“We’ve put all this together but what’s it doing for God?” Raker said he asked himself.

One afternoon Raker was sitting in his office when an anonymous email came through that he didn’t recognize. He added that later on he would learn that it was a cloaked email- an email that can’t be traced by  governments.

It said: “Hello. I found your website. I watched your message. I’ve accepted Christ the savior and I live in Jordan. I’m going quietly from neighbor to neighbor to tell them what’s happened to me.”

Raker said he was stunned to receive such an email. But it wouldn’t be the last.

Since the installation of the BoxCast system, Raker’s messages have reached over 22  nations including Canada, Ireland, Finland, Russia, South Korea, Malta and Iraq. Viewers on the national level include include those in Strasburg, San Francisco and Alaska.

On any given Sunday Moses said Raker’s message could reach over 3,000 on YouTube and Facebook, which they both agreed was overwhelming, but exactly what they wanted.

“The Lord told us to start live streaming,” Raker said. “We’re just simply following his call.”

Raker said he’s unsure how the young man from Jordan was able to watch his sermons. But he learned that he had recently escaped ISIS and was residing in a camp that was receiving American aid.

“We weren’t able to email him back. But we came up with a way to communicate,” he said. And that was through his sermons.

“The Bible speaks to us on everything,” Raker said. “It’s just a matter of knowing what questions to ask.

Riker said he’s received other emails from individuals who said upon finding his sermons on YouTube that they too have changed their lives. Raker said one women was contemplating suicide before she found a sermon online. She reached out to him and said he saved her.

“Its remarkable,” Raker said. “But God set it up this way. He wanted us to serve our community in a bigger way than even we understand.”

On a more local level, Raker said he’s glad they made the social media decision. “We’re not just sharing our Sunday mass with the congregation in the church or around the world but right here in tiny Strasburg, too,” he said. “There are so many people who aren’t able to make it to church. But they know with a simple click they can spend their Sunday mornings with me. And learn God’s message.”

As for other churches, Raker said he believes they should consider the BoxCast system, as it’s made spreading the Gospel easier.

“All types of people use social media, depressed, lonely, suicidal, the rejected,” he said. “Just one word from God can save someone’s life.”

Grace Evangelical Free Church is located at 718 E. Queen St. in Strasburg. Visit them online: www.graceevfreechurchva.org

Correction: Rod the Tech Man is Rob Moses.