The Old Days
I recall hearing horror stories of missionaries traveling to destinations by ship. They certainly were not the cruise lines of today. –Some journeys took as long as two months; some of those journeys were taken on vessels that called in question their sea-worthiness; and some of those missionaries who journeyed on questionable vessels became sea sick, enduring long bouts of illness from tainted supplies, and some even lost their lives. Indeed, those were hardships to be counted as costs in serving Christ.
Modern Travel To Field of Service
Fast-forward to the current era of missions where sea travel is exchanged for air travel. There is a vast difference between these two modes of conveyance, though both come with certain risks.
The advent of the airplane certainly has been an effective means of travel, both commercially and in the course of mission’s history. It now takes a minimum of hours to reach a particular destiny of service, and in the more distant locations, perhaps a day or so depending how many time-zones you encounter.
In our case, flying has been the preferred way of getting to our field of service. But the real heart of flight is seen in the on-field experience where mission aviation has reduced days of hiking to minutes of flying. …And it has assisted tremendously in advancing the ongoing spread of the gospel in regions never before reached.
This writing is a tribute to the many who have invested years of their lives to train and equip as missions aviators… pilots, mechanics, avionics technicians and a host of well-trained experts in moving missions personnel into remote locations. …And it is a tribute also to the missionary teams who invest a lot of hard work into building airstrips and heli-pads in some pretty rough areas of the world –in jungles, on mountains, and along the banks of treacherous waters and the likes. These are dedicated people with a purpose; the purpose of getting the gospel to those who otherwise would never hear of Christ.
Back in the sixties there was a missionary team committed to taking the gospel to a particular remote people group. Although I am not aware of their mode of travel to the field –I suspect it was by ship, they endured many hardships hiking into the area and getting situated where they would minister. Some years later, due to many distresses and illness, that team left the area and that remote people group remained unreached. We hail those missionaries as heroes because their sacrifice laid the groundwork for a future endeavor.
Tribe Building Their Own Airstrip
In the late eighties this particular people group, so desperate to hear the gospel, made regular treks from their remote location to one of our mission centers to ask for missionaries. It was no easy trek. They hiked four to five days from their village laden with string bags of veggies which they would sell at a roadside market to get money to buy transportation services to bring them to our center. They were committed to pleading for missionaries though, sadly, we had no one to send to them at that time.
Two years later these men showed up again, asking for a missionary but this time they informed us that they built an airfield to attract missionaries to their area. They reasoned if they could make the journey more doable then perhaps missionaries might come to reach them.
…So one of our pilots and a certified worker from the Department of Civil Aviation made the arduous trek to inspect the airfield. It turned out that the airfield did not meet the inspection criteria, and therefore, could not be used to service the area. –Imagine the disappointment this news brought to the hearts of those so anxiously awaiting the gospel.
Sometime later this same people group attempted the construction of another airfield –this time at a higher elevation. Sadly, this too, did not meet the stringent aviation code for safe takeoff and landing.
A Major Breakthrough
It was around this time that our field procured a helicopter so it was decided among our leadership team that this destination would be our priority focus for allocating a missionary team with helicopter service.
An aerial survey and touchdown in their village with the helicopter was planned. I had the privilege of traveling to that area on the maiden voyage to do a photo shoot and write an article for publication. This was a tremendous breakthrough and a glad day celebrated with the people.
Missionaries Finally Move In
A month later I actually got to hike into this area to assist in cutting materials from the jungle and beginning the construction of houses for the missionary team. This was no easy journey; ascending mountain trails to saddled-passes at over eight-thousand feet elevation and picking our way along slippery trails. Sure, we could have chartered the helicopter to take us there but we decided to experience for ourselves what those first missionaries endured in their commitment to bring the gospel to these dear people.
By the mid-nineties we had placed another team in this area. Within a year they were engaged in language and culture acquisition …with a goal of attaining a skill level that would enable them to begin teaching God’s Word. But hardship and illness pulled them from their work and they left. I’m sure this felt like another blow of defeat, both to the team and to the people. But God used this as another stepping stone to set the stage for yet another team to enter this area and engage ministry in this location… again.
Yes, again… You see, I believe God has orchestrated every event of this journey for the glory of His Great Name. Woven into the tapestry of His glorious intent are the threads of His magnificent glory; God sees the big picture from beginning to end. He knows just how things will play out in the course of time because He planned it that way.
And so a missionary team is currently hard at work with determination and dedication to get the job done. This is all the more reason we must pray for them.
Reflections On God’s Use of Missionary Aviation
All of these musings of what ‘God has done’ can only propel us to realize that God is now doing what He intended to do in seeing these people reached with the gospel. …And these remembrances also bring me to the place of praising God for how He has fit mission aviation into His plan of speeding the gospel to areas of the world that perhaps otherwise never would be reached.
I trust you will rejoice with us in these reflections and that you will pray earnestly for God to continue to raise up Harvest laborers who will join in this work, whether as aviators, church planters, or one of the many needed support personnel to continue the work of reaching tribes… changing lives.