(August 20, 2013 – updated March 2015) Seventeen years had elapsed since Bynas, a local believer in the small West African country of Guinea-Bissau, captured the original vision to launch the country’s first full-time Christian radio station. Another evangelical station had been on the air only briefly.
As the years mounted, so did the long list of delays-lack of funds and equipment, difficulty receiving a broadcasting license, technical problems and at least three coups since 1999, the most recent of which erupted in mid-2012. The delays caused Bynas and missionary engineers to wonder what God had in store for the station’s future, but they persevered. Today the station is in place in Gabu, a city in the eastern part of the country with about 200,000 people.
Helping bring Bynas’ dream to fruition was John Hiskey, the founder and president of Servants to Missions, a ministry with a heart to bring the gospel message to Guinea-Bissau. With a calling to reach the African people, Hiskey and his wife, Rachel, began traveling to the country in the early 1990s on short-term trips. In 2002 they became full-time missionaries and moved to Gabu.
Hiskey saw Christian radio as a key strategy to spread the gospel message in Guinea-Bissau, a country steeped in traditional religions and Islam. More than a third of the 1.7 million people in Guinea-Bissau, a country about the size of Maryland, are animists or are engaged in spiritism. According to Operation World, 54 percent of the residents are Muslim or nonreligious, and the remaining 11 percent are listed as Christian (1.6 percent evangelical).
Although 35 percent of adult males are literate, only 18 percent of the women can read and write, making radio an excellent medium to reach the local population for Christ, especially as nearly every resident of Guinea-Bissau has access to a transistor radio.
Seeking help and advice on starting a radio station, Hiskey contacted Reach Beyond’s (formerly HCJB Global) Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Office in Accra, Ghana, several years ago. Engineer Jeremy Maller conducted the initial site survey. Then a group of brothers who own a company in Minnesota donated funds to Reach Beyond to pay for the studio equipment.
“We have encountered delays all along the way,” related Hiskey. “But it wasn’t until after the coup last year that we realized what God was doing. Had there not been delays, our radio station would have been destroyed during the coup along with all the other stations in the country.”
In March of 2013, Ed Muehlfelt from SonSet Solutions (formerly the HCJB Global Technology Center) in Elkhart, Indiana, traveled to Gabu to install a 224-foot radio tower, antenna and coaxial cable. “We ran into many problems along the way,” he said. “But I’ve found in previous station installations that the more powerful the gospel will be in an area, the more problems we face during construction.”
In early April of 2013, missionary engineers tested the transmitter and antenna, and helped train the radio staff. Although the first test broadcast was brief, it was heard by a guard at the campus where the new station is located. Despite being a Muslim, the 73 year-old guard was excited that Rádio Evangélica FM was finally a reality. “I am very happy with your work here,” he said in an interview. “Keep doing what you are doing. We cannot repay you … but God will.”
Four national churches are responsible for the operation of the new station, and Bynas is the station manager. “The broadcasts cover about two-thirds of the nation,” explained Hiskey in a recent email. “The signal reaches the borders to the north, east and south and about two-thirds of the way across the nation to the west. It’s a real blessing.”
December 2014 Update:
Rádio Evangélica FM in Guinea-Bissau suffered a direct-hit lightning strike in November 2014 knocking the station off the air with major damage to equipment. SonSet Solutions engineers need $15,000 to purchase new equipment and pay for travel expenses to get the station back to broadcasting the gospel in this needy nation.
March 2015 Update:
All of the needed funds have been provided as of March 23, 2015. Plans are now underway to send one of our staff members to Guinea-Bissau to assist with the installation of the new equipment. The equipment is already in country and moving toward the station.
By Jean Muehlfelt