All photos and text are property of Dave Forney and may not be used without express permission.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas - Musings on Peace and Joy, and other things.

Merry Christmas! What does that mean exactly?

For us--for my family--Christmas is a time of celebrating Christ's birth on earth. But why? What does that truly mean? In America, Christmas involves so many strong traditions--family and friends gather around mounds of steaming food, laughing, visiting, exchanging brightly wrapped gifts in the light of the sparkling Christmas tree.  For weeks (or even months) leading up to Christmas, the stores are full of tinsel and lights, windows full of shiny toys and electronic gadgets that must be had by all. Santa clause  appears everywhere and Christmas music plays non stop on all the radio stations. 

Is there anything inherently wrong with these traditions? Perhaps no. But I must admit that over the years I've struggled more and more with the commercialization and secularization of Christmas in the west. I've lived more than half of my life outside the U.S., often in places where people struggle to find enough food to eat, and/or where Christmas is a strange holiday celebrated by wealthy people of a different religion... or no religion at all. Again, I'm not criticizing the typical Christmas traditions of the west, but I am openly struggling with the idea that we often get hopelessly sidetracked from the true reason for celebrating Christmas. 

Above is a photo I took in a South Sudanese refugee camp in Northern Uganda in January of this year. (I did two posts about that trip. If you missed them, you can read them here Adjumani 1 and here Adjumani 2.) These are the feet of a young child, who walked countless miles through the bush, fleeing war and violence in South Sudan. In the foreground, a simple toy car, made from discarded cardboard, pieces of rice sack, old flip flops, and a piece of wire. I watched as the children carefully crafted their toy vehicles with pride from the garbage they found near their refugee hut. Perhaps what struck me most was the laughter and singing I heard nearby, as other children happily pulled their toy cars through the hot dust.

Many of these children fled the war with nothing but their lives. Almost all have lost family and friends. They've seen and experienced unspeakable violence and atrocities. Yet, through a translator (I was spending the day with a group who does trauma counseling with refugees) the children and women explained to us that many of them have found true joy here. How is that possible in light of the pain and suffering they've experienced? They have nothing that we in the west often equate with joy--no  money, no material possessions, no titles or accolades, no prestige. But the ones we talked to had found Christ--or more accurately, Christ had found them. In their dire circumstances, they had found what many of us fail to find in our frenzied lives of excess--they found forgiveness and the true joy and peace of Christ!

Our family will be celebrating Christmas in Uganda again this year. It's true--this time of year can be tough on families who are scattered around the world. We will definitely miss our families back in the U.S. when we celebrate Christmas tomorrow, but we'll be able to Skype with them on Christmas day. We'll enjoy a Christmas brunch with our children, and an evening meal with some friends here. The kids will open some simple gifts that their grandparents sent across the world with love. We'll read the Christmas story, have Christmas songs playing over the stereo, and play games together as a family. In other words, although we are on the other side of the world from our family in the U.S., we will not be suffering--we have a lot to be thankful for during our celebrations of Christmas.

Meanwhile, as my family, and yours, celebrate a relaxing Christmas, with plenty of food and friends, millions of people around the world will be struggling for the most basic necessities of life--food, water, shelter. Many are caught in a cycle of war and violence from which there seems no escape.

Below, a picture I took earlier this week. This is a UN camp for IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) just outside Juba, South Sudan. This Christmas millions of South Sudanese will be thankful that they were able to flee, to camps like this one. The list of things they have to be thankful for will be short but significant--life. Water. Food. Shelter. Meanwhile, millions of other South Sudanese will be spending Christmas in refugee camps in foreign countries like Uganda.

Did you know that South Sudan is one of only four countries in the world (the others being Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia) that have produced more than one million refugees? The situation in South Sudan is desperate, and since this past July, it's only gotten worse--indeed it's become one of the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time. Recent UN reports indicate that ethnic cleansing is already underway in various parts of South Sudan, and all the preliminary "ingredients" for a lead-up to genocide have already taken place. Meanwhile, dry season is bearing down on South Sudan, and recent reports indicate that by May, more than one third of the entire country population will be facing severe food shortages without drastic outside intervention. 

On a lighter note (but I'll come back to the refugee crisis in a minute) earlier this week, my beautiful wife, Joy had the opportunity to ride along with me for a day of flying in Uganda. Although she has flown with me many times previously, when we used to live in Indonesia, this was the first time she flew along with me in East Africa.

It's certainly not everyday (or ever) that I get to do my early morning preflight with a beautiful woman helping. :-)

We started by flying some folks from LWF to Moyo, far northern Uganda. Almost every day MAF is flying people up to northern Uganda--people who are working in the overflowing refugee camps. We fly everybody from small, Christian missions, to ambassador and diplomatic entourages, to international aid agencies like various entities of the UN, and various aid branches of many countries.

 LWF is very active working in humanitarian situations around the world. They've done a ton of work with South Sudanese refugees hosted here in Uganda. In fact, it was LWF who helped spearhead the effort to get the Adjumani airstrip opened over a year ago, to help the many agencies working among refugees in that area. You may remember the post where I mentioned the trip I took up there to survey the old site, and the first landing I did there just about a year ago.

Here's a shot of Joy and I in Moyo, along with a random, local boy wanted to be in the photo.

Uganda hosts more South Sudanese refugees than any other country in the world, and the number continues to grow daily as people flee southern South Sudan. The LWF members that we flew to Moyo were on their way to visit a brand new refugee camp that was opened just two weeks ago. Already there were over 20,000 refugees in that camp, and it was growing rapidly by the day! In fact, he said that they are having up to 6,000 new refugees pouring into Uganda each and every day. Six thousand! Per day!

Did you know that Uganda currently hosts the second largest refugee camp in the world? And as the numbers of refugees in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp decrease, the Bidi Bidi camp in Uganda is soon expected to take over that position as the largest refugee camp in the world.

Unlike many refugee camps where people are packed into tents like sardines, the Ugandan refugee camps are laid out across sprawling areas of land to allow for better, and more sustainable living conditions. Each "family unit" (the vast majority of refugees are women and children) are given a small plot of land for a garden. Below is a picture I took earlier this week, from several thousand feet above, of one of the refugee camps around Yumbe, Northern Uganda.

The dire situation in South Sudan does not get nearly the press attention in the west, that the Syrian situation seems to get. But if you do a quick search you can find many articles about it. Because South Sudan is our neighboring country right now, and because we know many South Sudanese, and because I fly regularly into South Sudan, I like to keep a close eye on the situation to see what the world and local media is saying. Last week I read this informative article from the BBC, South Sudan refugee crisis: The wooden bridge between death and safety. The article states that just since July there have been more than 340,000 refugees that have fled South Sudan into Uganda, far more than the 200,000 that fled Syria during the entire year of 2016.  The article ends with a video of a young orphan girl, Patricia Mercy, age 16, reciting her poem, War. The article, and especially the video, are very sobering. The poem begins, "War, war, war, who are you and where do you come from? You have killed my mother and father, even my brothers and sisters, leaving me to be called an orphan." I will warn you this is not a cheerful video--but it is powerful. It does give you a real glimpse into the pain and suffering that SO many people are experiencing in South Sudan each and every day. If for some reason you you can't view the video in the BBC article, I also found it in YouTube here.

No doubt, the situations in both Syria and in South Sudan are terrible! Many millions of people are suffering. But since you are reading this blog, there's a good chance that you know my family personally, and or have an interest in our ministry with MAF. As such, you have an indirect connection to the people of South Sudan through us, and through the ministry of MAF, and through the people we fly. Therefore, please, on behalf of all of our friends from South Sudan, don't forget to pray for this young country, and the millions of dear people who are suffering there.

If you feel lead to do more than that this Christmas, then look for an opportunity to give back to someone in need. For Americans, it can often be easier to give money than time. But chances are, if you do a little bit of looking in your town, you'll find that there are people right there, around you, who are hurting--lacking food, shelter, family, or friends. Perhaps there are even refugees from Syria or South Sudan, living in your own town or city. It's easy for us to go about our Christmas celebrations in a blissful bubble of ignorance (whether intentional or not), talking the talk about Jesus--the reason for the season. But can we walk the walk too? If we truly believe and understand what it's all about, then let us each find someone, at least one person, with whom we can share the true joy and peace of Christ this Christmas season. Invite a homeless person to your house for Christmas dinner. Or volunteer at a soup kitchen. Or help your church or workplace provide clothes, food, shelter, or training to refugees.  Or cut some firewood and deliver it with some hot food to a widow.

Do something practical (and outside your comfort zone) to share the joy and peace of Christmas with others this year, and chances are good that you'll quickly find that the meaningful joy you experience will far outweigh the temporal delight of a glittery package under the Christmas tree.

In closing this blog post, I'll share a few more fun shots to lighten things up. Here's one of Joy and I in the cockpit of the Grand Caravan plane.

Here's a shot from Kalongo. Do you see Joy, under the wing of the plane?

This is what it looked like when I walked to my plane yesterday, Friday morning, to preflight at 6:45 am. I flew the last, regularly scheduled MAF flight for 2016 from Uganda to/from Bunia East DRC.  The weather was beautiful, though the winds of hot/dry season are howling now, making for bumpy flying.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Few Shots From the Ugandan Archives

Did you know that we are the only U.S. family on our MAF Uganda team?  There is another U.S. couple who are based here (they are actually in the U.S. right now on home assignment, but will be back in a month or so,) but they are assigned to the MAF East DRC program, and they oversee the maintenance of the MAF Congo planes, which are brought over here to Uganda for inspections and maintenance. All that to say, since we're the only U.S. family on our team, holidays that are strictly American (like July 4th, Thanksgiving, etc.) are not celebrated by our team... well, not unless we invite them all over! :-)

So, the Saturday after U.S. Thanksgiving, we invited the entire MAF team, plus our friends from Every Village, and a few others, here to our home for a Thanksgiving meal. Joy did a LOT of work to prepare for the event. We had some volunteers who helped with the setup and tear down. We have some good Canadian friends on our team here, and Canada also celebrates Thanksgiving, although a bit earlier than the U.S. So we called it a combined U.S.-Canadian Thanksgiving, with all of our other friends from around the world giving it a nice international flare. I guess you could call it a World Thanksgiving. :-)

Everyone brought plenty of food to share, and it was great fun. Remember a few weeks ago when I showed you a picture (if you missed it go here and scroll to the last picture in the post) of when we hosted our team for Guy Fawkes Day? Well, as I said in that post, with an international team like we have here, we get to help celebrate holidays from each other's 'home' countries. So this was our turn. Who knows, maybe it will become a new tradition for the MAF team in Uganda?

And now, a few shots from my Uganda photo archives. The previous posts, which featured some shots from my Kalimantan archives, showed photos which had all been previously posted here in the distant past. However, all of these photos, although from the past, have not been previously posted on my blog.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

November News Letter

Those of you who subscribe to your letters by e-mail should have already received a copy of our latest November News Letter. If you get our letters by snail mail, they were mailed out this week, so you should be seeing it show up in your mailbox soon. In the meantime, here's a digital copy.

You can click on each 'page' (or photo) below to see a larger version (these are jpeg images, b/c Blogger doesn't let me put a pdf in the post.) If you would like to download a pdf copy you can go here, which will link you to this prayer letter (in pdf form) on our MAF staff page. If you want to find out more about our ministry with MAF, and/or how you can be involved, please check out our MAF staff page, where you can also download previous versions of our news letter.  Thanks so much!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

More From the Archives, Plus some Random Stuff

Seems I've been MIA from the blog for the past few weeks. More on that down below. First, a few more shots from the archives.

Above, the Quest Kodiak 100. This was the first of two Kodiaks that MAF began operating in Kalimantan, Indonesia a number of years ago. During the last couple of years that I served in Indonesia, I mostly flew the Kodiak, which was a lot of fun!

Above, the other type of aircraft we flew there, the Cessna Turbo 206. This is Long Pala, probably one of the toughest strips in the MAF world. All conditions (the grass, the wind, the plane, the pilot) had to be spot on, in order to make this work, within the margins that MAF requires. It usually took anywhere from at least three to five years before a 'new' pilot got checked out to fly into Long Pala.

And here is the Kodiak and 206, side by side in PaUpan.

The Kodiak was a great plane for the short, rugged, jungle strips into which we operated in Indonesia.

Do you notice a big difference between the Kodiak above, and the one below? When MAF took delivery of their first Kodiaks, the ECC (External Cargo Compartment) was not yet certified by the FAA. So in the picture above, we were operating it without the belly, or cargo pod. As soon as they became available, we installed that option. As you can see in the shot below, the 'pod' was extremely useful for our type of operation, not only allowing us to load hundreds of pounds of extra cargo into the pod, while still carrying passengers up top, but also helping to maintain a proper center of gravity.

In 2013 my family transitioned from Indonesia, to Africa, where I'm currently based with MAF Uganda.  Although many of our passengers from the U.S. and elsewhere, often think that the airstrips here are some of the craziest in the world, the truth is that these strips are nowhere near as marginal or challenging as those in Indonesia. Sure, these would be crazy compared to any you'd find in the U.S., but it's all relative. In fact, most of the ones here are rather benign, which is great! Because of that, and because of the larger loads and number of people that we carry here, we mostly operate Cessna Grand Caravans in this part of the world. Like the Kodiak, the Caravan excels in the environments where MAF uses it!

Above is a shot of one of our Grand Caravan aircraft that I frequently fly here in East Africa. It's pictured above the typical type of landscape that we traverse each day.

Below, is a shot I took about two weeks ago, from the window of an entirely different type of aircraft, a Boeing 777. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out that we're not looking down upon the scorched landscape of northern South Sudan, or the savanna of northeastern Uganda. No, this happens to be the southwestern edge of Greenland, a place which I would very much love to explore some day.

But you guessed it, I was not exploring Greenland from the the window of a jet at 38,000 feet two weeks ago--no, I was actually on my way over to MAF U.S. headquarters, in Idaho, U.S.A. for some additional ground and flight training. In truth, it's been a VERY busy couple of weeks, before, during and after my time in the U.S.--and that's my excuse for not keeping up with the blog. In fact, it's still very busy, but I'm currently laid up in bed, with a strained back, which gives me a great opportunity to catch up on some stuff like this. :-)

The next three shots are courtesy of my good friend, and fellow MAF pilot, Tripp Flythe, who also happened to be doing the same training. The plane that I'm flying below is not a Caravan, or a Boeing 777... it's a Kodiak!

But not just any Kodiak, it's an amphibious Kodiak, slated to soon join the MAF program in Palangkaraya, Indonesia. I was not originally planning or thinking that I would fly the amphibious version of the Kodiak in Nampa. There was another, 'normal' Kodiak which was supposed to be at HQ while I was there. However, that one was sent down to Haiti, to help with the relief efforts after the recent, devastating hurricane there. Fortunately, this Kodiak happened to be there at HQ, awaiting it's ferry flight across the Pacific, and so we were able to get permission to use this plane for our training purposes. It was certainly fun, and different, to be sitting up so high above the ground!

We completed a week of intensive ground school, and some flight checks, required by the FAA, in order to allow us to pilot an aircraft under a new type of operating certificate that we'll be using in some locations.  This means that in the future, I'll be able to help out, as a short term (relief) pilot, in various places where there's a temporary need for a pilot, qualified under the new operating certificate... such as disaster response situations like in Haiti, and also elsewhere.

While I was gone, I missed my kids' fall break from school, which was a bummer. Usually we like to try to do something fun during that time, like go camping or something. But maybe we'll get to do that in the 'spring.'  In truth, it's not really a 'fall break' because there's obviously no autumn season here. If anything you could call it "rainy season" break. It's just that those of us who originate from colder climates in the Northern Hemisphere, still tend to associate this time of the year with fall or autumn. 

Anyway, that was a rabbit trail... the point is that after returning from their 'fall break,' the entire school puts on a 'Rain Festival,' and each class dresses up in character costumes that they make, related to something that they are studying in one of their classes.  They decorate their classroom, put on a parade, and have all kinds of activities. It's a good opportunity for parents and family to come see what's going on at the school, see their kids' classrooms, and generally have a good time on a Friday evening. I was glad to be back in time to see the rain festival. This year, because Britt (10th grade) and Hannah (9th grade) are in rather smallish classes, those classes decided to combine their efforts into one. Their theme revolved around Christian martyrs, and gladiators, under the Roman empire. Hannah was a martyr (lower right) while Britton was a gladiator (far right.)

And in other random news, last week we played host to most of our MAF team, (we have a large 'garden' or yard, which is conducive to outdoor events like this) who came over to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, a day which is significant for, and celebrated by, many British folks. Since our MAF team is very international, we often help each other celebrate various holidays from each other's countries. In fact, in two weeks, much of our team will be over here again, helping us to celebrate a combined U.S./Canadian Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

From the Archives

I'm often being asked by various MAF communications staff to dig up photos from a few weeks, or months, or years ago. Last week I was pulling out some shots, which included a handful from my time in Kalimantan, and I thought it would be fun to share a few of those again. Here's a classic--the Kodiak departing from Long Metun. 

But before we take a look at a few more shots from the 'old days' in Kalimantan, here's a few current shots from this past week...

On Monday I had the privilege of flying two friends from our home church in Oregon, Pastor Jonathan and Pastor Drew. That was fun! Also pictured is my friend Dr. Moses, a veterinarian serving in Karamoja.

On Wednesday I had another flight to Moroto, and upon arriving I needed to add a drum of Jet Fuel. We use a hand pump to transfer the fuel from the drums to the overhead wing tanks. But this time the pump totally jammed up and the handle wouldn't turn at all. Sometimes you have to get creative with your problem solving when you fly in places like this...

My good friend, Simon, was along--he was giving me an annual route check, which is one of the proficiency flight reviews that all the MAF pilots do on a regular basis. That's him up on the wing helping to hold the Mr. Funnel, while the other Simon, the local CAA representative, carefully pours the Jet Fuel from a metal bucket (no, we don't have any jerry cans there in Moroto) into the funnel. So, yes, we fueled the entire drum by carefully pouring it into a bucket (we only had one bucket), then lifting the bucket up to the wing, and then slowly pouring it into the funnel--one bucket at a time.

Here's a shot of a nice little rain shower in Northwestern Uganda last week.

A few weeks ago, while flying between Kotido and Adjumani, we looked down and saw several large herds of elephant. This is an area that is far from any national parks. But, although it's one of the largest, undeveloped areas in Uganda (no visible roads, or houses, or agriculture for many square miles) I've never seen any elephants, or any other large wildlife in this area. In Uganda, the large animals tend to stick pretty close to the parks. But there's been a lot of rain this year, and the herds are venturing out much further than normal. I mentioned this to a park ranger at Kidepo National Park the next week, and he said that there were rangers following the elephants closely, to "make sure nothing happens to them." I counted almost 100 in the groups that I photographed. This is just one of them. I imagine this is what it must have been like a hundred years or more ago--large herds of elephants and every other kind of large African mammal, roaming freely across the grasslands.

Ok, back to the archives. I leave you with four more shots from the Kalimantan archives. I think all of these have probably already appeared on my blog a number of years ago, but in case you missed them...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Flying in South Sudan

Last week I was based out of Juba, (the capital city of South Sudan,) flying for MAF South Sudan. Here’s a shot of Juba that I took last February, when it was still dry season. Now that it’s rainy season it’s actually quite green. The airstrip is in the upper left corner of the picture, running across the top from left to right.

South Sudan is the youngest country in the world, and has been struggling with fighting and unrest since December 2013. In July there was renewed fighting in Juba and elsewhere that left several hundred dead in the capital and hundreds of thousands fleeing throughout the country. Since then, the situation in Juba has returned to a tense ‘calm.’ But throughout the country many are in very desperate situations. MAF is serving a number of key missions and humanitarian agencies who are working in many of these remote locations where the needs are dire and the South Sudanese are suffering. Below is a picture of the plane (Lima Delta Romeo) that I flew up to South Sudan for the week... although this shot was actually taken over Karamoja, Uganda last February.

On Monday I flew first to Yei, about 80 miles southwest of Juba. The situation in Yei is quite desperate. There has been recent fighting here, and a very recent UNHCR report says that up to 100,000 people are trapped in Yei, unable to get out of the area, yet unable to get needed food and supplies. I was able to fly a group of teenage orphans out of Yei, up to Juba, for their safety and wellbeing. There’s more to this story, but we’ll just leave it there. Please keep praying for the people and situation in Yei, and throughout South Sudan.

Since 2013 more than one million refugees have fled South Sudan. In addition, more than 1.6 million are internally displaced within South Sudan, which means that approximately 20% of the entire population of the country have become homeless since the fighting began in December 2013.  Since the renewed fighting in July there has been an increase in people trying to leave, with hundreds of thousands fleeing to Uganda. Uganda hosts more South Sudanese Refugees than any other country. Adjumani, in northern Uganda, is right at the center of all of this activity. Refugees are being settled in large camps like the one pictured below. I’ve seen many other refugee camps around the world, and these are actually quite nice by comparison. Each family unit (mostly women and children) get a small plot of land for a garden surrounding their hut. You can see these in the photo, each one outlined by a footpath. There are plenty of bore holes provided (water wells with hand pumps) and schools and clinics. Most of the people who call these camps ‘home’ have suffered in unimaginable ways. Their future must seem bleak, without much to hope for. Yet, you can often see them smiling and thankful for the most basic of things in these camps—shelter, food, water, education, and healthcare, all without fearing for their lives. For them, that's a drastic improvement! There are many missions and aid agencies working with and among these dear people, helping them with everything from basic physical needs to trauma counseling.

You may remember that just over just over a year and a half ago (March 2015) I went up to Adjumani to survey the site of an old, long-overgrown airstrip there, that hadn't been used in decades and had totally vanished into the bush. MAF had been asked by a group of missions and NGOs to help assess the possibility of re-opening that old strip, because of the vast number of refugees entering the area, and the number of agencies working among them there. In December of that year (2015) I had the privilege of doing the first landing on that new and beautiful murram (red dirt) strip, and it officially opened one month later in January of this year. If you missed those pics, and that story, you can check it out here-- scroll down till you find the photo of me shaking hands with officials in front of the plane. Shortly thereafter I had the opportunity to accompany Tutapona, one of the fantastic organizations working among the refugees in Adjumani, on a visit to several of the camps. If you missed my posts related to that visit, you can check them out here: Adjumani 1 and Adjumani 2. Adjumani has quickly become one of the most frequently flown-to strips for MAF in Uganda. We typically fly there three to five times per week, serving a wide variety of agencies working directly with the hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese Refugees who have been settled in the camps there.

Among the other significant flights I did last week, I was able to pick up a young boy, who had broken his arm, quite severely, playing football (soccer). He needed to get to Juba for medical care. The trip overland, via 4x4 would have taken all day and been extremely painful--bumping and jolting non-stop. More significantly, it would have been fraught with risk and danger--a result of the current security situation. By comparison, the flight on MAF was a mere 30 minutes--safe, comfortable, and smooth. I was able to take along three of our MAF South Sudan employees, and they were all smiles the whole time, totally loving the opportunity to have a ride in the airplane, and to see the other side of the MAF operations. Just in case it's not totally obvious, they are the ones in the bright yellow safety vests below. It takes an extraordinary amount of paperwork, clearances, etc. to dispatch a plane in East Africa, but especially in Juba, so we are very thankful for the many MAF staff, like these, who work behind the scenes to make all of this happen.

The weather last week in South Sudan was often quite challenging. There were massive storms and widespread rain and low clouds much of the time. At times I wandered if we would be better of with a float plane, or even a boat. Haha.

But it wasn’t all nasty. There were a few days when we had gorgeous weather. When the skies did finally clear, they were beautiful and blue—the rain having cleaned all the dust out of the air.

I did a couple of flights for Tearfund and Medair, to some distant locations up North. One of those flights took me near the Southern end of the Sudd, where the White Nile's Bahr al-Jabal section turns the mighty river into a seemingly endless, wide, meandering maze of swamps and floating vegetation, with random pockets of open water. It’s beautiful from 10,000 feet above, but can you imagine trying to navigate through this mess in a boat? The passages are constantly shifting because much of the vegetation is floating. Still, when I looked down from this height I could see a few small huts here and there, where people are making their living and surviving here. In the shot below you can see some of these huts on the bend of the brownish rivulet snaking around at the lower, right corner.