Benny stared at the fish as they jumped and splashed, the circling birds squeaking and diving for the smaller ones. After all, he had nothing else to do, so why not sit by the Kralendijk, Bonaire, harbor and watch the wildlife?
Only four weeks earlier, Benny thought he had it all: a beautiful young wife, Betty, who recently moved with him to the nearby island of Curaçao; a first-class welding job with a contractor; a good salary.
But Betty wasn’t happy. She missed her home island of Bonaire, where all her friends and family lived. When Benny came home from work one day, Betty was gone. She had packed her things and returned to Bonaire.
First steps of a TWR career
Benny simply couldn’t live without Betty, so the very next day, he quit his job and followed her to Bonaire. Now here he was staring at the fish, unable to find work and wondering how he would ever land another job as good as the one he gave up.
His deep thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a man standing at his side and asking the forlorn Benny if everything was all right.
“I don’t have a job now,” he answered. “I just look at the fishes jumping in the water.”
“What job are you looking for?” the stranger asked.
“I am a welder,” Benny said.
“I have a job for you,” said Gary Janes, a 43-year-old engineer in charge of mechanical operations at Trans World Radio’s major broadcast facility on Bonaire.
And there at Kralendijk harbor began Benny’s career with TWR. It’s been more than 32 years since that pivotal day by the harbor, and I am talking with Benny Saragoza. Next month he’ll retire as TWR Bonaire’s antenna rigger supervisor, and together we look back at his time with TWR.
“I know it was God who sent this missionary from TWR to the harbor,” Benny says of that long-ago day. He drove with Janes to the transmitter site and in five minutes completed the task given to him. Janes gave him a document to read and sign, which was difficult because Benny didn’t speak English at the time – but it was an employment contract!
"God is only for white people"
Going to work at TWR introduced Benny to a whole new world. Raised a Catholic, he had stopped going to church while on Curaçao but never stopped talking with God. After marrying, he joined Betty in attending the Pentecostal church.
The first day at work, missionary Tim McElhaney invited Benny to attend the regular devotional period. He joined in but noticed that he was the only native of Bonaire to attend.
“They were all invited,” Benny says, “but many locals thought God is only for white people. They think it is strange. I said to them, ‘No, don’t think like that – God is for everybody. That first morning at devotions already changed my way of thinking.”
Soon, McElhaney asked Benny if he wanted to become a rigger. Yes, Benny said, not knowing what was involved in rigging – climbing and maintaining the 478-foot radio towers.
More than silver and gold
As he accepted more responsibility, Benny grew in skill. In addition to tower rigging, he gained proficiency in air-conditioning maintenance and car mechanics.
At the same time, he was growing in faith. To hear Benny talk about it, the interaction of his working life, home life and spiritual life was what made a TWR career special. His salary while working for a ministry, he acknowledges, was nowhere near what it had been back on Curaçao. But he experienced God’s love and, during devotions, learned about strengthening his marriage.
“And when my first boy was born, the staff helped me pay the hospital and the missionary wives helped Betty,” he said. “I learned that with little money and the help that came from the missionaries, God provided and blessed me and my family.”
Night watch at the transmitter
Another of the lessons he learned came from Matthew 6:3, when Jesus said, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” – in other words, don’t do good works for the sake of recognition and praise. He took the message to heart as he sought to serve wherever his help was needed.
“There were times that Betty and I went to the transmitter site at night. I brought a mattress for Betty. At that time the electricity sometimes went off, and I did all the jobs necessary to do while the power was off.”
The next morning Benny went home, took a shower and returned to work. No one knew he had been there through the night taking care of things.
As the 21st century approached, Benny was part of the team that dismantled the shortwave towers and put up the new 480-foot towers. Downsizing soon came to Bonaire, and some of the staff technical engineers left Bonaire. Benny took over many of those responsibilities.
Difficult times for TWR Bonaire
In 2000, the station director told the staff that transmitter power was being the station reduced from 500,000 watts to 100,000 watts. The local staff was nervous about imminent layoffs, but Benny was at peace because he had a job offer with Cargill, the huge salt plant on the island.
When the big day arrived, the local staff members gathered to receive documents informing them whether they would still be employed at TWR. Benny’s document said he could keep his job, but one of the other workers started to cry. “Can I go to the salt company and give my job to this colleague?” Benny asked. No, he was told – TWR
It was a challenging time for many people at TWR Bonaire, Benny recalls, but the ministry tried to find a job for everyone laid off. With only four left as part of the crew, “We just kept going, just as if we were a big team,” he recalls as tears well up in his eyes.
On his knees at work
During these leaner days, Benny would go to the transmitter site and get down on his knees to pray.
“For safety reasons, I couldn’t climb the tower by myself, so I did small things, like taking care of the lights on the towers. Often I cried out to God, ‘Help us! Provide for us! You know what is going on. Take care of this place for us.’ Those were five years in the desert. You have to believe and trust that one day God will change everything. It was a test we all had to go through. I never complained; we had seen good and bad times. And Betty was very patient; she stood by my side. In the past many missionary wives – and especially Ray Alary’s wife – had helped her. Those memories helped Betty to stay loyal to TWR.”
Five years later, things started changing. Missionary Joe Barker, now TWR International’s chief technical officer, was assigned to Bonaire as station director, and Benny witnessed as the facility began to regain the momentum of a few years earlier.
Then, in 2013, the TWR board of directors approved a massive upgrade of the facility, boosting the power to 450,000 watts and more than doubling its potential listening audience. The Bonaire staff collaborated with volunteers and contracted crews to complete the work in 2017. Fittingly, in Benny’s retirement year, TWR Bonaire returned to the airwaves as the most powerful medium-wave station in the Western Hemisphere.
It’s been a very full and very active life so far, I admit to my congenial interview subject. So what does a tower rigger do once he stops climbing towers? Benny is quick with an answer: get back to the kanuku life – to English speakers, that’s farming.
“Betty grew up on the kanuku. I’d like to go back working on the kanuku, making fences with cactus, working with goats and chickens, growing vegetables like tomatoes, working in a greenhouse, growing citron grass, papaya, zucchini, corriander leaves.”
And he won’t let his mechanical skills go to waste. He loves fixing things, he says, and he plans to find ways to help people – fixing older people’s generators, for example, and fixing the public water well. Benny will also be taking care of Betty, who suffers a lot of pain because of an inoperable brain tumor. May I ask you to join me in keeping these TWR family members in our prayers?
I had one more question for Benny: You’ve talked about a lot of things that you learned over the years, from welding to tower rigging to English to growing in the faith. What one life lesson would you want our readers to take away from this conversation?
“Do everything you do, without complaining,” Benny says. “And do your work as for God. Then you will see him answering your questions. If you do your work as for God, sooner or later you will see a difference in your life. When you do things while complaining, you will not see results.”
His encouragement could hardly be better for every one of us, so let’s close with the source of Benny’s wisdom, the apostle Paul’s words to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”
Interview written by Mariette Oosterhoff the TWR Marcom Director Latin America & the Caribbean