It's been a very long time since TWR's President and CEO, Lauren Libby, sat down with the twr.org website team for a full-fledged interview. So Brandon Hall, one of the first-rate interns who served with TWR during the summer, did just that, producing an extensive, wide-ranging consideration of what the media ministry has been doing recently and where it is headed.
Brandon: The new Silk Road Transmitter for Central Asia just recently came online after years of prayer, hard work and fundraising. Tell us a bit about what that was like.
Libby: We've always been looking for a new outlet in Central Asia. Central Asia is a key place, because it's the home of all the "Stans": Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, etc. It's a part of the world that's 90% Islamic. So, that's one of the places we're seeking to reach.
The Silk Road Transmitter actually began to take shape about four years ago. There were negotiations between TWR and a country that we don't talk about – where the transmitter is located – as to how we could put in a broadcast facility. Over roughly two years of talks and negotiations, we came to a signed agreement and began to build the transmitter near the start of 2017.
And it's not just a transmitter; it's a whole infrastructure. You have to build the antenna, the transmitter, the programming facilities – you have to build everything when you're in that part of the world. And how do you produce programming in Kazakh? In Uzbek? How do you produce programming in all of these languages? It's a holistic process that has to go on with both the content and the delivery system.
About two years ago, we started talking to the TWR public about the transmitter and started raising money. We knew it was going to be somewhere between $1.3 million and $1.5 million. We bought the transmitter for about 10 cents on the dollar because there were transmitters being decommissioned in Germany and throughout Europe; we were able to buy those fairly new transmitters at a markedly reduced rate. This is one of those transmitters we purchased for literally pennies on the dollar. Our engineers went over about a year and a half ago to work on the site, hire people, begin putting up an antenna system and begin building the transmission facility.
At the same time, we began putting together production facilities. In the last year and a half, we raised the money and put together production facilities in the necessary languages. And now we've gotten to the place where it actually went on the air a couple of weeks ago.
When we started, we didn't have a dime in our pocket, so the Lord has provided. He's provided people, he's provided resources, and when that transmitter hit the air, content began to be transmitted and people began to listen. That was really the end of a long – almost a five-year – process.
Brandon: What excites you most about what the new transmitter brings to the table?
Libby: Well, let me give you an illustration.
I was in Scandinavia last fall and met a young lady who happened to be from Central Asia. When she heard I was with TWR, she thanked me because she and her brother became believers. Her parents were not, and they were governmental officials. She said, "We were looking for a way that we could begin to grow in our faith in Jesus," and one of the ways they found was TWR broadcasts. She said, "My parents forbade us to have a radio. They took away our radio and we were not able to listen. And what we would do is sneak out to the garage at night, turn on the auto radio and listen in the darkness to the TWR broadcasts. That was how we were able to survive spiritually."
So, that gives you an idea on why these projects are so important – that people are listening – because in the Middle East, there often is persecution. People are asking, "What have I done?" but also, "How do I grow in my relationship with Jesus?" And answering that question is really what TWR and the Silk Road Transmitter are all about.
Brandon: What are a few of the challenges facing TWR's ministry right now, and how have you seen God working to help overcome them?
Libby: I think the biggest challenge we face is whether or not we will allow God to lead us into opportunities that are faith-based. So many times, we tend to say, "Well, if I don't have a plan and I can't see how this is going to work out in the end, then why should I get involved?" And, frankly, that's a business model – and it's a good business model. But God operates in a bit of a different way. What God does is he gives a vision to usually one person, or a group of people, and then as they begin to move forward in that vision, he motivates other people to be involved with their time, their talents and their money. So, I think the biggest challenge is deciding which opportunity to take, because there are all kinds of opportunities. The question is: Which ones, if any, have TWR's name on them, and do we have a faith that is willing to believe God for some things that normally don't happen? To bring into reality in the physical world what God has begun to think about in the spiritual world?
Brandon: What are some of TWR's goals for the near future?
Libby: Regarding goals down the road, let me tell you our global emphasis for 2019 and 2020.
One is on the Muslim world and other unreached people groups.
Second is on multiplatform delivery systems – in other words, where our broadcast and digital platforms, in addition to human, person-on-person delivery, come together as platforms that work together.
Third is on developing and utilizing current and new technologies and delivery methods (such as video; datacasting; and DRM, or digital radio). We're working on new initiatives on each of them. And when you're in new technology like that, to be honest with you, it's not always easy. What you think is going to work sometimes doesn't. So, what we're doing is moving along in all three areas and just saying, "OK, Lord, what do you want us to do, and how should we do it most efficiently?"
Fourth is on recruiting and developing next-generation leaders. That's one of the reasons you're here as an intern; We're pretty premeditated about that, and we're pretty highly selective. We had a number of people who applied.
Fifth is on recruiting and developing resources. This is one of the things we're always working on: How do we recruit more resources - people with money? Because if you don't have money, you don't have ministry. If you don't have leaders, you don't have ministry, and if you don't have people, you don't have ministry.
So, the global emphasis this year is on those five things.
Brandon: What truth or lesson has God been teaching you lately?
Libby: I believe this, and I've watched this throughout my Christian life. God is constantly chiseling away at two things in us: our character and our ability to walk with him closely. Because when we're finally with the Lord, we don't want to meet a stranger; we want to meet a friend. He also wants to hone us. If God's gifts and callings are irrevocable – they never go away – then what we're doing here is just on-the-job training for an awful long time in the future.
In my case, one of the things God's doing is helping me rely on him. You know, just because you have one or two or three victories doesn't mean the next one comes easy. The next one is usually bigger. I remember sitting in Lincoln, Nebraska, in a car when I was your age and saying, "Lord, could I believe you for a million dollars someday to help enable your kingdom?" And to me, that was the biggest thing in the world. I mean, I couldn't envision it. I remember praying about it, and you know what? I don't know how many times God has multiplied that over.
And it has to do with my calling. I think my personal calling is summed up by Isaiah 45:14, "Thus says the LORD: 'The wealth of Egypt, the merchandise of Ethiopia, the Sabeans, people of stature, shall come over to you and be yours. ... They will make supplication to you, saying: 'God is with you only, and there is no other, no god besides him.'"
Historically, throughout my life, there's always been the idea of articulating a vision, recruiting the resources necessary and then seeing people come to relationship with God – really acknowledging who Jesus is. That's just been my life. I think that's what the Lord called me to do, and when I get outside of that calling, things don't work very well.
Brandon: Do you feel there's an idea or theme that God wants TWR to focus on in its current season?
Libby: Well, let me just speak about one thing. I think fear is the greatest paralyzer for believers. Around 80 times, the Bible says "fear not." And that's one of the things that I deal with.
When you get fearful, there are dynamics that kick in – not good dynamics. But when God promises in Isaiah 41:9-10 that " 'You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off"; fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand" – we don't have to fear. I think the Lord wants us to remember that.
Brandon: What can people be praying for to support TWR in the days ahead?
Libby: One is that we would follow our calling and that we would do it without fear. I think we're facing more opposition than we have ever faced. Particularly as you begin to move into parts of the world that are not Christian-based, as you exert force – it's a matter of physics – the opposite forces are exerted. And that's true in the spiritual world.
As we move into various areas of the world, a lot of us are really sensing spiritual opposition ramping up. Over the past year, we've seen some staff in very bad situations in a country that is definitely not Christian - where you're put in jail or beat up if you're a Christian. So, as we begin to minister in those areas, we need to be very, very careful to trust the Lord and allow him to protect us as we move forward.
Brandon Hall is a 21-year-old writer from central North Carolina living in and only by the grace of God. Born with a passion for communication and the arts, his outlets include creative writing, musical theater and competitive speech and debate. He is currently a junior at Regent University pursuing a major in Communication Studies.