To the ends of the earth: Sabbath School Podcast’s global impact

For Dr Percy Harrold, what began as "an unplanned foray into the world of audio production" has since become a far-reaching ministry to thousands around the world.

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Dr Percy Harrold at the mic.

Perhaps you’ve never heard the name “Percy Harrold” before. Chances are though, you’ve heard his voice.

Dr Harrold’s deep, narrator’s voice features on the Sabbath School Podcast—a self-recorded, weekly podcast that offers Seventh-day Adventists a different avenue to study the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.

Each podcast episode features an opening prayer, and the reading of the daily lessons and weekly “inside story”. The production of the podcast is sponsored by Hope Channel South Pacific, the South Pacific Division’s Sabbath School department and Christian Services for the Blind and Hearing Impaired (CSFBHI).

It was the ministry of the latter that sparked the beginning of the podcast in 2007. Back in 1996, Dr Harrold was working with CSFBHI’s Jan Mitchell when a need arose for someone new to record the audio version of the Sabbath School lessons for the blind or visually-impaired church members across the SPD.

Dr Percy Harrold.

“With an impending deadline, I started reading the lessons at the Adventist Media Centre studios [in Wahroonga] directly onto cassette tape, which was then duplicated by the hundreds,” Dr Harrold recalls. “It was an unplanned foray into the world of audio production.”

The CSFBHI recordings transitioned from cassette to CDs in 2005. The audio files were then turned into a podcast two years later, with the first recording distributed online on July 1, 2007.

For Dr Harrold, what began as an “unplanned foray” has since become a far-reaching ministry, with listeners from around the world tuning in to hear his weekly presentations.

Such is the current success of the podcast that, in late August, the Sabbath School Podcast was ranked number 8 on Apple’s most listened-to Christian podcasts in Papua New Guinea (PNG). According to Chartable, the podcast reached as high as number 1 in PNG over the past year, edging out other Christian podcasts featuring high-profile speakers such as Joel Osteen, Rick Warren and Joyce Meyer.

In what Percy calls a “startling aberration”, the Sabbath School Podcast also saw a significant spike in Argentina this past week, climbing more than 300 positions to the number 30 spot on Apple’s top Christian podcasts. This is a significant achievement considering most of the other high-ranking podcasts in the country are non-English recordings.

What has happened in PNG and Argentina is but a snapshot of the Sabbath School Podcast’s global reach. The podcast has ranked in Apple’s top 100 most listened-to Christian podcasts in several other countries (as shown in the table below). What makes these numbers even more incredible is they have been generated organically, with no promotions or advertisements.

Country Current position Peak position (past 12 months)
Angola 165 11
Antigua and Barbuda 33 19
Bahamas 81 48
Barbados 37 4
Bermuda 22 1
Botswana 69 10
Granada 26 2
Israel 61 6
Jamaica 62 15
Madagascar 24 17
Saint Lucia 38 28
Uganda 139 24
Zimbabwe 77 22

(Data accumulated from Chartable, late August 2019)

The success of the Sabbath School Podcast is due to Dr Harrold’s commitment to the ministry, which involves hours of voluntary recording and editing at his home in Queensland.

“One lesson takes about three hours to record and save,” explains Dr Harrold. “Then there is editing and processing for the CSFBHI listeners in Australia and New Zealand, North America and Germany once a month, followed by production of the podcast totalling another four to five hours.

“All up for 13 lessons, in both formats, it takes about 45 hours. This is broken up into spare moments or hours, usually over an eight-week period.”

That may sound like a lot of volunteer time. However, the results of this dedication speak for themselves.

“Thank you so much for reading this for us,” writes Annette. “I cannot tell you how thankful I am for your ministry.”

Suckjoo, from Seoul, Korea, says she enjoys Dr Harrold’s “soft voice and wonderful message”, while one listener from Mexico described the podcasts as “a wonderful way to learn English” while studying the Bible.

Wrote a listener from Canada: “I am so thankful to have found this reading of the lessons 10 years ago. I have trouble reading and understanding at the same time. Listening to [Dr Harrold’s] interesting and calm voice and following along as he reads HAS changed my study life. I praise God for Dr H’s devotion in continuing this gift to others!”

The Sabbath School Podcast can be accessed through digital platforms such as www.hopechannel.com, Apple Podcasts and the General Conference’s Sabbath School 4 app, the official app of the Sabbath School Bible Study Guides.

The podcast has been adapted into a YouTube series by an Adventist Church member in Brazil, with each video generating thousands of views each week. All up, the podcast on the “Cláudio Carneiro” YouTube Channel accumulates around 200,000 views a year.

Dr Harrold’s voice can also be heard as part of this year’s Week of Prayer podcast series, which was recorded with the help of Adventist Media’s editorial team. Visit www.hop.ec/wop to listen to and download the podcast in preparation for the beginning of Week of Prayer this Sabbath (September 7).

For those attending the upcoming South Queensland Conference Big Camp (September 20-28), Dr Harrold and the rest of the Big Camp Radio team will be on hand once again to share devotionals, announcements and live broadcasts of each day’s meetings with listeners. The resident Queenslander has been involved with the broadcast for more than 10 years. Tune in to Big Camp Radio at 90.7FM.