Gifted Missionary Engineer Dies

Herb Jacobson(Oct. 16, 2014 – by Harold Goerzen) If there’s one word that everyone agrees on when referring to soft-spoken missionary engineer Herb Jacobson, it’s “unique.”

“Herb was one of a kind,” said Ron Cline, an ambassador and former president of Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB Global). “Whether he was working on a complicated technical project, analyzing a decision made by the board, discussing a theological issue or decorating a cake, he was consistent. He planned everything out, even the words he would use, delivered precisely as planned, and then sat down and let whatever he did speak for itself. His insights and humility were astounding.”

Herb died at Riverside Village in Elkhart, Ind., Wednesday, Oct. 8, following several months of failing health. He had recently completed 65 years of service with Reach Beyond and had celebrated his 89th birthday just three days earlier. He and his late wife, Norma, spent 41 years in Quito, Ecuador, followed by 24 years at SonSet Solutions in Elkhart.

“God gifted him with great intellect and creativity which he used to help design powerful, commercially competitive shortwave transmitters used to broadcast the gospel,” said Herb’s son Charlie, also an engineer who has served with Reach Beyond with his wife, Jeanie, for 28 years.

“He helped design radio antennas and hydroelectric facilities, and until six weeks before his death,” Charlie recounted. “He was actively working on software design for digital radio transmission. Even with his failing health he could simultaneously use three computers, an oscilloscope and a multimeter!”

An Eye for Innovation

Herb_Jacobson_computerRetired engineer Robert “Bob” Moore, who had served alongside Herb for decades, first in Quito and later in Elkhart, described him as a “consummate engineer—good in almost every branch. I saw him primarily as an excellent electronic engineer. However, he also worked on mechanical engineering problems without needing to consult reference manuals for formulas.”

Herb was always coming up practical solutions to complex problems. When the cost of shipping fabricated antennas to Ecuador proved prohibitive, for example, Herb designed a basic 20-foot tower section that could be built at Radio Station HCJB’s former international transmission site in Pifo, Ecuador, using locally purchased pipe.

“We must have built several thousand feet of tower based on that design for use in Pifo and for the towers used by Avant (Gospel Missionary Union) for their Quichua Indian radio project,” Moore related. “He also worked with ease with chemical formulas in a copper-plating project.”

Herbert Paul Jacobson Jr., 89, was born to Herbert and Marie Jacobson in Minneapolis on Oct. 5, 1925. He gave his life to Christ at the age of 8 and a decade later began considering full-time missionary service.

“However, my capabilities and gifts didn’t coincide with typical missionary work,” Herb recounted in an interview in 1990. “At university—through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—the Lord gave me a solid conviction that He wanted me on the mission field.” He received his bachelor’s degree in in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1947.

While serving with the U.S. Navy as a radar technician after World War II, working in the radio room of a submarine, Herb tuned out the interference and heard a resonant voice talking about God. He was listening to a broadcast all the way from Radio Station HCJB in Quito.

“When I finished serving with the Navy, I felt God had equipped me for missionary radio, so I began working in electrical engineering in radio and began attending Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., in preparation for missionary service.” He had finished three semesters at the school when he heard about the “urgent need” for two engineers at HCJB.

“I applied immediately,” he said. “Reuben Larson (one of the ministry’s cofounders) interviewed me. My home church took on my full support, and I decided to leave for language school, trusting that the seminary would consider me one of their most successful dropouts!”

Arriving in South America

In January 1949 Herb was commissioned by Powderhorn Park Baptist Church in Minneapolis where two previous generations of Jacobsons had faithfully served the Lord, and in a month’s time he was on his way to study Spanish in Medellín, Colombia.

Herb Jacobson with NormaThat’s where he met Norma Peterson, his future wife, who planned to serve as a nurse with the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Colombia. However, she altered her plans when she was surprised to hear an announcement via the airwaves.

Herb had gone to Quito to continue his Spanish language studies and begin his service at Radio Station HCJB. He’d planned to visit Norma in Colombia for Christmas in 1949, but these plans were changed, so he sent her a Christmas greeting via shortwave. On the broadcast he said, “I’m sorry, Norma, that I can’t be up there as planned to put the ring on your finger.” As a friend put it, “He believed in telling the whole world about his engagement!”

After a year’s service in Colombia, Norma joined Herb in Quito where they were married on June 6, 1950. She soon got involved in the medical work that the radio station had launched about a year earlier, adding a practical arm to the broadcasting ministry that had begun in 1931.

Many important jobs have claimed Herb’s attention throughout the years—everything from hunting for land for the shortwave site in Pifo to fixing broken computers and helping design powerful shortwave transmitters (including the 50 kw, 100 kw and 500 kw units) and antennas. Although the Pifo site closed in 2009, many of the transmitters are still in service today, including some at Reach Beyond-Australia’s international broadcast facility in Kununurra.

A lifelong learner with wide interests, Herb delighted in teaching, including 11 years at the National Polytechnic Institute in Quito. He also served in various ways at Iñaquito Evangelical Church in Quito and McCoy Memorial Baptist Church in Elkhart.

During home ministry assignments, he kept his skills sharp, completing his master’s degree in computer science from the University of Southern California in 1970, reading technical books and working at places such as Honeywell Inc. and North American Rockwell.

Honored for 65 Years of Service

Herb Jacobson receives plaqueEarlier this summer Herb was recognized for 65 years of service with Reach Beyond as President Wayne Pederson presented him with a plaque that reads, “Faithful servant, focused expert, innovative engineer, loving family man, humble missionary, dedicated follower of Jesus.”

“Can you imagine 65 years of mission service?” questioned Pederson. “What fantastic faithfulness. Herb has not only been faithful, but innovative. He never stopped thinking about better ways to spread the message of Jesus, his Savior whom he loved and served. Well done, Herb!”

Retiree Chuck Howard described Herb as a “walking encyclopedia. No matter what the subject or question, Herb always had a deep and profound understanding whether it be a secular subject or a fine point of biblical doctrine. One had to think twice before asking Herb a “simple” question. He would pause momentarily, consider the questions, and then slowly proceed to delve into the complexities and ramifications of the question. It really was a delight to listen to him and learn.”

“He was a brilliant engineer as well as a humble, committed missionary who impacted so many people around the world,” added retired engineer Don Spragg. “Herb is well known in the missionary and commercial international broadcasting world. And Herb’s designs are recognized as good as or better than those in the commercial broadcast community.”

Many of the antennas that Herb designed are still in use today by stations in Inspiracom (formerly World Radio Network), a ministry along the U.S.-Mexico border that Herb helped launch in 1978.

“No one will ever take his place,” concluded Reach Beyond retiree Tom Fulghum. “Heaven just celebrated the arrival of a truly great saint. He never sought to make a name for himself, but everybody knew him by name because of the extraordinary capabilities and knowledge he possessed that he totally dedicated to kingdom business…. I was always in awe of Herb and appreciated the passion and compassion he had for reaching a lost the world. It was a privilege to be on the same team with him.”

Herb Jacobson by HC100 transmitterWhen asked what his most satisfying experience was while serving as a missionary, Herb replied, “Knowing that my work has made it possible for many to hear the gospel by radio who would otherwise not have had the opportunity.”

“One of Herb’s great passions was exploring science and the amazing intricacies of God’s creation,” said David Russell, president of SonSet Solutions. “Today Herb is in the perfect place for finding solid answers to all of his questions.”

Herb will be missed by his two sons, Paul and Charles; a sister, Laurene Glader; and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Norma, of 55 years on Oct. 17, 2005.

A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, at McCoy Memorial Baptist Church in Elkhart. The family has asked that memorial gifts may be given to SonSet Solutions at

By Harold Goerzen