Well, I’d like to say that this is a week that I never want to repeat but in the midst of this darkness, confusion, and pain the light, peace, and love of our Sovereign Father has blossomed in my soul…I wouldn’t trade that for all the comfort, health, or security in the world. This past week has been a tough one for our friends, for us, and for our organization. The best place to start is at the beginning so bear with me as this will be the longest story I’ve ever posted on here.
Three years ago, we met a family at the missionary training center in MO who were also on their way to PNG as a pilot family. Brent and Jon bonded immediately over their common passion for both aviation and taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Over the course of the past three years our lives have intersected with this family on several occasions, including one week where we stayed with them in a three bedroom, one bath apartment (did I mention they have three kids also?). Anyways, they arrived here in PNG about three months before us and we were so excited to begin this life-long ministry together, flying our bush missionaries in and out of their remote tribal locations. We came to the field with “family” already here; friends who could serve as a source of mutual encouragement, a reminder of what’s really important when things get tough, and a balm for the loneliness that will inevitably strike at times. Their unswerving trust in God’s goodness, their habit of encouraging those around them, and their sweet family dynamic which always challenges us to “try harder,” made us feel really blessed to know this family. Meet Jon and Adie Leedahl.
While this details some of our personal history with them, I’d like to share a bit about the role they served in our organization. NTMA (New Tribes Mission Aviation) has been through a rough time over the past few years. Especially in PNG, where several families have recently been called away from the field and operating costs have made this ministry difficult for church planters to afford. Meanwhile the Kodiak steps on the scene, a new airplane designed especially for missionary aviation. It can carry more passengers and supplies and still land on these short, crooked airstrips for essentially the same cost as the smaller, less efficient Cessna 206. The only problem? NTMA doesn’t have one and we don’t have pilots certified to teach other pilots how to fly them. So as an organization we started praying and trusting that God would provide a way for NTMA to operate with Kodiaks in PNG, so our church planters can continue to get affordable flight support in their remote locations.
Enter Leedahls. Jon’s extensive aviation experience made him the perfect candidate to start up this new flight program with the Kodiaks. Another mission organization here in PNG agreed to train him on one of their Kodiaks so that he could then come train new NTMA pilots like Brent. So Leedahls came to the field in March to begin the training, even though NTMA still owned NO Kodiaks. It was a huge step of faith, not just for them, but for NTMA. Since then, through nothing less than a miracle from God, TWO Kodiaks have been donated for the PNG field. This is no small thing – we also came to the field with no clear assurance, other than the direction of God, that there would be a plane here for Brent to fly. Together with the Leedahls we breathed sighs of relief and cheered with joy when we heard about the donation of these aircraft. It was confirmation the Lord’s hand was on this program and even more specifically on our own lives and ministries, validating the steps of faith we had all taken in the past year.
Even though the Leedahls were living at another organization’s center for the time being, we saw them about once a month (they christened our guest rooms) and we would frequently discuss what it would look like in another few months when they got to move here permanently. Brent and Jon also had several conversations about what it would be like to fly here in PNG, fulfilling lifelong dreams together (Adie and I would make ourselves scarce whenever the technical talk started =)). Given all this history, especially with NTMA at large, you can understand when I say, if anyone should have had divine protection on his life, it was Jon Leedahl. Without him, all of God’s miraculous provision would be for naught, and certainly God wouldn’t allow that!
But who can know the mind of God and who has given him council? Not I, not Jon, not NTMA leadership. Because one week ago, we got a call saying Jon had been in a motorcycle accident on the way home from work. WHAT?! Ok, at first, this response had nothing at all to do with NTMA and all the miracles and all the certainties we had assumed from these miracles. At first, our hearts sank because our friend, our brother, was seriously injured. We spent the whole first night praying and calling periodically (remember they were living at a different organization’s center), as Adie waited by her husband for morning to come so they could medevac to Australia (ironically this is one of the crucial roles Jon and Brent would be filling for NTM with the Kodiaks). At one point we were beseeching the Lord to spare his life as his blood loss was becoming life threatening. Through a number of blood donors, the Lord sustained Jon’s life until they could get to the Cairns hospital nearly 18 hours after his initial injury.
Now, this is not about us, but let me just interject that one of the most difficult places to be when a loved one is going through something like this, is in a position where you are helpless to do anything but pray. That first night, while Jon remained in PNG battling for his life because the clinics here are just not equipped to handle an injury of this magnitude, was one of the longest nights of our lives. All we could do was pray and I was frustrated beyond anything that all I could do was pray. “But Lord, we would do ANYTHING for them! I’m the same blood type, I could donate blood. We love their kids, we could watch their kids. We have VISAs for Australia still, we could go with them to Australia”…but at every turn the Lord had other people in place to better meet these needs. So we got to pray…but we got to pray! Since when did talking to the Creator of the Universe, the Creator of Jon’s broken body, become an “all we get to do”? I don’t know, but it taught me something, a big, humbling something, about my warped view of prayer. Lord, help me.
Anyways, the details become less important as we move along in this story, but in the end, doctors in Cairns had to amputate Jon’s right leg up to his thigh and his left knee and foot have sustained several torn ligaments and broken bones. On an ordinary day, with an ordinary event (going home from work) that should have been forgotten as soon as it happened, our friends’ lives changed course for the remainder of their time here on earth. Not just because some driver couldn’t stay on his side of the road, but because God, the Maker of miracles, the Orchestrator of all things, allowed it to happen.
At first, we mourned in disbelief. This didn’t really happen, right? Our hearts hurt, they’re heavy with grief but we’re just imagining, right? Next week they’ll come stay at our house again just like we planned last week and we’ll talk all night and then kick ourselves the next morning when six kids are running around and all us adults can barely keep our eyes open. And next year, when they come here, Jon and Brent will drive to the airport together every morning and talk about their upcoming flight and then at the end of the day they’ll come home and will still be talking about their flight to the point that I will call Adie and say, “Why don’t you just bring the boys over for dinner because the men are at it again and you might not see your husband otherwise?” And then we’ll sit at the dinner table smiling at each other while “the men” talk about things that we don’t understand. This is still going to happen, right? Right?….Right, God? Um, God, you there?
But then, this is where the really cool thing happens. This is where the thing, the something that makes all this worth it, happens. GOD COMES. He shows up! In the middle of your heart, in the depths of your soul, in the valley of your spirit, he shows up! And he whispers, ever so gently, “I’m here. I’ve always been here. Sometimes it takes some darkness in life to be able to see my light. It takes some uncertainty and confusion and even fear in life to be able to sense my peace. It takes some knock-you-down-to-your-knees-and-struggle-to-take-a-breath pain to feel that I love you….And it takes some helplessness, some downright helplessness, for you to KNOW THAT I AM TRUSTWORTHY.” And this, my friends, is where it all becomes worth it. When God meets you in the depths – in those scary, painful depths – something changes in how you view life, how you view yourself, and how you view Him. Because suddenly, you’ve not just read about how he’s like a Father and how he cares for his people like a Shepherd cares for his little lambs but you’ve experienced it. Felt it. Known it. And suddenly everything becomes okay…I mean, it’s not okay. It’s not okay at all. Something very big has happened here and our friends are at the beginning of something hugely difficult but it’s okay because God, the Great Unchangeable I Am, has come and poured light, peace, and love upon our souls in a very intimate way.
Adie, my dear, sweet, always-makes-me-smile friend has written on their blog that when she went before the Lord and asked what we all would ask: “WHY?!” God said, “I have a BIG plan.” This doesn’t tell me much but it does tell me that in the same way God has been meeting me in this darkness, he’s been meeting her and Jon. But of course he would! She and Jon are his children, his flock, his bride and if he loves me enough in this to meet me – little, old me whose only job it is to pray – then, of course, he will be loving and sustaining and comforting my friends who are in the middle of the storm.
And in this too, is a reminder about what really is important. Brothers and sisters, remember – remember without having to go through shock and grief – that it is not about this life. It isn’t! Satan’s most successful ploy is to distract us with what color to paint our walls, what car should we buy, what kind of food should we feed our kids…what small group to join. But this is not why the Bride of Christ is still on the earth. We are here to point all people to the ONE. The One who made us, the One who died for us, and the One who eagerly waits for us to come home so we can be united with him forever. Jon may not be able to fly a plane in PNG, but long ago God put it on his heart that getting His name to the ends of the earth is the most important job any of us could ever have. And guess what? It doesn’t take two legs to do that. And guess what else? He and Adie, in their attitudes about this tragedy and all its implications, are already pointing to Christ. They are already, a powerful witness that God is real, that God is loving, and that God is trustworthy.
I’ll get off my soapbox now but please, if you’ve made it this far in the post, please pray for the Leedahls. Pray that God will continue to meet them in their valley and that he will pour peace, comfort, and hope into their hearts. Pray for healing for Jon’s other leg so that he can be up and about again. Pray for their emotional health as they process through these events. Pray for their sweet, sweet boys that they can bring hope and joy to their parents in this time. Pray for my dear friend Adie: of all the women I know, this beautiful little lady has the God-given patience, grace, and love to carry her family through a time such as this.
Secondly, pray for the flight program here in PNG. There are a lot of decisions to be made and a lot of trusting God to be done. Pray for leadership to have wisdom and for the rest of us to have faith, knowing that our good God has a plan…a BIG plan.