“When you know your ‘why’ then your ‘what’ has more impact, because you’re working towards your purpose.”Michael Jr.
After a night of fitful sleep interrupted by unfamiliar sounds and punctuated with excruciating leg cramps, the sunlight streamed in through the windows way too early that morning. It had taken us a grueling 15 hours to hike in the day previous (see “A Walk In Their Shoes”).
Why did we do it? Our guides asked that same question somewhere along the trail the day before. I’ll tell you the same thing I told them. It’s one thing to hear about the impact aviation makes in missions: dangers which can be avoided, physical and mental wear and tear which can be eliminated, vital supplies which can be regularly delivered, the assurance of access to medical aid or evacuation in the face of an emerging crisis. Those are just a few ways aviation enables those serving in remote, isolated locations to thrive rather than just survive in their ministries. It’s one thing to hear it or even to repeat it. Friends, family, churches, visitors at aviation expos, students interested in mission aviation, I’ve shared with them the things I’ve heard from trustworthy sources, but, as I shared with our friends on the trail that day, it’s one thing for your head to know it, it’s a whole nother* thing for your legs to know it. It’s the difference between head knowledge and practical experience.
*Before we get too much further, for all the honorary members of the grammar police out there, you may find Merriam-Webster’s usage notes on the phrase “whole nother” of interest. [link]
As I stretched to reach the floor from my bunk that morning there was no mistaking the fact that my legs now “knew it!” Shuffling outside, down the stairs, and across the dew drenched pathway to the missionaries’ house for breakfast, my legs were already objecting to the half-hour walk which was to follow as we planned to head back down the trail to the village for the day. Some time in the Word, a hearty breakfast, and a cup of hot coffee later, the outlook on the day was much less bleak.
Warm smiles greeted us as we stepped back outside. Some were there just out of curiosity, some to lend us a hand with our gear later, while others had arrived for training. The walk back to gather our things for the day took us past the team’s office where some of the men from the village church could be seen through the open door, gathered to learn new technology skills. It’s one of the many projects the church planting team here has undertaken to see the local church more fully equipped for life and ministry. Having a working knowledge of computers is a very practical skill even in this remote mountain village. It allows the church not only to communicate and connect with people and resources from the outside, it gives them the ability to more readily create literacy and teaching resources of their own in their own heart language. We lingered at the door for just a second before continuing to the house to organize our gear.
With the gear arranged, a few snacks packed, and water supplies topped off, we struck out mid-morning with a train of kids trailing close behind carrying various parts and pieces of camera gear. Winding slowly back down the mountain we made our way to the village below. While the photographer toured the village with one of the missionaries who works among this people group, capturing snippets of their lives and testimonies of some of the believers there, I ventured off with some of the young men who were eager to show me around.
Leaving the small, unpretentious church building where we’d initially gathered, we meandered aimlessly about the village as we storied. They had so many questions for me, but after satisfying their initial curiosity I tugged on a thread of a narrative Jonjin had begun to share. He was contrasting his growing up years there the village against his present experience boarding with a family more than a day’s travel away while he works through 6th grade. I was curious what things he’d learned through the first couple grades there in the village school.
A smile lit up his face. Grabbing my arm he beckoned me to follow him across to the school grounds where three small structures of roughhewn timber, wrapped in woven bamboo matting and covered with tin roofing sat adjacent to a small clearing. Stepping through the simple fence which surrounded the school grounds we quickly glanced in two of the classrooms before entering the third. Almost completely encircling the room were laminated illustrations, carefully hung one beside next. There must have been 70 or more in all.
Starting at one end and proceeding methodically through each one in order, Jonjin recounted the stories they represented. These weren’t just any stories, they were elements of THE Story, God’s Story. Starting in Genesis and weaving through the Biblical narrative to Revelation he didn’t simply recall characters or settings represented by the simple pictures. In his own words he skillfully articulated the Christ-centered nature of Scripture; that is, to borrow a phrase from the introduction of the “Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary” series, Scripture, “contains a unified story of redemptive history of which Jesus is the hero.”
Enraptured by Jonjin’s relating of the greatest story ever told I hesitated to leave once he concluded. Since no one else knew where I was, though, and not wanting to hold the rest of the group up, we meandered back out into the village to find them. Before rejoining the larger group, however, I had one last question I hoped Jonjin could answer for me. When so many youth in similar situations seem to be leaping at the opportunity to get out of the village and I hear stories of remote people groups across the globe who are worried their identity may be soon be lost to history, what drew him to make the arduous journey back to his village over the relatively short school break?
He stopped in his tracks as if to emphasize the point he was about to make. “The teaching,” he said, “I wanted to hear the Bible teaching.” Probing a bit I sought to clarify, weren’t there believers where he was going to school? Was there no church community there which he could plug in to? Indeed, there were believers and there was a church. That was all well and good, he went on, “but to talk about God’s Word in the trade language [Tok Pisin or Pidgeon as it’s commonly referred to] is like the birds hopping around in the tops of the trees (he gestured towards a nearby stand of trees in which birds were flitting restlessly from branch to branch). It just touches the top. Hearing God’s talk in my native tongue, though, that’s deep. That’s like getting down to the roots (he gestured to the base of the trees).” If you want to grow deeper in your faith, if you want to be nourished and strengthened and encouraged by the Word, there are few things sweeter than being able to engage with it in your own heart language. “Pidgeon is okay, but my tribal language, that’s ‘sweet.’ I journeyed back because there’s nothing like hearing God’s talk in my own language.”
There it is…the tie to my “why” from the mouth of a 6th grader.
At the end of the day no, matter how you cut it, there’s nothing like the opportunity to have and to hear God’s Word in one’s own language. Nothing runs more deeply and communicates more clearly than our own “tok ples” (pronounced like “talk place”) i.e. our native tongue, our heart language, the language we feel most comfortable with.
The body of Christ has been commissioned to go out among the nations making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. To be as clear and impactful as possible in our ministry context our church planting teams spend years living among the people group where they’ve been invited to minister. The missionaries learn the host culture and language, create a written alphabet, teach literacy, translate Scripture, lead foundational Bible teaching, and disciple new believers toward maturity with the goal of being used by the Lord to see a thriving, indigenous church established.
Those are monumental tasks, each one of them, and those take time. While we’re in no way looking for shortcuts in ministry, I believe we would remiss if we failed to capitalize on the efficiencies offered by modern aviation. There is an urgency to the task as souls the world over enter a Christ-less eternity, having never in this life had the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel of grace. If, by playing a role in bringing the tool of aviation to bear for the benefit of those proclaiming the gospel, families and teams are able remain in these remote locations, supplied, connected, and engaged in their task, then impact of my “what,” serving as an administrator in our aviation department, suddenly becomes more evident in light of my “why.”
The big “why” for me boils down to this:
KNOW God myself
SHOW Him to others
GROW together in maturity and Christlikeness
The next morning as the sun broke brilliantly across the rugged mountainscape, I reflected on the “why” while we stood on the yet unfinished airstrip there, awaiting a helicopter shuttle back to the village from which we’d set out two days before.
I’m definitely not here simply for the adventure of it all. I’d just experienced the realities of the fact that what can appear at the outset to be an adventure has a way of rather quickly turning into an absolute grind (like the instant you topple head-first over the edge of the trail, or pull your first leech off your leg, or grab a spiked, stinging plant for the third time as you slide precariously down the muddy path, or…you name it). I’m here, compelled by the love of Christ, to use the skill, training, and experience God’s given me for the accomplishment of His purposes by His power for others’ eternal good and His eternal glory.
As the helicopter skids broke the ground, lifting us into the dazzling morning sky, a vivid green strip of land could be seen in the distance, a small white dot at one end. A short four minutes later the helicopter settled gently onto that green strip in front of a waiting Kodiak, our ticket home. With a goofy grin across my face I could hardly keep from laughing as the helicopter, in just four minutes, had whisked us from one ridgetop to another, effortlessly bypassing the punishing terrain which had taken our small band 15 backbreaking hours to cover on foot.
It could be said aviation is a game-changer, but what we’re about here is no game. Ministry is about life change and I’m thankful to be able to facilitate that as we employ the tool of aviation.