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Nearly 50 years ago, my ever-loving wife, Jerry Shackle, weary from coping with our four young children and a heedless husband, heard a gramophone (phonograph) recording of a popular song being played on the "wireless."

Russ Columbo sang "I need no SHACKLES to remind me/I'm just a prisoner of love." She shrugged her shoulders and gave me a rueful smile. On rare occasions, to this very day, she (and most wives the world over) has probably wished she was UNSHACKLED.

The other day, a friend in Utah (U.S.) surprised us with an email report that he had just listened to a religious radio program strangely called UNSHACKLED. That prompted us to search the internet, where we found an interesting story.

UNSHACKLED, which Chicago's Pacific Garden Mission has produced since 1950, is claimed to be the longest-running radio drama in history.

"Without Jesus Christ, we are all shackled by sin - by our wrong choices, disobedience and selfish motives. But God is at work, and the power of Christ sets us free of our bondage. We are... UNSHACKLED!" - The mission explains the name of its radio show.

The first program was about Billy Sunday, famous Chicago baseball player turned evangelist. "Still produced in the style of the 'Golden Age' of radio, every element is live at the time of the production (the original music, the creative sound effects and, of course, the dynamic performances of talented professional actors.)"

A weekly series is recorded, to be broadcast around 7000 times each week, from more than 1600 radio outlets around the world. The English broadcast is translated and re-dramatized in Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Romanian Polish, Korean and Japanese.

In Chicago, where the show is produced, it's broadcast by WMBI, key station of the Moody Bible Institute's radio network. And that's led to another odd discovery. I can claim to be one of WMBI's earliest listeners, as I recall having picked up its faint, static-marred signal late one night (early morning in the U.S.) when I was a schoolboy in New Zealand back in the 1930s.

At that time, my hobby was DXing - listening to distant radio stations, sending them a description of their program, and (six weeks later) receiving a card or letter confirming the details. The Bible Institute sent me a tract which offered this florid description of its Songs in the Night: "Even as the lighthouse on the shore serves to guide the storm-tossed sailor to a safe haven of refuge, so WMBI stands as a radio beacon-light in the nation, pointing the way of salvation to a weary world."

When I read that stirring prose, I gave little thought to the "lighthouse on the shore." But now, more than 60 years later, the penny has finally dropped. It's a reference to the "old lighthouse," which today houses both the UNSHACKLED production studio and the Pacific Garden Mission.

On an average night, more than 600 homeless men, women, and children receive safe, clean and warm shelter there. During the cold winter months, their number climbs as high as 1000. In addition to clean, comfortable beds, the mission provides food and clothing, as well as medical and dental care if needed. Pastors and counsellors provide needed spiritual help. Everything is provided free of charge to all who enter "the doors that never close."

"How is Pacific Garden Mission able to monthly provide over 60,000 meals, treat over 500 patients in our free clinic, and distribute over 100,000 articles of clothing? By God's grace and through the gifts of His people, 'The Old Lighthouse' continues to help those in need. We have never had to accept even one cent of government funding, and we never will. It is through the generous support of caring people like you that PGM is able to daily serve the homeless and needy."

Sadly, the mission may soon have to leave the Old Lighthouse. "The City and Board of Education of Chicago have begun a new push to acquire our property," says Pacific Garden Mission President, Dave McCarrell.

"This presents a real problem, because we are debt-free here at 646 South State Street. To move to a larger facility would take some 15 to 20 million dollars, perhaps more...

"We are asking our friends and supporters to pray that God will direct and guide in the decisions that must be made. This is God's ministry, and He has sustained and strengthened it for 126 years. We believe He will continue to guide and direct this ministry if we stay true to the work He has called us to do."



Copyright 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted November 2003

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