“Do you see the ground anywhere?”
When your pilot asks that question while you are flying at 5,000 feet, it sends you into a panic. Fear swamped me when I realized he couldn’t find his way.
What? Does the pilot know where we’re going? We’re going to die before we make it to our first assignment.
My husband and I looked out the windows to help locate ground, except I focused more on the fear while my husband looked for trees or dirt – or anything that looked like a place to land. Eventually, toward the left, we saw a break in the clouds that revealed ground far below. The pilot banked the plane to pop down through the opening and get below the cloud cover. With good visibility, the entire landscape came into view. He easily navigated to touch down on the gravel airstrip in Kiunga. As I stepped off the plane, I took a deep breath of relief when my feet stood on solid ground again. We had arrived at this little town on the Fly River in the middle of vast rainforest.
I didn’t know this was normal for air travel in PNG, one of the most dangerous areas in the world to fly. The difficult terrain and unpredictable weather patterns created challenging conditions for any pilot. Tropical storms could start in minutes without warning and fog-clad mountains weren’t for inexperienced pilots. Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) pilots were some of the best trained in the country. In the l980s, these pilots didn’t have the GPS navigational devices in small planes that most have now. They flew by sight, maps, and their knowledge of the area by using rivers, villages, and other landmarks to find remote locations. Pilots flew at a high altitude, sometimes in dense clouds, until they were clear of the highlands. Once they reached the lowland areas, then they descended.
We were safe all along. Yet, my lack of knowledge made me jump to a fast conclusion and react in fear. To this day, I wonder if our pilot was trying to add a little “excitement” to our maiden flight into a remote area. The pilot knew how to navigate the plane. I didn’t. With understanding of the intricacies of flying in PNG, I soon learned what to expect on a flight.
Over our years of living and serving in a church planting ministry as missionaries, we built an airstrip and lived remotely in the Western Province with a small tribe. It was MAF that serviced us and brought us everything we needed, all our food and supplies. As our station grew, we needed building supplies, roofing iron, water tanks, plumbing supplies, nails, fuel, and gas tanks. Then when a medical clinic came and a small store was set up, they flew in medicines and items for the store. They carried in the work parties and teams that assisted us during the summer months.
As our family grew to five, MAF flew us out each time to await birth and back in again with our new baby. Our children grew up loving “our” pilots, and the arrival of a plane was a big event for the village and our children. One Christmas when our son was about four, he opened a parcel that had come for our family. He held it high and said, “Look at what Uncle Roy gave to me!” He attributed all the things that arrived on the plane as a gift from our pilot.
“Actually, Grandma mailed that to you, but Uncle Roy flew it in for us.”
During our years living remotely, we had several family medical emergencies. It was our pilots who took care of making sure we got the medical help we needed. When our young son overdosed on a medication, the pilot flew in two missionary doctors. That enabled him to receive a drip that helped to dilute the medicine in his system while we flew to a hospital. Our son’s life hung in a delicate balance for eighteen hours, but by the grace of God, he survived. Had we not been flown out; it is likely our son would have died.
Without their efforts, we could not have lived remote as a family to reach a tribal people that needed to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. MAF was our lifeline to the outside world and the carrier of all things our family needed. They were also instrumental in helping the community by flying in the equipment we needed to improve the lives of the villagers.
MAF pilots are the heroes who selflessly service remote areas. Dotted around the world are small communities made better by the efforts of those who fly and serve those in forgotten places. Their work shows the heart of God. Isaiah reminds us, “the spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound,” (Isaiah 61: 1 ESV).
By the grace of God, we planted a church that is still alive and growing, but it may not have happened without the help and service of our friends from Missionary Aviation Fellowship. It’s an important partnership that has helped to carry out the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. Let’s celebrate their decades of faithful service.
Carin writes about those years of adventures in her newly released book, Where No Roads Go, Trusting God Through Challenges and Change.