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Friday, July 17, 2020

Heading North, Way Back When...

As promised, I'm continuing from my previous post about way back when... 

After I graduated from University and flight school, we briefly moved to Oregon as we prepared for future, cross-cultural work/ministry. That fall I had the opportunity to go on a short vision trip to a very remote part of north central Alaska, to an area where we felt that God was leading us.

Joy had spent several summers up there, volunteering at a small Christian camp. But I had never been there. I spent a few weeks with this wonderful family, who kindly hosted me and took me all over that part of Alaska. Since it was the time of year for bringing in the meat, I even joined them in their family moose hunt.

He was not only a very widely known and respected Athabaskan elder, but also a pilot. So he took me around the region in his Pacer. That's when I started to see how immensely vast and wild Alaska truly is... we flew hours upon hours and saw nothing but wilderness, among which were scattered a few, isolated villages along the main rivers. There were no roads whatsoever.

We visited several different Athabaskan villages, all very remote and isolated.

I was drawn by the rugged, harsh, and surreal beauty of the land and her people. 

Long story short, God confirmed His calling in our hearts, and Joy and I eventually made the decision to join a small organization and head to the far north. The plan was to move into a specific village that was located just north of the Arctic Circle, building relationships with the elders and others, while specifically working with the youth. The idea was that eventually we would incorporate a small plane into the ministry. This was my very first visit to 'our' future village, which I got to see (photo below) during that vision trip way back when.

Before we just up and headed off, we first had to get a group of churches and friends to commit to both pray for us, and also to sponsor our 'work' there. We also completed some additional training in several different areas. It was a busy time--we were constantly on the go, traveling, speaking in churches, meeting and sharing with people, and moving and moving and moving again. Come to think of it, we've never really stopped doing that for the past 20 years. :-) 

Anyway, a very short seven months after the vision trip mentioned above, we were off to Canada, where we underwent another 3 months of training focused towards helping to prepare us culturally, and in other ways, for living and working among "First Nations" or Indigenous people of North America. Part of that time was dedicated to an extensive wilderness training program in the Churchill River system, which was nothing short of a blast.

I especially loved it when they marooned each of us, individually, on our own separate island, without food or any survival gear, for 24 hours. I wish it had been longer, as I had a lot of fun with that. 

Unfortunately, Joy was not allowed to do the full wilderness training, since we had an infant who needed her full-time care. But I'm sure she would have loved it also. Here's a shot of her and Britt, latter that summer, soaking up nature (and mosquitoes a plenty).

From there we continued directly to Alaska, where we spent the initial few weeks helping at the same  Camp where Joy had volunteered many times before, on the banks of the Yukon River.

Joy was able to reunite with many of her friends from previous years. She was really in her element, both living in the 'rougher' conditions of the camp, but also and especially, in building relationships with the Athabaskan youth, whom she so loved.

We were involved in a myriad different tasks... from teaching and mentoring, to helping with the grounds and maintenance, and construction, cooking, cleaning, and on and on.

Joy even got to be an 'exterminator' at one point, when a pesky porcupine kept eating various parts of the camp buildings.

After the camp we spent a few more weeks with our manager, who was also a pilot, and who's family lived in a remote village much further north, about halfway between the camp and where 'our village' was located. He flew a Cessna 180 on floats, skis, and wheels, depending on the time of year. Here's a picture of his plane, out behind his cabin, on a small lake from where he operated.

A few weeks later, near the end of summer, he took our little family (Joy, Britton, and me) and a few of our belongings, up to our future home, dropping us off on the river bank of our little village.

This is a shot of his plane departing... and there we were. Home.

Britton had just turned one. The ice was already freezing on the puddles at night. Fall and winter were rapidly bearing down on us like a runaway freight-train, and we were setting up our home in a tiny, dilapidated, one-room cabin, on the edge of one of the most isolated villages in all of North America. We needed meat, fire wood, and water, forthwith, for our very survival. This was a subsistence village, where you hunt and gather much of your food, and haul ALL of your water to your cabin from a central location in the village, or from the river. But equally important for our emotional wellbeing, we needed friends and relationships. 

We were young and energetic and willing... and WAY in over our heads. But we didn't really know it quite yet, which can sometimes be a good place to be. Over the next two years we would learn, in a hyper-intensive way, just how incapable we were/are on our own, but how more than capable our God was and is. The lessons we learned were invaluable. The relationships we developed were unbreakable. The adventure had just begun.

Stay tuned for more...

Friday, July 10, 2020

Way Back When

Our flying has been quite slow lately because of the Covid-19 situation. I have, however, recently done several maintenance and test flights from our home airstrip, which as you can see, is about half underwater from the high levels of Lake Victoria. In fact, this is better than it was for the past few months when the water was even higher (it's actually been going down for the past few weeks). You can see near the middle where they have dumped many loads of murrum (the reddish gravely dirt so common here) to build up our taxiway, and also make a bit of the middle part of the runway useable. 

What used to be an 1,100 meter long runway is now only about 580 meters short, which can still be used safely, with all our required margins, but certainly not with a fully loaded plane. If I'm being totally honest, it's actually a lot of fun, and reminds me of a lot of the strips I used to operate from in Kalimantan. 

Well, thinking back to Indonesia got me thinking back a lot further, and I decided it might be fun to dig some photos out from way, way back when... way back before I joined MAF. First, just so we set the stage properly, here are two very recent photos. This one was taken just about a week and a half ago, the same day I took the airstrip photo above. Yes, I had gotten a bit lazy with the razor during the past few months of lockdown.

And this shot of my good friend (and our MAF Uganda Chief Pilot) Greg Vine, and I, was just taken less than a week ago, by Greg's wife, Jill. As you can see, I have sheered the dead yak from my face, which makes my wife happy, but my daughter sad. 😂  

So how in the world did I wind up here in Africa with MAF? Well, that is a very long story of God's amazing sovereignty and direction throughout my life... a story that is too long for my blog. But I thought I might just give you some snapshots into my younger life, before MAF.

Recently, my sister was helping my parents convert their old slide photos into digital photos and she sent me some of those good ol' photos from my childhood. Here are some of those...

I was raised in the jungles of Brazil. Not literally in the jungle--but we were pretty much totally surrounded by it, and the jungle was definitely my playground. My parents were with a similar organization, doing similar work as I am doing... only not directly with aircraft. It was very important and meaningful work--focused towards eternity, and towards helping people. Of course, as a kid, I probably didn't always fully grasp the bigger picture, but I sure did have a lot of fun living a very adventurous life in the Amazon basin. I was especially into fishing!

So here's the thing... when you catch peacock bass and piranha like this, you can pretty much rock whatever short shorts you want to rock. But you definitely wouldn't catch me wearing those today! 🤮🤣

My dad was my superhero. He was not only able to build and/or fix anything in the world, and he was not only the guy that everyone else called for help when they had a wild animal like a venomous snake, or a giant anaconda nearby, but more than that, he was the one who took me and my sisters camping and fishing. He was always super hard working (still is) but yet he always made time for making memories, like these.

Yep, they have big catfish in the rivers down there. Here, my big sister and me are checking out whether we could have been swallowed whole by this fish, before he gets turned into fillets. And in case you are curious, yes, they came even much bigger than this one.

My mom was my other superhero, raising three kids in a not-so-easy place to live, and keeping us not just alive, but thriving. In my earliest memories she was always into hospitality (and still is), always baking and cooking and hosting people and having them over for meals all the time, while always being our biggest cheerleader in whatever we were doing.

My parents always had a garden, and grew lots of the fruits and vegetables that they ate (and they still do).

Looking back, I admit that I am almost a bit surprised at how much adventure they actually let me have as a little guy. The boy in this picture looks pretty innocent, but within a few years I was out with my machete and/or pellet gun, doing full-day adventures on my own in the jungle, or with my friends... catching, killing, and eating snakes, birds, lizards and fish of every kind. The rule was, if I killed it, I had to eat it. Let me just say that I ate a lot of weird stuff!

We always had fun pets too, like this parrot, and a monkey, and so many other interesting things. I liked that about our family--that they let us soak up our surroundings to the fullest.

Here I am with my little sister, going for a ride in the ingenious motorcycle trailer my dad designed and made. If you look closely, you can see that I'm sporting some medical tape on my forehead. That was one of the many (I think 9 separate) times that I had to get stitches for one reason or another. Like I said, I kind of went flat-out, all the time. The motorcycle accident I had a year and a half ago just added to a long list of broken bones and other injuries I've had during my life, and although some of those scars were definitely the result of not-so-smart decisions on my part, I can say that I don't really regret any of them. Life here on earth is too short to live cautiously and boringly. :-)

Ok, well, now I'm skipping all the way to my university years. We came back to the U.S. when my older sister got very, very sick over a long period of time and nearly (probably should have) died as a result. So I finished school in America. But I don't have any of those photos in digital (or any other) format over here in Uganda. So we're just jumping right to my college years.

In the last few years of High School I was pretty gung-ho to head to the U.S. Naval Academy. I wanted to fly fighter jets. My other possible career choice at that time was to go into trauma medicine. I was pretty stoked about either option, so long as I wasn't stuck at a desk doing something boring all day every day. But in the early 90's I had the opportunity to join a work team for a summer to Papua New Guinea, to a little isolated village called Iteri, deep in the jungles of the Sepik region. We worked on lengthening a short, jungle airstrip so they could bring a bigger plane into serve the missionary families who lived and ministered there and in surrounding villages. That was a hugely impactful summer in my life, and God used it to change the direction I was headed. Maybe sometime I'll tell more of that story, but it was really amazing how God wove everything together to get my attention. Incidentally, it was MAF who flew me/us out of the jungle at the end of that summer (I wish I knew who the pilot was all these years later, but I have no idea).

Make no mistake--I still would have loved to have served my country flying fighter jets, or to have been involved in trauma medicine, both of which I think are very honorable professions. But instead, God got me stoked about flying planes for Him in remote places all over the world. I wouldn't trade what I've been able to do for anything. It has not been an easy life--in fact it's been crazy hard at times! But I am so blessed to have a wife who is just as adventurous as me, willing to go all over the world with me, and making crazy memories over the past 21 years. (Yep, yesterday was our 21 year anniversary!)

So, back to the flight stuff--at that time, the "Top Gun" of bush flying schools was Moody Aviation. They trained something like 65-70% of all the mission/bush pilots in the world at the time. It was an extremely intensive, highly focused and difficult 5-year flight training program (including the two years of Bible and general education courses at the main campus). So, long story short, that's where I wound up--2 years at the main campus in Chicago, and 3 more years at the flight school in TN.

Here's the only shot I have from the 2 years I was in Chicago at the main campus--to my left is my good friend and roommate at the time, David, and to my right is my good friend Paul, who also eventually became a pilot with MAF. In fact, Paul and I lived next door to each other in Indonesia for a number of years, and did a lot of crazy adventures back in the day--not just on motorcycles in the U.S. and Indonesia, but also on foot and canoe throughout the jungles of Borneo. Good stuff! And yes, for some reason I had dressed up like Elvis that day, but I can't quite remember why... but I'm sure there must have been a good reason.

Here's a few shots of back in my early days of flying, something like 22 years or so ago now. Yep, I'm definitely getting old!

I loved flying, riding motorcycle, and adventuring in the gorgeous mountains of Northeast Tennessee!

Moody did a lot of extensive and specialized training in bush flying stuff, including several longer trips out west, where we operated into and out of a bunch of very remote, rugged airstrips, not unlike the ones we would one day encounter overseas. That was not just good training, it was also a ton of fun!

Obviously my good friend, Dean, and I thought we were pretty cool, but looking back I think we were pretty clearly just a couple of dorks. 🤣

The last shot I'll leave you with this time is a picture of my graduating class at Moody Aviation. We wanted to do something unique for our class picture--something that would set our photo apart from all the other 'normal' class pictures from years before us. It took quite a bit of convincing our ever-safety-conscious administrators, but we finally got permission to have our picture taken in front of a plane doing a low level flyby just behind us.  Now remember, this was back in the old school days of photography, where nothing was digital and you never knew your results until later when you got your film developed. So I took a lot of time setting up the shot on a tripod and figuring out where the plane should be, and how fast it should be going, etc. I wanted to have it a bit blurred, to show motion, but didn't really get the full blur-effect I was looking for. I wish I could do it again--I'm sure I could do al to better now. Oh well. I'm the first in the middle row, over on the left in the dark blue shirt. The original picture is better than this one, because this is a poor quality scan of a slide. And I'm not sure why the lower edge is cutoff in this one--probably part of the bad scan--but you get the idea.

Next time I think I'll show you some pictures of where Joy and I served first, in our early years, before MAF. Hint: think cold!