God's grace and a 500-pound gorilla
How Christian Radio Came To Devils Lake
By Randall Murphree
AFA Journal Editor
AFA Journal, March 2001 Edition
Shawn and Suzanne--theirs is a love story, and a story of faith and miracles. Shawn Bowman approaches every task, every challenge with gusto. In 1995, he met Suzanne Spilde, Miss North Dakota 1993, and he pursued her with that same gusto.
"She really wouldn't have anything to do with me," he says. "I kept pursuing her, wanting to get a relationship going. One of the ways that she was able to get me off her back, was to get me plugged into a Bible study."
Despite keeping her distance, Suzanne was intrigued by this high-energy, give-it-all-you've-got man, and their friendship grew deep. She knew that when he became a believer, he would have total commitment to serving Christ. When Shawn gave his life to Christ in July ('95), he immediately asked Suzanne to marry him.
"On two conditions," she replied. "Number one, if you will love me like Christ loves the church. And number two, if you're thinking about moving me to Devils Lake, North Dakota, I know there's no Christian radio up there. I can't survive without it. Can you get me Christian radio?"
Without hesitation--or much thought--Shawn said, "Yes." It was a promise that would test faith.
"We got up to Devils Lake," he explains, "and I was a little depressed that she remembered my promise."
She persisted in urging him to action, and in 1998, a friend gave Shawn an AFA Journal. From it, he learned about American Family Radio[AFR] and jumped into the application process for an AFR station with his trademark zeal.
One obstacle he faced was Devils Lake history. Almost 20 years earlier a group had invested a lot of time and money to bring Christian radio to town. It hadn't worked.
"That just stifled everyone's enthusiasm," says Suzanne. "So when Shawn approached some of these same people who had worked on Christian radio before, there was such a spirit of discouragement. It was nothing else than Satanic intervention. A spirit of discouragement had landed on us like a 500-pound gorilla."
Not easily dissuaded, Shawn pushed forward. He called AFR, and learned he would need to raise $17,000 for tower and site construction . He was off and running, telling one and all that Devil's Lake would have Christian radio by Christmas, a date he was convinced God gave him.
Community nay sayers gasped, "Seventeen thousand!? Are you crazy? Oh, we tried that in '82. Shawn, oh boy, you've got a lot of guts!" At their first fund raiser, a blizzard greeted the "crowd" of about 40 people.
"And 90% of the people who were there were on the program!" laughs Suzanne. Even so, they raised $2,000, enough to pour concrete for the small structure required.
When Nodak Electric was digging a trench for power lines, the digging machine's engine blew out. "This is crazy," the man said. "I've worked here 15 years and I've never seen anything like this."As another tractor brought a backhoe to the site, the trailer's back axle broke. When they had spent the $2,000, Shawn went to his church and asked, "What can we do?"
"Why don't you wait until spring?"
"Even I was telling him we could wait," admits Suzanne.
"No!" Shawn responded. "I know God told me Christmas. God's gotta deliver."
But that 500-pound gorilla tried to get him down. Sitting at his kitchen table one night, Shawn thought, "I can't believe this! God told me this! I stood in front of our church, I told 200 people Christmas day. They're all probably laughing. I'm praying, ‘God, just a sign, a vision, an angel, speak to my heart. I want just a sign. I waited and waited. Nothing. I thought, ‘God, you let me down! It's not gonna happen by Christmas!'"
Then his angel appeared. Suzanne asked, "Dear, have you tried calling church directories?"
"God? Is that you?" Shawn thought.
That evening and the next, Shawn spent hours telephoning church members at Evangelical Free Church, then the Baptist, the Lutheran and the Assembly of God. He called family and friends. For his efforts, he gathered pledges for the remaining $15,000.
"Now we're in early December," Shawn continues. He called the tower company, only to learn they had moved on to out-of-state jobs. But Shawn persuaded the owner to send a small crew to Devils Lake, where they did the three-day job in one day.
"Next, I called Shan Easterling at AFR," Shawn says. "I told him, ‘Shan, good news! The tower is up, the building is secure. We got heat in it, we got air conditioning just like you said. It's ready to go.'"
Easterling told him the AFR crew would be unable to get to Devils Lake before late January. Shawn explained that he had a radio engineer on his board, and if AFR would ship the equipment, he could install it. But that was against AFR policy.
Shawn was on the bottom again. "I hung up the phone, " he says, "and got on my knees."
An hour later, the phone rang, and Easterling told Shawn, "We were having an engineering meeting and guess who walked by and stuck his head in the door--[AFR President] Don Wildmon."
When he learned the circumstances, Wildmon told Easterling to ship the equipment to Devils Lake. Within days, Shawn and others were working feverishly to meet the Christmas deadline.
On Christmas Eve, at 40 below zero, they were still struggling to get the satellite dish positioned when Shawn had to leave the site to preach at a church in Tolna. Again, his spirits were at rock bottom. Convinced that he'd missed the Lord's message, or that he'd not done something right, he drove to Tolna with that big gorilla attacking his spirit.
"He was going over to preach this Christmas eve service," Suzanne says, "and Shawn had lost faith--that it was gonna happen by Christmas, anyway."
She told him, "Shawn, just relax for heaven's sake!"
"No! Do you know how disgusted I am?" Shawn replied. "We have been working for this to happen by Christmas and it's not gonna happen!"
"He was angry, punching buttons across the radio dial," Suzanne says, "and all of a sudden on 89.9 we heard a Christian song. It was American Family Radio."
"It was 4:00 Christmas Eve!" Shawn adds. "We were driving, I was dancing, jumping in the car, we were crying, praising God. Ever since that time, God has used AFR. And he told me, ‘Shawn, you see I can use little old you to do miracles. It's not because of your greatness, because I've shown you how worthless and pitiful you are, but [because of] your faith in me, I will do it.'
"After that, I said, ‘Anything, God, anything--I'll do it!'"
Shawn and Suzanne Bowman are living proof that a 500-pound gorilla is no match for God's grace.