As a missionary I have been involved in quite a few projects, but the Benin transmitter is at the top of that list. Every project has its obstacles, but if you’re out of country when they happen it’s particularly stressful. But God had a plan.
In February 2007, I was serving as Director of Operations for TWR Africa, but was in Canada as the featured speaker for the TWR Canada ministry tour across Alberta. I was to speak each night, visit with supporters and share about TWR’s work in Africa. The night we were scheduled to do an event in Three Hills, I got a phone call. The container ship MSC Napoli took heavy damage (cracked hull and flooded engine room) in the English Channel off the coast of Cornwall, England in the European windstorm Kyrill and the crew abandoned ship. There was a failed attempt to salvage the cargo and tow the ship to port.
Why does it matter that a container ship sank in the English channel? Because the Napoli was carrying the two generators we had purchased to run the new high-powered radio transmitter in Parakou, Benin. The Benin transmitter is equipped with a 100 Kilowatt signal reaching into Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Cameroon. (By comparison, the largest stations in Canada broadcast at 50,000 watts.)
My team had spent the better part of 10 years planning and building this transmitter. (Read about how we got the land here.) You can have a transmitter, but if you don’t have power you can’t put anything on the air. The towers were up and we were waiting for the generators. It was the last thing. Our station was built in rural Africa. They had electricity and town water, but the saying was you never had them both at the same time. Gasoline in Benin in those days was largely sold out of glass containers, you could buy as little as a pop bottle to 20 litre containers.
We never found those generators so they’re either on the bottom of the English Channel or they were picked up on the beach. I doubt there were picked up because these were huge generators – not the kind of thing you put on the back of an ATV or stuffed in the trunk of your car.
That night in Three Hills, I shared about the new project and the missing generators. Afterwards, a man came up to me and said he knew a Christian man in Airdrie who sold generators and might be able to help. I drove to Airdrie the next day, spoke with the man, and found out he had two 300Kilowatt generators. Because Benin is near the equator, considered sub-Saharan, there are a lot of environmental factors (like hot air and sand) we had to account for and required special equipment. These generators had all the special technology we needed and also had the ability to deal with load fluctuations – something the first generators that we lost didn’t have. I was offered the generators at a significantly reduced cost.
The next day, I had lunch with a man who had heard about the missing generators. He tearfully handed me a cheque for $30,000. Other donations came in, and the TWR Canada Board was able to finance the remainder of the cost.
The first broadcast from Benin aired in January 2008. Those Albertan generators continue to power the Benin transmitter without hiccup, and are expected to do so for a very long time. What could have been a major setback, the Lord used to provide more than TWR realized they needed at the time. The very first listener call to the station came from Timbuktu, Mali, 1300 km from the transmitter site.