World champ rower and MegaVoice creator: the Tom Treseder story

If one were to imagine an Australian hybrid of Chariots of Fire hero Eric Liddell and “God’s smuggler” Brother Andrew, it would be hard to go past the name of Tom Treseder, the world champion rower and founder of the international MegaVoice ministry.

The remarkable story of Tom Treseder has been told recently in a new book, The Master’s Stroke: Let the World Hear His Voice, authored by Alan Campbell of the Scottish Bible Society.

The Master's Stroke

The Master’s Stroke

Born in Five Dock on the southern foreshore of Sydney’s Parramatta River in 1933, the athletic Treseder took to rowing with the Haberfield Rowing Club. Following in the footsteps of Scottish Christian athlete Eric Liddell, Tom was destined for future Olympic success, with his rowing brilliance earning him a cabinet full of trophies and a string of mentions in the Australian press.

Yet, at the same time that his oars ploughed through the eddies of the Parramatta River, Tom felt an even more powerful force at work. After attending his local Methodist Church regularly on Sundays for the fun and the fellowship, Tom’s heart was convicted one evening as he heard the evangelist, Norman Hardy, call upon his hearers to surrender their lives to Jesus. Heeding the preacher’s call, Tom came forward and accepted Christ as his Lord and Saviour on his 15th birthday.

Tom decided to forego his Sunday training so he could honour God.

As Tom’s rowing career progressed, so did his faith. Soon after his conversion, Tom immersed himself in the evangelistic work of Christian Endeavour and became an avid daily reader of Scripture. Tom’s discipleship would lead him to senior roles with Scripture Union NSW and, eventually, the Bible Society of NSW-ACT, of which he served as CEO in the 1980s and 90s.

Meanwhile, as his weekly rowing activity increased, Tom came to a crossroads as he saw his onerous weekend training schedule and church commitments on a collision course. Something had to give.

Tom Treseder in action on the water

Tom Treseder in action on the water MegaVoice/YouTube

Like Eric Liddell, who had bowed out of the Sunday heats for his promising 100-metre race in the 1924 Paris Olympics, Tom decided to forego his Sunday training so he could honour God. While Tom always held that the Bible had no commandment stating that “Thou shalt not row on Sundays”, he believed in his heart that he was doing the right thing by putting church fellowship with God’s family first.

Just as Liddell had forgone an almost certain gold medal victory in the 100-metre race, Tom knew that giving up Sunday rowing would stymie his path to Olympic glory in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Tom was convinced that his rowing career was over, yet in a stroke of providential favour, the Lord honoured him with 33 international gold medals as a world champion rower. In a sport like rowing, you could say that such an achievement would leave one oar-struck!

Tom had a penchant for innovation in design and technology, which led to the invention of “MegaVoice”.

Even more significant than his prodigious rowing achievements, however, would be Tom’s enduring legacy of MegaVoice. Training as an industrial designer after leaving school, Tom had a penchant for innovation in design and technology, which led to the invention of a tactile, palm-sized audio Bible known as “MegaVoice”. Conceived by Tom in collaboration with Ken Crowell, an American electronics engineer, the MegaVoice audio Bible was born in 1988.

Long predating the arrival of the palm pilot and its digital successors, the advent of this hand-held audio device was nothing short of revolutionary. Recording the entirety of the Christian Scriptures in a multitude of languages, it was arguably the greatest breakthrough since the invention of the printing press enabled the mass production of printed Bibles in the Reformation era. Today, more than three million MegaVoice devices have been circulated, recording the Scriptures in over 4800 languages.

A woman tries out the MegaVoice

A woman tries out the MegaVoice MegaVoice/ YouTube

With Tom’s heart for the whole world “to hear God’s voice”, MegaVoice’s “talking Bibles” finally made the word of God accessible to those who may not have had the “eyes to see” but the “ears to hear”. Cross-culturally, MegaVoice transcended barriers by reaching people groups with a folklore culture of oral storytelling. In such places, the arrival of this Bible in audio form has been a true “godsend”. With a durability and discreteness unmatched by the smartphone, MegaVoice devices have penetrated some of the world’s most forbidding borders with the Christian message.

Reflecting on MegaVoice’s mission to reach the unreached, Tom remarked in 2016 that: “MegaVoice is very important for our world today because I tell you that … 70 per cent of our world either can’t read or don’t read, so therefore for them to learn about Jesus … and the new life that he offers, people need to hear his voice.”

Just as the Lord had used “God’s Smuggler“, Brother Andrew, during the Cold War to reach the Soviet Bloc with the Scriptures, God has used Tom and his MegaVoice devices to make the gospel known in places where the distribution of printed Bibles is difficult or impossible.

The seed of Tom’s brainchild can be found in the pages of the Scriptures where the prophet Daniel said in 9:10: “Then I heard the sound of his words, and as I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in a deep sleep with my face to the ground.” Just as Daniel had heard the voice of the Lord, Tom’s heart was for the whole world to “hear his voice”, and by God’s providence, millions of Tom’s little MegaVoices have helped much of the world do just that.