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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Whoa MAMA!

We caught the mama!  Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned that we caught nearly two dozen baby reticulated pythons in our and our neighbor's back yards??? (You can go here and here to read about it.)  Well, if there are babies, then there must be a mom and dad...and that was the part that really worried Joy!

I tried to assure Joy that these were in fact the only baby pythons ever born without parents nearby.  No worries.  Even if there was a larger python, it probably wasn't very big, and it probably moved on to a nicer place.  Well, on Wednesday, as I was getting ready to walk out the door on my way to the hangar, the little Indonesian neighbor boy yelled loudly for Britton, "Come quick! There is a snake!"  Thinking it may be a cobra, and not wanting the kids to get too close if it was, I followed. I was relieved when he told me it was a python.  Oh.  Just another baby python I figured...until I saw the last meter of it's gargantuan tail slithering under a pile of rotten wood!  It was just getting ready to feast on a very large cat it had killed when they discovered it, right outside their kitchen door!

Having seen the size of this monster, and figuring I could use some backup (other than Britton and his buddies), I called some guys at the hangar. Twenty minutes later we had the beast captured, but not without a big fight.  Seriously, it took several of us to wrestle her out from behind the house, after which she was NOT too happy.  While my buddy Paul smiled for the camera, the BIG SHEILA offered her own HUGE toothy grin.  Actually, it was more like a gaping, cavernous, death-trap.  I have video of her fully opened jaws as she tried to turn towards Paul (in the photo below, her mouth is only maybe 1/3 open).  She seriously could have clenched her teeth on the top of his head and under his chin without any trouble!  And yes, there's no doubt she could have eaten a small child.  YIKES!

Now, after having given you that horrible description, I'm sure you guys are going to rail on me for letting the kids hold her.  Not to worry.  We tamed her.  O.k.  Just kidding.  But there were about five of us guys standing just off camera ready to intervene if needed.   Even the wives were o.k. (sort of) with the the kid and giant serpent photo.  I mean, common.  Every missionary kid needs a picture with his/her friends holding a giant snake!  But truth be told, she did calm down a lot as long as she was held firmly behind the head.  From left to right, Carter, Hannah, Seth, Blake, Hudson, Britton, Luke, Zoe.  Tanner and Tyler were too afraid to touch it, but were very intrigued--well satisfied to cling tightly to my leg--or joy's leg--much further away!

Oh, and just in case you're sign of the dad yet.  My Indonesian co-workers say that he could be bigger yet.  O.k.  Now I'm starting to side with Joy--these snakes are getting a little ridiculous don't  you think? (Though you wouldn't know it from Britton's smile.)

The giant snake episode was just the beginning of a very busy Wednesday.  Wednesday was the day we all left for an exciting four days and three nights interior.  Tyler was my co-pilot on the one and a half hour flight.

The rest of the family and a bunch of gear was stuffed in the back.

Where did we go?  And why?  And how was it?  And...well, you get the point.  But I'm out of time tonight so I'll have to write more about our trip when I get a chance.

P.S.  If you're a U.S. citizen and are eligible to vote, don't forgot to do so on Tuesday!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bunnies and Other Stuff!

Some of you may remember our sad bunny stories way back when we were in language school.  Four separate times we bought a bunny for the kids at the local street market.  And four separate times something awful happened to each bunny...getting eaten by a monitor lizard, dropping dead of unknown causes, hauled off by a stray tomcat as the kids and neighbors chased the screaming bunny in vain.  Yeah, it was traumatic!  The picture at left was taken nearly five years ago.

Well, after we got back from furlough, Hannah and Joy started talking about bunnies again.  I guess all the reptiles around the house just didn't cut it for the lady folk.  One day they came home with a little bunny.  It died.  This called for serious action.  So the boys and I built a double-decker rabbit cage and girls gave up on the little bunnies and brought home two large rabbits instead.  We were told that these were tough and wouldn't die.  Oh, and we made sure that they were both least that's what the guy that sold them to us promised.

Well, they got along splendidly...the white one was named Snowball, and the grey one, (in the shadow to the right of Snowball,) was named Flopsy, because her ears hang floppy.  I'll try to keep this kid-friendly.  Let's just say that one day Joy was shocked to see them really, REALLY getting along splendidly!!!   Turns out that Snowball was actually "Snowman!"  YIKES!

Two weeks ago, Thursday afternoon, Tanner came in and told Joy that there was a little baby piglet in the flower bed.  Piglet?  Now that's strange!  Turned out to be a furless, pink little baby bunny.  All said, six bunnies were born, with one being DOA.  Not wanting to waste the dead one, and wanting to be wise stewards of our time and money and save a trip to the chick store, we fed that dead one to Britton's python.  The others escaped that fate by growing and staying alive.  Here they are at exactly one week old.  Their eyes opened at about 10 days, so were still closed here.

And here they are at two weeks old (today).  I was going to do a post last weekend, showing them to you, but our phone lines got taken out in a storm and we were without Internet and phones for five days.

There's one for each of the kids!  But despite what Joy and the kids think...NO, we are not keeping them all!

Isn't it amazing how each one is so different.  They all came from a fully white "buck" and a brownish-grey "doe" (just like the fat bunny in the top of the picture below.)  Yet they are each totally different colors.

Well, in other, more important news:  it's been another great couple of weeks flying.  I had many neat flights this week and last, including flying the Bupati (a high-level local government official) and his gang into Alango and Pujungan on two separate days for big events.  The second one was a big youth revival.  The following day I flew the Indonesian pastor back out that had travelled from Samarinda to speak at the youth conference.  He said there were over 200 teens there from 10 villages up and down river.  Nearly 100 kids either placed their faith in Christ for the first time, or re-committed their lives to him.  The village was very excited!  It was a real privilege to play a small but critical role in helping to make this youth conference happen.  Long Pujungan is a very short and marginal airstrip and no other operator other than MAF can go in there.

There were dozens of other flights as well--from the mundane to the exciting, each one somehow playing a part in communicating God's love to the people we serve.  Below, a picture of a very full 206 I'm piloting with 10 people on board (there are only six seats, so each of the adults in the back four seats has a child on their lap with a kiddy belt).  I had already stopped at Mahak Baru and picked up six passengers when I was called to pick up the young son of a pastor in Data Dian.  The child was running a high fever and unable to eat and needed to go to a hospital.  We were able to all squeeze in and still maintain the required takeoff margins and fuel margins.  Within two hours they were at a hospital.

This is the terrain that we flew over on our way from Data Dian to a hospital.  I don't have to describe to you how rugged it is--that's pretty obvious.

Before MAF was here, this trip would have taken 1 1/2 - 2 months.  We can do the same trip in about an hour and 15 minutes!

Although as a pilot I often get the credit and enjoy the thrill of being on the front lines, I recognize that I'm just the last in a long string of people that join together to make it happen.  The Lord has put together an amazing team, and I'm privileged to play a small role in that.  But without YOU, and our many other prayer warriors, financial ministry partners, supporting churches, and MAF teammates here, we'd never be able to do what we do.  There's a whole crew of guys working mostly behind the scenes here in Tarakan, that often don't get the "glory", but are absolutely critical to keeping things going.  Here, our two maintenance specialists, Tim and Karl, are busy at work changing an engine in Malinau.

In addition to Tim and Karl, we have a whole crew of wonderful Indonesian men (and one woman) who help keep things going in the hangar and office.  Here, Yus and Nelson are washing the Caravan after it's return from a muddy day of flying.

And Luhut is taking out the spark plugs on a 206 engine as part of a routine inspection.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say, I am just a small part of a big team of amazing people that have come together to share God's love at the ends of the earth.  Man do I love my job!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Riots and a Checkout

This week I got checked out at Long Pala--definitely the most marginal Cessna 206 airstrip in all of Kalimantan, and probably one of MAF's most marginal strips used by 206's in the entire world.

But before going to Long Pala, we stopped in Lumbis so another one of our pilots could get checked out at that airstrip.  You may remember when I got my checkout there back in April.  If not, go here to read about it and see pictures.  Anyway, the folks there love to watch the airplane, almost as much as they love to watch me taking pictures and video of the airplane.  Aren't they cute, all lined up in the long house behind me, peaking through the window slat?

I think some of these kids were practicing their grown-up faces.  It's not customary for adult Dayak people to smile in a photo.  In fact, they usually go with a very serious look.  The truth is that they actually like their picture being taken, and often ask for photos.  However, as soon as the camera points their way, they suddenly become stoic.  But with the kids, smiles and laughs are everywhere...except in Lumbis apparently.  Perhaps they're practicing?

Well after Lumbis we headed over to Long Pala, 10 minutes away.  This was originally used as a Cessna 185 strip.  It's extremely short and extremely slippery when wet.  The conditions of both the strip and the weather have to be very good to land here.  Even so, it requires extreme precision in the approach, touchdown and braking, as well as on the takeoff.  For you pilot types, the strip is limited to Turbo 206's only.  Our normally aspirated 206 is not authorized.  Even so, the TU206 is very limited on takeoff (minus 550 lbs under Cessna gross in perfect conditions,) and it still requires a maximum performance style takeoff, with a Vx20 climb to at least 500'AGL.  AND, it's limited on landing weight as well (at least 330 lbs under Cessna gross).  All that to say, it's a tight strip!

In this picture it looks benign.  To the non-pilot, this might look a lot nicer than those crazy muddy strips that look like you could sled down them.  Well it might look nice, but short, slippery, and virtually flat make for an aircraft carrier feel.  So why do we go in here?

Because some of the coolest flying we do happens in Pala and Lumbis.  Several times a month we fly Indonesian church leaders and pastors into these villages where they do Theological Training by Extension.  Basically, that means we fly them into the village one day, and they teach the men and women the Word!  Then, the next day or a few days later, we fly the teachers back out.  It's basically a culturally-relevant Bible School, that comes to them!  I'm really looking forward to being a part of this!

In other news, our quiet little town of Tarakan was rocked this week by ethnic violence.   I think we've often taken for granted how safe and calm our home here is.  But we realized this week how quickly that can change.  On Monday night a Tidung tribal elder was killed by a group of Bugis people.  This quickly led to anger and the desire for revenge.  By Tuesday there were gangs of hundreds of men armed with machetes, spears and knives, literally ready to make war against each other.  Though their focus was on each other, the tensions were very high all over town, and by Tuesday evening several more people had been killed and others injured.  The situation was quickly spiraling out of control.

There was an eerie silence over Tarakan Tuesday night.  Normally the call to prayer can be heard from all directions from the numerous mosques throughout town.  It was quite chilling actually, to hear only silence at the normal time for the Muslim call to prayer.  Every single store was locked, and no one was out on the streets.  That evening the police imposed a curfew of 5:00pm.  But it didn't stop the roaming gangs.  That night the violence erupted even more, and gunshots could be heard near the center of town.  The police were out-manned and unable to do anything to stop it.

Wednesday morning I showed up at the hangar at 7:00am ready to fly, but instead we were told to prepare the planes for evacuation and then go home at pack bags for the family.  This is the kind of stuff that's supposed to happen elsewhere, not here.  We spent the rest of the day Wednesday, with bags packed and planes fueled, ready for an immediate evacuation if the need arose.  But we all stayed in our homes, keeping a low profile.  Again, the conflict was between two specific ethnic groups, but with tensions that high, anything can happen.  Locals were fleeing by the hundreds, or thousands, to the military bases on the island.  The more wealthy ones were leaving Tarakan on commercial flights.  Everything was booked full.  Tarakan was beginning to feel like a ghost town.

Fortunately the Indonesian government sent in several plane loads of special police and military guys, that took up very visible positions all over town .  Wednesday night there was a peace deal brokered between the two ethnic groups.  That deal is still holding, though I'd say the tensions are still very high in town.  The military and police units are still in place, and apparently will be for some time.  It's a bit strange to have guys with machine guns guarding the entrance to MAF, the main airport, the port, and various buildings and intersections around town.  But it's really reminded us of how much we have to be thankful for.

Please pray for Tarakan, and specifically for the Tidung and Bugis people.  Pray that they would be able to know true peace and forgiveness--lasting peace.  Pray that those of us with MAF, and our local friends that are like-minded, would be able to use this as an opportunity to show them the Way to that peace.  We love these people and it breaks our heart to see a tragedy like this.  But we believe that God can ultimately use even this for His glory.  Please pray to that end.